Hope & Healing through Habitat: A Veteran’s Story

In April 2012, a group of U.S. veterans of the Vietnam War traveled with Habitat for Humanity to the Mekong Delta to be “part of the change.” Over two weeks, the veterans healed decades-old wounds of war while building houses and hope in partnership with Vietnamese families. This video follows Vic Romback from memories of his Air Force deployment through his return to Vietnam, the construction of three Habitat for Humanity homes, and a moving tribute to soldiers laid to rest in a Vietnamese National Cemetery. Read more.

Great Storytellers make the Best Communicators

In August 2011, six months after launching Barkada Circle, I joined the Toastmasters Club in my neighborhood because I realized that in order to be a better storyteller, I had to first be a better communicator, especially in front of a group of people.

Public speaking was never my strength. I remember joining a number of speech competitions during my elementary years in school. I didn’t join voluntarily. NOOOO! English teachers would recommend a student to a jury based on the student’s performance in class and that student simply had no choice. He had to be a contestant. I did ok in English literature, but to this day I still wonder why my name was frequently thrown into the hat. The only reason that made sense was that the teachers had already picked a winner and I was simply a schmuck that guaranteed victory for their favorite student. So there I was, standing in front of an audience and a microphone stammering my life away. I never felt the need to do something about it because my true love was to draw and paint. Art still is and always will be my true love. My feeling had always been that I don’t have to talk about my art. It speaks for itself. It has to. That is, until August 2011.

After months of shaping the storytelling programs of Barkada Circle, doing two pilot workshops and getting feedback from early participants, I came to realize that I needed to improve my speaking skills. Literally days after this crossed my mind, my neighbor and friend told me she was thinking about joining a Toastmasters Club and found one just a few blocks west of our condo building. Francesca is a seasoned actor and playwright and lives below my floor. Despite being in a profession that constantly puts her in front of people, she still feels the need to better her communication skills. What did that say about me?

Francesca and I visited the local Toastmasters club one Saturday morning. The new experience got us and hooked. The people in the club were warm, supportive and showed that they truly cared about helping you succeed. Francesca and I became official members by the next meeting. Since then, we’ve enjoyed writing and delivering our own speeches while getting valuable feedback and coaching from the other members.

Having the confidence to communicate my passion for the mission of Barkada Circle and being able to have that passion come through and resonate with the person listening to me is exhilarating. Learning the skills to speak with clarity by using words that are potent with meaning helps me to capture a person’s attention with fewer words so I can be respectful of their time. Being who I am and showing what I can do in a way only I can, and people telling me that they want it from me, and people telling me that they need it from me, has shown me the true meaning of victory — not the kind that comes with winning a contest — rather, it’s overcoming the hurdles and limitations that, once upon a time, kept a young boy from reaching for what else was out there for him to discover. Today that boy lives in a world he could not have imagined.

A world where stories are colorful, sensational and real. Stories that make a difference in people’s lives. People who want their lives to change. Change that will help us tell a new story, a better story because it is one story that we all share.

Your mission is a work of art.

In yesterday’s post, I talked about a blog entry by Seth Godin — renowned author, public speaker and entrepreneur — how he values imagination and what it can do for organizations moving forward in this age of uncertainty. Recently Seth also had a conversation with Krista Tippett which was recorded on American Public Media for Krista’s program called On Being. In their dialog, Seth pointed out that “rather than merely tolerating change, we are all called now to rise to it. We are invited and stretched in whatever we do to be artists — to create in ways that matter to other people.”

One of the questions that Krista asked Seth was, “Who is today’s artist?” According to Seth, today’s artist solves a problem in an interesting and innovative way — in a way that matters to a specific group of people. The age of trying to appeal to everyone (ultimately to no one) and doing mass marketing is over. Success is now driven by making real positive impact on what Seth calls a tribe — individuals with shared values and beliefs. If you can connect people in a tribe and amplify their values and beliefs so they can make more connections on their own, then you’re on your way to achieving real impact and success with your art.

So what does it take to connect people in a tribe? What do they readily share? What keeps them engaged? Stories encapsulate the tribe’s history and their mission, what led them on that specific path, their vision for change, and the relationships between the members and their emotional ties to what their community stands for. It all begins with something personal, something that awakens the human spirit — a tapestry that unfolds into a shared narrative.

One Chicago nonprofit, A Silver Lining Foundation, is dedicated to the fight against cancer by ensuring that underserved individuals affected by cancer have access to information and treatment options, regardless of their socio-economic situation. The organization was founded by Dr. Sandy Goldberg of NBC Chicago after she was diagnosed with breast cancer. For Dr. Sandy, hers is more than a tribe, it’s a family. Here is Dr. Sandy’s story, in her own words.

Experience live other compelling stories of local nonprofits at WHAT’S YOUR READ, Barkada Circle’s storytelling jam session in March: https://barkadacircle.com/jam-session

Always imagine change because security is an illusion.

The only blog that I subscribe to is that of Seth Godin. Wikipedia describes him as an American entrepreneur, author, and public speaker who has written fourteen bestselling books on topics including the post-industrial revolution, how ideas spread, marketing, quitting, leadership, and changing everything. Seth Godin introduced the concept of “permission marketing.”

What is Permission Marketing? We’re all familiar with traditional advertising on television, radio and now the internet. According to Seth, these are classified as “interruption marketing” which tries to grab the customer’s attention while they are doing something they prefer. The same goes for pop up ads on the internet. An example of Permission Marketing is asking someone if you can include them on your list for receiving your e-newsletters. It’s mostly used by online marketers as well as some who do direct marketing and send a catalog or brochure in response to a request. The point is engaging a customer by providing them something they are anticipating. The transaction becomes personal and relevant. With Permission Marketing, you’re going beyond having a transaction with your customer. Instead, you’re having a meaningful relationship with them.

Seth’s blog is perhaps the most popular in the world written by a single individual. His post on Saturday, Feb 2 talked about a paracosm which Seth defined as an ornate, richly detailed imaginary world. Growing up, I remember creating imaginary worlds with my brother and cousins. Our toys were stashed in my father’s office in the home of my childhood. It was the only room with enough storage for our stuff. We would drag the toys out into the living room and take over the entire first floor. There was a rock garden below the stairway, and this added another dimension of possibilities for our afternoons spent in the fairy kingdom, the village of the future or the lost city under the sea.

Seth also wrote in his post that “whether you’re a three-year old with imaginary playmates, or a passionate inventor imagining how your insight will change just about everything, a paracosm gives you the opportunity to hypothesize, to try out big ideas and see where they take you.” This is used widely by managers and teams at established organizations when they try to come up with new strategies to keep moving their organizations forward. However, more often than not, their behaviors reflect that of a rigid institution when challenged to envision the future without the key components that made them successful in the first place. They feel they have to remain loyal to what Seth calls “their founding precepts.”

Is it really about loyalty? Or is it about feeling insecure about abandoning what has always been perceived as the pillars of the organization? Could it be about fear of not having a safety net? Seth gives the example of the publishing industry. Imagine a world without books published on paper. To a major player in that industry ten or fifteen years ago, not having printed books was inconceivable. But as you all know, a new business model has since emerged which changed the entire world of books.

At this point, my question is — What does your paracosm look like? Who are the major players? What do they care about? What must you take away from your current reality? What can be added? What emotional responses ensue? Why is it important to imagine this world where new challenges and new opportunities converge?

My message has always been consistent. An organization must have a compelling story behind its mission to stay relevant and valuable to the community. What is also consistent throughout our lives is change. And in order to stay relevant to the lives of the people in our community — the people we serve, the volunteers, the board members, the advocates, the donors, the people who care about the work you do — in order for your organization to continue doing the work that matters to them, you must always anticipate change and imagine its impact on your organization and your community. Change must always be part of your story. If you’re able to re-invent your story and live it, you will be able to empower your organization to remain at the helm directing your future and the future of the community you serve.