You’re going to notice that for the next 2 posts I’m going to “jump the shark as they say (Rubber Jelly bean to the first person who tells me where that phrase originated!) And try and get just a little serious about something OTHER than what we are normally so deeply and passionately devoted to!
As many of my regulars know, and some of my irregulars may suspect, I am, indeed, a Toastmaster! <Whew, finally got THAT off my chest> BUT WAIT! This is not going to be yet, another post thinly disguised as knowledge about how to improve your performance at work, while trying to recruit you for the masses! People hate speaking in public, I get it, and I understand, I’m not going to change it. So be it. However, as a TM in good standing, and of some note, I often get asked to present or train or speak in front of organizations who have little or nothing to do with those things that I AM passionate about, so typically I pass on these offers.
However I received an email the other day that was so unique I couldn’t help but get involved, and now I’d like to think that you will have a similar opportunity! It started on a typical Monday, as I was perusing my emails there was something from someone I didn’t recognize that was titled “An Opportunity for Leaders in Toastmasters”. Well that smell suspiciously like either someone with their hand out, or someone needing a great DEAL of help with something. But being the curious sort I opened it.
It turned out to be from a leader from one of the larger clubs in the area, saying that she had been asked to try and garner some volunteers to help train some speakers for a presentation they would need to perform. But not only was this not your typical organization, it was not your typical wayward group of students looking for free help! It turns out that one of the members in the larger clubs here in Orlando has a connection with a group called “Best Buddies, Florida”, and they were to be the recipient of our training.
Not knowing anything about the organization, but knowing folks who might I immediately contacted a friend of mine who teaches “special education” in an adjacent county, and not only really LOVES what she does, but has a HUGE impact on her kids. Unfortunately she only knew of its presence, nothing more. So off to the web I went, and what I found me REALLY amazed me. Apparently this particular organization deals with High School students who have some type of ‘learning disability’, but who want to be active members in their school’s culture. SO what this group does, and what I was asked to help with, was something called “Ambassador Training.”
If you experienced High School like most of America, then you were probably a member of one or more ‘cliques.’ These were groups of like minded folks who, in my case, wouldn’t beat you up, and in others cases would actually help you do things. Well when you’re the slightest bit different, I was a Sci Fi reader who studied leadership (this was before computer geeks), so that was enough for me, but I can’t imagine what it would be like to have a difference that wasn’t one that you could ‘hide.’ Yet here is an entire group dedicated to building friendships around others, some of whom would be labeled ‘different.’
Always loving a challenge, I signed up, not having a clue what was being asked of me, and to make things better, my J.O.B. got so nasty that week as to force me to miss out on the “training call” that was to last an hour and cover everything that we would be expected to teach! So it was with great trepidation that I drove down to Best Buddies office early one Saturday morning.
When I arrived I was greeted by a very happy staff of Best Buddies, being headed up by “Cary” who was very glad to see all of us, most being Toastmasters in one form or fashion. Since we were slightly ahead of our ‘students’ Carey greeted us all and gave us a 15 minute recap of the one hour phone call. Here’s what I learned. In a few minutes a few busloads of High School students would be discharged at the office and for the next 6 hours we would be paired up with the “Best Buddy Ambassadors” and help the prepare a presentation that they could give at school or some other event that introduced the program, themselves and invited others to join in on the fun! Sounds pretty boring so far, then it was explained that there were some ground rules, for example, we could NOT write the presentations for the kids, they had to do it, we were there to guide them through some of the more common “pot holes” in public speaking that we all encounter. As well as, if they got stuck or off track, it was our job to get them back on track. Also there were certain words they wanted us to avoid.
Again, not something that seems to tough, then the kids arrived, and in walked 20 of the “brightest lights” I have encountered in the body of a High School kid in YEARS! By this I mean these “kids”, the youngest was probably 15, were energetic, enthusiastic and rip roaring to get to WORK! Something that I haven’t encountered in High School Students at 0900 on a SATURDAY, very often. Most of the students seemed to know each other, and very few of the adults were familiar with each other, but before the day were out, that would change!
The exercise was pretty simple, it started with everyone; student and trainer alike standing up and gives a brief introduction of who we were and why we were here, that really took off well, boding to a great day ahead. We were then paired up with students that we were to tutor, we were then asked to tour the room and stop and work at each station. Station number one was a question,” How does it make you feel when someone uses the “R” word (please see http://www.r-word.org/ )?” This bright little light turns to me and says “Happy!” Now I was confused. Thinking maybe she hadn’t heard me I said it a little louder, her response was “Excited.”
OK, now I admit, I don’t always convey things using the simplest language, but I was trying, so I decided to ask the source. “So Kathy, why does that make you excited?” See all around me kids were saying things like “sad” or “bad” or “made fun of” or something along those lines, and here was my little light happy about the whole thing, maybe I just didn’t get it. She looked straight at me and said, “Well for so long, so many kids have avoided me, or pretended I wasn’t there, or just not wanted to talk to me, that the fact that they want to talk to me at all, is really exciting!” You could have kit me with a bat and I wouldn’t have felt it. I do hope that my mouth wasn’t actually hanging open.
Here was this beautiful; little 16 year old girl who, from an external view, had so many things going against her, yet she decided that no matter what it was that people were saying, as long as they were INCLUDING her, she was going to turn it into a positive. See that was HER choice, just like it was Danny’s choice (the student next to us) to turn it into a joke. The other kids new Danny and they said, yes he was a comedian, “he really likes Knock, Knock jokes” and he has determined that he can actually disarm his “attackers” by laughing at them BEFORE they got the chance to laugh at him!
I was really starting to wonder who it was that needed this class more that day, me or these students? Was I there to help them with their speech or were they there to help ME with everything else in my life! Yes, I have had my fair share of physical challenges in life, but for the most part, the cast comes off, I can wear long sleeves to cover the scars, these students woke up every single day and made the decision to live that day to its highest and utmost use!
Then there was Shelly. Shelly got ‘traded’ to several of the trainers that day, because she had something going on that no one could work with (or so they said). Because every time someone asked her what she wanted to talk about it came out as some form or fashion of “Justin Bieber’s” name. Now I’ll be honest, I don’t really “get” JB’s music, but I am pretty sure that I am not part of his target demographics, so he’s probably NOT losing any sleep over me not owning all things “JB”.
Finally, I asked if I could talk to Shelly during a break, and on the break I explained to Shelly that although I wasn’t a huge fan I did understand it a little, after all there is a girl in my office who LOVES Justin. So here I was, this ‘old guy’ who worked with someone4 who was a fan, I had a connection! So she started telling me how cool it would be if Justin could go to the prom with her. “Best Buddies” throws their own “Prom” every year, so that in case a student didn’t get invited or didn’t want to attend the Prom at their school they KNKEW that they had a place where they could go and have a GREAT time, because the rules were going to be a little different. They would be slanted in THEIR favor, instead of “against them” which is how some of the kids chose to see their traditional High School Proms.
So she starts spinning this long involved tale of how he would drive up in this LONG white limo, with a clean white tuxedo, and would present her with flowers, and would dance with her all evening, and she could introduce him to all her friends and he would get the chance to see how much fun she was having at “her prom.” As opposed to going to the “regular prom.” Now something that Shelly may not know, but according to ask.com JB is about 5’-6” tall, and at well over 6 feet Shelly would be the one carrying HIM over the threshold. But I didn’t think that her story needed to be interrupted by reality at this point, so I kept it to myself. SO I asked Shelly, how she would feel about having ALL those photographers follows her around on her date and probably get splashed on the front page. Well apparently THIS she hadn’t thought about it, because she suddenly started to get a little uncertain about whether this was a good idea.
Seeing her smile fade a little I started to add, but just think Shelly, as you and Justin are climbing into that big white limo at the end of the evening, and he’s going to take you home, he can turn to the cameras for Entertainment Tonight (is that how even ON?) and tell them all what a GREAT time he had at the Best Buddies Prom, and how NEXT YEAR you either needed to be at the prom or you needed to BE a best Buddy! That got her dreaming again, and off she went.
Well when the class was over all the kids got up in front of the class, and their tutors and their parents, and gave their presentations. As much as I would love to tell you that Kathy brought the house UP with her love and her light. I would even LOVE to tell you that Shelly was able to bring everyone into poses of rapt attention with her dramatization of Justin Biebers first experience at a Best Buddies Prom. But I can’t. See the one student who really drove it all home, who made sure that everyone student and visitor alike, got the idea of what this was all about was Jason.
Now Jason was about 6 feel 10” tall, wore Cowboy boots and had bright blue eyes and blonde hair. During a break Jason and I had spoken and he wanted to be a pastor, “Like Joel Osteen”. When Jason took the podium he was able to bring everyone in with the terror of being the tallest kid in class, and not knowing what a basketball was. He was the one student who knew the old and new Testaments, by memory, but when it came to the ‘social graces’ he was a little stale. But when he talked about his love for the Lord and how he had been blessed at being born “different” enough so that everyone could look at him and say, “Well if Jason can do it what’s MY problem?” He had every heart in the building. He won a resounding ovation, and hugs and tears from many of the folks in attendance. He told HIS story, his way and emphasized what was important to HIM about it, in such a smooth way, that NO ONE could even consider questioning his sincerity.
So now I have to ask you,” If Jason can do it, what’s YOUR excuse?”
What’s the one reason that your willing to give to your wife, friend, children so that you never ever have to worry about excelling above anyone else again. You never need to feel the discomfort or the tension that might be caused by doing something new, something you’ve never done before, for an unknown amount of time. Just so that you can maintain your status quo and stay inside the lines!
Still need that excuse? That’s ok, pick on, anyone, then live it for the rest of your days, because that’s where you will be.
Also, for those of you interested in Best Buddies, please take a look here:
And although their next Ambassador Training may be a year away there are lots of ways to get involved and Carey did want me to make sure that EVERYONE knows about the Friendship walk, it is on their Home page, but Central Florida is Saturday 04/14/12.
PS: All names of minors have been changed for their own protection, Carey is not a minor and is aware he is being mentioned here.