Boards, Bridges, & Bucks

Today I had the pleasure of attending the Lunches with Leaders event for July put on by the Young Professionals of Albuquerque (YPA).  This lunch was held at Chama River Brewing Company on I-25.

This months “Leaders” were Executive Director, Steve Johnson, and Board Chair, John Nichols, from New Day Youth & Family Services, a non-profit helping homeless & troubled youth in Albuquerque.

If I had to use 2 words to describe the stories of these two men it would be:

Refreshingly honest.

What was most refreshing to me about Steve was that he was very humble about his rise to the top and his position at New Day.  He didn’t really care to have the fancy title of Executive Director.  In fact, I got the idea that it embarrassed him a little bit probably because it sounds like some big hotshot job title, reserved for someone who had lots of ambition and drive, someone who clawed their way to the top.  But this couldn’t be further from the truth for Steve.  He admitted right off the bat that he is not an ambitious person at all.  He confessed that he didn’t really pursue any of the high level jobs that he’s had, they just came knocking on his door.

Steve admitted that he never really had any grandiose vision for his life or how successful he wanted to be.  He described being more of a wanderer, wanting a job to feel like fun rather than work (don’t we all?).  He said he just sort of fell into his career path because it was aligned with his core values.  He admitted that on his job interview at All Faiths Receiving Home, he was blatantly honest.  He told them that he had 3 priorities in his life:  God, his family, & his job.  In that order, and that his job was never going to be more important to him than the other two.  They apparently appreciated his blunt honesty & they hired him.  He worked there for 22 years before moving on to his current position at New Day.  Steve concluded by stating that you must follow your heart, have integrity in what you do & say, be kind, & try to never burn bridges.

Next up was Board Chair, John Nichols, and he was just as refreshing & honest in his stories of experiences.  He started out by admitting that he was disappointed with many of the boards he had joined in the past where he experienced “the resume phenomenon”, where many people just join a board to perk up their resume but don’t want to actually get their hands dirty.  Luckily for New Day, John was different. He was determined to make changes when he was asked to head the Board at New Day.  Shortly after reaching out to his fellow Board members to ask them to get involved with the kids at New Day, 9 of the 12 Board members quit.  It was a blessing in disguise which allowed him to build a new Board from scratch.

Today, New Day has a Board of 6 highly motivated & involved members.  John takes pride in the fact that they actually get to pick & choose who they’d like to have on their Board.  Unlike a majority of Boards out there, they actually turn down many requests to join their board if they don’t think it’s a good match for their needs.

John also talked about “being the change”.  Yep, it reminded me of that Gandhi quote “Be the change that you wish to see in the world” (or something to that tune).  John said instead of finding excuses or complaining about a Board being dysfunctional, to get involved and make the needed changes to help it be a success.  He encouraged us to find a Board or an organization that we are passionate about and to get involved.  His enthusiasm was really amazing!

In his conclusion, John talked about money.  Something he probably knows well after working at Morgan Stanley Smith Barney for 19 years.  He said buying “stuff”, fancy cars, houses, clothes, gadgets, is just self-fulfilling & sort-of empty.   He said money never feels better to spend than when you can spend it to help someone else (I know there is a similar quote out there somewhere but I can’t think of it). And I completely agree.  Giving is such an addicting feeling.  It almost begins to feel selfish because it feels so good to put a smile on someones face, especially someone who really needs it.

John actually got choked up and fought back tears when he spoke about his experiences with the kids at New Day.  He said nothing makes him happier than being able to spend his money on taking the New Day kids on outings to Flamenco dance shows, Isotopes games, movies, or new experiences for them.

It was very inspiring seeing these two so passionate about their cause.  Their cause being “the lost” children of Albuquerque.  They may be lost but certainly not forgotten in the eyes & hearts of Steve & John at New Day.  These guys were very real, very honest, very passionate about what they do, but in a real & very relatable way.

I was moved & inspired by their commitment to our community and to our youth.  Lucky for me, the Junior League has selected New Day as one of its main monetary & volunteer focuses for the next few years, so I will get the chance to experience the power of these leaders & of New Day first hand.

I can’t wait.

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Make a Wish, makes a difference

I am truly blessed.  Let me just stand on a soap box for a minute…and cry…

There are families that struggle through no fault of their own…. families where one parent has to stay at home from work to take care of their sick or bed ridden child because the child has a debilitating disease such as cancer or spinal muscular atrophy (degeneration of motor cells in the spinal cord and brain).  They live paycheck to paycheck to support their terminally ill child.  They put all their extra money into buying motorized beds, ramps for their childs wheelchairs, and expensive “alternatives” to the little that their insurance actually covers (it’s amazing how little).  They spend days/nights, months/years searching for answers and cures for their children.  They cling to the hope that their child will return to the vibrant playful ball of energy they once were.  They somehow make ends meet and get through the days, always keeping hope alive. Faith is the only thing that keeps them from self pity…it’s amazing.

And when you visit their house, you smell a little of whatever that hospital smell is, you sit in their living room, and they bring the child into the room…. you feel a knot in your stomach, you feel ashamed, saddened, almost embarrassed to be there.  It humbles you.  Who are you?  Sitting there with your fancy purse, your overpriced jeans, your gas guzzling car sitting out front?  Didn’t you just get annoyed at the gym because all the new years resolution people were taking up all the treadmills and you had to wait an extra 5 minutes? …and here you are sitting in the tiny apartment living room of a family who’s had the unthinkable happen, their child diagnosed with a life threatening illness, witnessing the slow and painful deterioration of their child into sometimes a near vegetative state.  But what if some miracle cure was discovered in a year or two or three, what would you do?  You’d hold on to hope too.  Just like they do…

I don’t know how they do it.  How do they even get out of bed everyday or concentrate on work while they’re at work.  The entire family is consumed by the illness.  While I’m complaining about waiting at the gym, these families would feel lucky to even have the time or energy to get to the gym or to even afford it.  They don’t give a damn what brand of clothes they’re wearing or that they bought their purse at K-mart instead of Coach.  They don’t go to Starbucks for their morning coffee, they’d rather spend $4 a day sending letters to research hospitals.  Their whole life and focus is dedicated to their childs recovery.  And they would trade everything for it.

It makes me want to cry.  It takes me sitting on the couch, two feet away from these ill children and their families, to think twice about whats really important in life.  We are so spoiled.  And I know I’m not the first to say it but it’s completely true, we really do take alot of things in life for granted.

I am truly humbled every month when I do these family wish interviews for Make-A-Wish.  It really has changed my life.  I no longer find such importance in shallow things: What really matters is life/limb/health and family/friends.  Just being able to live life everyday is a true blessing.

Use your life for something other than yourself….and more than just twice a year or around the holidays.  Granted, we can’t all run out and quit our day jobs but wouldn’t it be nice if we could

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