What I learned recently from an 8 year old has forever changed the way I think about the work of non profits. Before I get into that though, let’s back up a dozen years. I spent so much time in Los Angeles trying to figure out the best way to implement different violence prevention programs to a city of nearly 4 million people. My job description as a domestic violence counselor with the Los Angeles Police Department didn’t include prevention efforts, but going into people’s homes day in and day out, creating crisis plans for survivors of domestic and sexual violence, practically forced my brain to start thinking of ways to stop that endless cycle.
Then I moved back home to Dubuque and worked for Riverview Center for 8 years. At the end of the day, I was the guy who signed off on any and all violence prevention efforts. During any one of my presentations I would share that the violence prevention program reached more than 44,000 students in one year. I was proud of that number. A team of educators throughout the tri-state area worked tirelessly to get into every school, business, and civic group in the hopes of branding the message of prevention. At the end of every year though, it was often difficult to measure success and to identify a lasting mark with any given audience.
It turns out that through all those great accomplishments, one critical ingredient was missing. Looking back, it seems so obvious. We were trying to own the work of violence prevention. Our vision of creating a community free of violence would most certainly never be realized by 25 employees and a few dozen volunteers. It was going to take the entire community.
When Clare approached Resources Unite with her vision of ending bullying at Hoover Elementary School it was tipping point for me when it comes to understanding how real social change is realized. I mean, who better to advocate for the end of bullying than a student that has seen and experienced it firsthand? It was evident after our first meeting with this 8 year old powerhouse that people were going to pay attention like never before bullying and harassment.
We’ve been helping Clare with her story, but it’s been her leading the way. It’s her passion. She knows what her school needs. And to be more accurate, she now knows what 23 schools need. That’s right. As of today, 23 Buddy Benches will be installed in elementary schools throughout the tri-state area. (and that list is growing every single day) People are coming out of the woodwork to sponsor a Buddy Bench. News of Clare’s success has made national headlines. In our last Clare Cares meeting, she mentioned that she would love to share her vision with Ellen. (yeah, that Ellen) She better get her dancing shoes ready because she’s probably going to get there.
I’m a hell of a storyteller. I know that to be true. When I get passionate about something, it’s hard for anyone to keep it contained. But what I’ve learned from Clare is that sometimes I’m not the right guy telling the story.