Friday, November 13, 2009

You Do Make a Difference

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Not too long ago, I had the opportunity to speak to 90+ Head Start administrators, teachers and assistants.

The person who invited me said, “Our staff do so much to help the children and their families and sometimes it gets overwhelming. Right now, I think they are exhausted.”

On the day of the event and right before heading to the lectern one of the organizers told me, “Last year we had an Elvis impersonator.”

Uh oh, I had taken a more serious approach to this assignment. Sure they would laugh some, but there would be no dancing, costumes and definitely no singing! I planned to lead them to inspiration by sharing hardship stories…mostly with happy endings.

I started by announcing I was no Elvis.

Well at least that got a good laugh.

And then I launched into my stories. One of the main points was to remind them they make a difference in the lives of children and families.

More times than not they will never know how much they impacted a child or her family. Remember George Bailey in It’s a Wonderful Life? George didn’t understand how valuable his life had been until Clarence Odbody, his guardian angel, granted him his wish.

“I wish I had never been born,” George said.

And with one snap of the fingers George’s life was erased and many other lives were changed.

His hometown of Bedford Falls became Pottersville named after a greedy old man named Potter.

The local pharmacist Dr. Gowder spent 20 years in prison for poisoning a child because George didn’t stop him. And his Navy pilot brother Harry did not shoot down the two Kamikazes who attacked a Navy transport and killed all men on board.

You get the picture. I wanted to make sure that the staffers from Head Start did too. So many times the good work you do, the kindness you spread will never be known by you.

You will not necessarily be told how uplifting it is to see your smile or that your kind words made someone feel better. You may never know that your example, your touch, your words stayed with someone and inspired them. You may never know this also impacted or will impact generations of people to come.

One of the contributors of Simple Truths tells of the story of a seminar participant who was so moved by her encouragement to tell those who inspired you how much you appreciated them, he vowed to find his 8th grade literature teacher.

After locating her address he sent a heartfelt letter stating how much he appreciated her. A week later his favorite teacher wrote him back.

She said, “You will never know how much your letter meant to me.” She also told him she was 83 years of age and that her family and friends were all gone. She said, “I taught for 50 years and yours is the first thank you letter I have ever gotten from a student. Sometimes I wonder what I did with my life. I will read and reread your letter till the day I die.”

When the student reported back to the workshop leader he said he was so surprised that she didn’t know how valuable she had been. He said things like, “She’s the one we talk about at reunions. She was our favorite teacher.”

At the end of my talk, I couldn’t help but bring up Elvis again. “So how did I compare to last year’s featured entertainer?” Several on the front shook their heads and a few mouthed consoling words: “Don’t worry.” “Wasn’t that good.” “You had nothing to worry about.”

Sorry Elvis. Back to the point…thank someone who has touched your life.

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Anonymous said...

The other thing is that not only do people NOT thank peole who have had a postive impact (and when they do, it can make your day, week, month), people are all too willing to complain when you do something they don't like. sigh.

Anonymous said...

Sounds like you had a great time. THANK YOU SO MUCH FOR SHARING!

I will be careful of what I wish for from now on... smile

Carolyn Howard-Johnson said...

What a lovely reminder this is. It is one of my guiding principles to verbalize positive things when I think them. You know, compliments. Even then, I know that opportunities to do so pass me by. And, even if I remembered every single time a kind thought about someone else passed through my mind, there would still be times that the good someone else did would go unknown by him.

Further proof that many together are more powerful than one alone. You are one of those many working at it, Allyn


Camellia said...

And one very good selfish benefit. When you extend that kindness to others, you are bathed by it yourself. And that feels good.

L. Diane Wolfe said...

A wonderful reminder that we do all make a difference somewhere!