Sunday, December 5, 2010

You do make a difference . . .to me

I was interviewing a candidate at my job recently. As I talked to him, I was humbled. He was a super smart guy with an MBA from a well respected school, but that wasn’t it. He was quite personable and articulate, but that wasn’t it either. He previously served in the armed forces. Part of his responsibilities were overseeing reconstruction work in Afghanistan. I probed him with questions to determine if he would be up to the tasks the role he was interviewing for required. His answers elicited a bifurcated response from me. The first was an analytical one of the interviewer assessing the specific examples and details in his answers to determine if they indicated the skills and aptitude to transition into this civilian position. The second was awe. Here was a twenty something who was an instrumental part of building schools for girls half way around the world which would afford them their first opportunity at a better future. He assisting in rebuilding village infrastructure for people who had become accustomed to living without these basic services.

After the interview, I returned to my office and reflected. I have a good job and like what I do. But is it important in the big scheme of things? Does what I do matter? Have I made a positive difference in the world? These questions hung in the air. A friend, who also happens to work for me, stopped by to talk about a work issue. I mentioned to him what I was thinking. He is involved with a non profit as I am. And I know he also is concerned about the larger impact he has. He listened to me describe the interview and my reflections. There was a momentary, what seemed to me, lengthy pause. I wasn’t sure what to think. . Then he responded, “I don’t know if this means anything to you, but you made a big difference in my life.” I told him it does truly mean something to me. And he walked away. After he was out of sight, I let my eyes fill with the tears I had been holding back at his words. His direct statement took my breath away. It was so powerful in that moment. In his simple words, he affirmed me.

Is it that simple? Is that what we need to do to make a difference in the lives of those we cross paths with? I would not have known that I had this impact on his life if he hadn’t told me. This experience, encourage me to more consistently reach out and tell people the positive impact they have made in my life. I don’t assume they know... I didn’t. I did this now on a few occasions since, including to the original person I interviewed who was offered and accepted the job. I was amazed to find I received similar reactions back from them to the one I had. I appear to have inadvertently stumbled on a pay it forward activity with an immediate pay back. How cool is that?!?

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Look to your left. Look to your right.

Julie Z. Rosenberg recently interviewed the woman whose story was the basis of movie "The Blind Side." There was one part of the interview I found particularly compelling. When the author was asked what she wanted people to take away from her new book, "In A Heartbeat," she challenged people to:

"Turn around. Look to your left. Look to your right. That quickly, there can be somebody under your nose that needs your help and even the smallest bit of kindness -- . . . You will get immense satisfaction out of seeing what it does for someone else.

And if you do those sorts of things on a regular basis, it becomes second nature to you. And that's what I hope that people do. Small acts of kindness. If we all do that it will have a profound effect on this country and I really believe that. I truly do."

I truly believe it too which led me to start this blog. Reminders like her words and actions shows what a difference one person can make if they chose to do so. I also second the sentiment that you receive more in return than you give including intangibles like purpose and peace. I hope to leave the world a little better place than I found it one random kindness at a time. And if I can, inspire a few others to do the same.

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Inspired by good works for Haiti

Before we adopted, I spoke with a colleague about his Haitian adoption story. He told of the challenges, struggles and set backs on his path to bring his son home from Haiti. During the lengthy wait, my colleague did more than work the channels to bring his son back to the states. He also set up a foundation to support orphans in Haiti and to assist with Haiti's needs more generally.

Yesterday was the six months anniversary of the Haitian quake. I was reminded of this by the email I received below. The message also reminded me of my colleague's work which continues long after his son joined their family here. It showed me how any motivated individual can bring about real change.

More, Right, Enough: Thoughts on the Six-Month Remembrance of the Haiti Earthquake

Today marks six-months since the 35-second quake that shook Haiti, killed 300,000, and left millions without a home -traumatizing a nation. The death and destruction of January 12th was unprecedented and still to this day continues to remain indescribable.

Billions were donated. Thousands of search and rescue workers volunteered their time and energy. Millions became glued to their TVs, computers and newspapers. Countless prayers were offered. Governments from around the globe offered help. Even Nepal, one of the poorest countries in the world, sent a search and rescue team. Although a worldwide response, the suffering remained with the Haitian people alone.

Our response at Joint Council was also unprecedented. Until January 12th, we had little experience dealing with the effects of natural disasters. There wasn’t time to learn, just act. And somehow we figured it out. Late nights and 20-hour days. Phone call after phone call. Meeting after meeting. Tear after tear. Through all of it, there were times when we got it right…and times we didn’t.

1,100 children removed from harms way and into a permanent family – got that one right. 45,000 children and families receiving services – got that one right too. One teenage girl on the streets of Port au Prince, surrounded by gangs, moved to the safety of the U.S. Embassy – thank God for that one. Yes, we are proud of what we did and of what we continue to do. And we are very proud of our partner organizations who have continued to help us reach over 46,000 children and families.

But whatever pride I had evaporated the instant our plane landed in Haiti on January 24th. I walked onto the tarmac and there I saw real heroes. I saw the The U.S. Army who brought food, water and medicine and delivered it to many of our orphanages. I saw doctors and nurses who performed round-the-clock surgeries with few professional instruments.

Isaw what once was Port au Prince and its people, now living in the street – literally in the street – they surrounded themselves with stone as to avoid being hit by a car or truck. I saw damaged orphanages and held children too traumatized to enter any type of building – even a safe one.

Then I saw Haitians helping Haitians. Haitian men, most had lost their own home, but were now digging friends out of the rubble. Haitian women, most having lost all they had, were now comforting the injured and caring for their neighbor’s children. And young Haitian children, scared and alone, were now carrying water buckets for miles, trying desperately not to spill a drop. It was then that I realized the true heroes of this tragedy were the Haitian people.

Remember the pride I mentioned earlier, well it still is long gone. Because whatever we did, it was not enough. And whatever we are doing, it is still not enough. Families are living in squalid tent cities. Children are existing without a mother, father or anyone to truly care for them. And Restavek children are still being enslaved.
The rubble has yet to be removed from the roads. Promised housing has yet to be built. The pre-quake poverty is growing every day. Efficient aid is stymied by the bureaucracy of world governments. Effective assistance is impeded by the territoriality that is the U.N. and NGO community.

Billions have been raised, but suffering continues.

So my pride in what we did and what we are doing has transformed through a continual circle of stages. Despair into anger. Anger into dedication. Dedication into action. Action into pride and back to despair, starting the circle once again.
The one element that has not altered is our commitment: our commitment to the children of Haiti. Our commitment to do more. And our commitment to challenge governments, the U.N., UNICEF, NGOs, our partners and ourselves, to do more – to do it right – to do enough. To end the suffering.

And so during this week of remembrance, we will be announcing our plans for more. I hope that you will stand with us this week and in the weeks to come. And I hope that we will all stand with our brothers and sisters in Haiti, do more, do it right and end this needless suffering.

Best wishes,

Tom DiFilipo
President & CEO
Joint Counsel on International Children Services

Saturday, May 15, 2010

Half full

There is the old saying, is a glass half empty or half full. I want to look at the world as half full. There is so much reporting of what is wrong with society, the planet, our culture . . I could go on but I won't. I had a life threatening illness a few years back. As hard as it was, I did my best to look at the journey as an opportunity to look at the world and my journey through in a fresh new way - aware now of how fragile it all was. I was struck by the outpouring of support of all kinds - some were big gestures and other were a card or a caring word. I find myself looking for those bright spots of people helping people, heroics by ordinary people, an unexpected kindness by a stranger or a friend. Or looking for beauty in something common that you see in a new light like the picture included above taken by a dear friend. These bright spots inspire me to be randomly kind and make me want to inspire others to make it a part of their daily lives. I am continuously amazed at how a random kindness or hearing about someone doing good can uplift you whatever your circumstance. I started this blog to share these inspirational stories and encourage folks to make a difference where they are. They may be new ones stories or old favorites. They might be small gestures or inhuman feats. I hope you will add your own. . . and be inspired to be regularly, randomly kind. Best!