A Challenge Received…A Challenge in Return

A Challenge Received…A Challenge in Return
This pail is the current rage in America. But, this pail symbolizes more than that: there is a lot we can do to fill that bucket for those in need.

It finally happened.

I received the challenge to pour a bucket of ice-cold water over my head. I would humbly accept the challenge, but there’s a little problem…

There’s no one to videotape it and no one to pour the bucket over my head.

So, I have to be creative here.

In a perfect scenario, not only would I accept getting doused with cold water…I would also donate as well. I believe in helping out when I am able to.

I don’t see why everyone and their mammas are up in arms over how to do this. There is no right or wrong way to bring awareness by “paying it forward” by doing something fun and show support, or by writing a check.

I do have a problem with those who say “just donate” and dismiss the “silly notion of pouring water over your head.” You are missing the big picture here. If someone or a group came up to you and asked you for a donation, do you just donate and not ask questions? Do you want to know more about why you are being asked to help out?

“Cutting a check” don’t mean squat these days. Your money has little value, if you’re just handing it over. Neither is wishing that they go away and never ask you again.

I know.  I serve on the community leadership board for my local American Diabetes Association of Iowa chapter

I am also a volunteer.

I am also a person living with diabetes. I recently marked 20 years living with a disease that will ultimately end my life. But…I’m not dead yet!

For several years, I have quietly asked for support for my organization in aiding programs like Diabetes Busters, to educate the community about what diabetes is, and its effect. More importantly, beyond funding diabetes research at the University of Iowa, we are here to support people who live with diabetes and those who are impacted by it.

Many of the people I’ve tried to reach out to in the past, and today, have no interest in supporting me in my walk, bike ride, or other programs we do at ADA. That’s unfortunate, but I can’t dwell on that. Most of them have never dealt with diabetes…and some are in denial of it.

For the ones who have reached out, I am forever grateful.

This is a picture of volunteers who helped teach the Diabetes Busters class to 4th graders at Shuler Elementary. Your support and donations help programs like this reach not only students, but to parents as well.
This is a picture of volunteers who helped teach the Diabetes Busters class to 4th graders at Shuler Elementary. Your support and donations help programs like this reach not only students, but to parents as well.

Here is what many of you do not understand about non-profits organizations (NPO): they have changed their approach when it comes to soliciting donations.  In the past, a NPO walks up to a company or a person and ask for a donation, and sometimes never explain what that donation will fund or sustain. Since the 2008 recession, individuals, companies, and potential sponsors have become more discriminate in handing out cash to organizations. They are looking to donate based on what their employees want, how do their values align, and does it make the bigger impact for the community as a whole.

It’s the bottom line, stupid.

So, non-profits had to change their game plan. Money is not the first thing we ask for anymore. We’re going to tell you what we do, what our mission is, what programs we have to serve the community, and how we can help you achieve the bottom line, if you are a company, or how to make better lifestyle choices if you are an individual.

If we’re lucky, you’ll be the one asking “how can I donate?” or “how can I help?”

Everyone’s friend and my brother from another mother, Phil, came across this piece of news Friday, courtesy of Huffington Post. Government funding for medical research continues to be slashed, thus putting more pressure on NPOs like ALS, the National MS Society, and others find new ways to raise money to assist researchers in finding new medicines or cures, and to sustain the programs in place to continue supporting those who need it. From ALS patients to school children in Ferguson, Missouri, who missed out on several days of school, and as a result, couldn’t receive school breakfast and lunch.

Funny how we miss doing the real positive things, because all we ever talk about is how bad things are in this world.

There is need everywhere. There is no sense in being a jerk and going “I’m refusing to give to ALS”, or go “Why don’t just donate and stop with this silly bucket deal.” That’s your prerogative, but you better damn well give your money to something you care about…and not sit on your ass lecturing people about it.

All it takes is knocking on the door and asking “how can I help?” Those words mean more to people than you know.

As much as I want to get doused with water (and I still do), I have electronically donated $25 to the ALS Association, in honor of Phil Hibbard.* Phil is the father of my college classmate, Gina Hibbard Brown. Over the winter, Phil was diagnosed with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, which is a progressive neurodegenerative disease that affects nerve cells in the brain and the spinal cord. The disease, in layman’s terms, shut down your muscles and motor skills. It paralyzes the body, leaving you unable to speak when you want to speak, write, play, or do anything.

I don’t have $100. I’m unemployed. I spend most of my days applying for jobs and volunteering, which people know me more for the latter here in Des Moines. As I said at the beginning, if I am able, I’ll do what I can to help. $25 isn’t much, but you just made a small impact in a big way.

All that I ask in return is that you please consider supporting me in my upcoming walk in September, or show support in the efforts of the ADA here in Iowa. Any small gesture I’ll take with open arms: by money or volunteering.

Secondly, I am not going to challenge a certain person to get wet. I’m going to change this up a bit, if you don’t mind.

The challenge I have is two-fold…for all of us.

If you want to do the Ice Bucket Challenge, please do it…if you want to participate and spread awareness. Awareness is the most powerful tool we have at our disposal. People need information and education to understand what’s going on, why it’s going on, and how it affects all of us.

The other part of my challenge is this: there are organizations in your community, be it health-related, environment, neighborhoods, and others, that need just as much support as ALS is receiving, and what Susan G. Komen has traditionally gotten.

  • If you want to give money, that’s fine, but we want you to understand and learn how your donation can provide services. Don’t just write a check…learn how it will help people.
  • If you can’t afford to donate but want to help out, call an organization, or stop by one. All of have a skill that NPOs need: marketing, accounting, labor, et cetera. Offer to use those skills in any way. It takes one person, not 10,000 or a 1,000, but one person to walk in and say “I would like to help.” It makes a difference.
  • If there is someone you know who is in need, hook them up with an organization. You may not know it, but you could end up being the person who saved their lives and restore hope in their lives.

The main goal is “pay it forward”. We don’t do enough of it because we are such a jaded society. Even if something good is taking place, people find ways to be haters. Don’t be a hater. We ain’t got time for that hot mess. 

My challenge is for us to do better…no matter how you do it.


Not Just “One Day”, It’s “Everyday”

Community service is more than a glorified one-day deal. It's an everyday job.

Today, everyone will talk and espouse about community service and peace toward mankind, for this is a national holiday honoring Dr. Martin Luther King.  Community service and peace were two of the main facets that made Dr. Martin Luther King one of the most revered Americans ever during a time where our nation went through a period of evolution that challenged our societal attitudes and way of life. 

But as I think about this day, I can’t help but to ask this yearly question to myself…

…have we really learned anything from the words and actions of King, Mother Theresa, Gandhi, and others? 

My answer is a resounding “no”.  We say we want to adhere to those principles of civility and peace, but we feel the need to say, act, or behave in ways that we know is wrong, but we do it anyway. 

Remember last January and the Tucson, Arizona shootings?  Everyone was quick to say that the shooting was triggered by the political rhetoric.  It wasn’t.  Jared Loughner had a history of being an unstable individual due to mental illness, and Loughner acted out randomly as he fired upon a crowd, including Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords.  It was never directly due to political rhetoric. 

We ignored the real problem:  the state of mental health in this country

After that tragedy, we “pledged” to be kinder and gentler when it came to poltiical discourse. 

That was short-lived.  Our attention span is so short, we can’t even recall who was in the 2011 Final Four besides Butler and UConn.  We’re back to the same old thing, because we “chose” to continue this silliness ourselves.  It’s not just the Republicans’ or the Democrats’ fault. 

It’s ours.  We encourage the unruly behavior as a way to satisfy ourselves and what we want.  And I doubt if we’re really going to make an effort in being civil in every day life. 

Many of you are not fans of ESPN Radio‘s Colin Cowherd.  There’s nothing wrong with that.  I’m one of a few that like him, regardless if I agree with his opinions or not.  I bring him up because of a video clip after the jump that I’ve adopted in 2011 as a mantra for myself.  The clip is worth listening as he asks “Why are we always looking to strike back (or seek revenge) when someone says or do something wrong towards us?” 

If we really care about being civil, then I wouldn’t be writing this, or Character Counts In Iowa wouldn’t be on the forefront of fostering civil discourse and behavior in this world.


Also on this day, everyone will be participating in a “day of service” across the nation.  I’m for community service and individuals who are dedicated in helping their communities in the spirit of charity and service. 

But what I have a hard accepting is the notion that we should set aside this national holiday as a “national” day of service.  “Everyday” is a national day of service.  Police, fire, and EMT personnel don’t take 364 (365 as 2012 is a leap year) days off, so they could put all of their efforts into doing a “day of service” on this day. 

They are on call every second, minute, hour, and day to provide service to those in need. 

If you're going to do community service, don't half-ass it like Lindsay Lohan. She's only doing it to wipe that jail conviction off of her record.

There are people who need help everyday, not just on the Dr. King holiday.  From the homeless to those battling cystic fibrosis.  From battered women and children to military veterans battling Post-Traumatic Syndrome Disorder. 

For those who think they feel they have done something good by doing “a day of service” on this holiday, I want to challenge you to do more than just one day of service. 

In fact, I want you to find an organization, charity, or a group, join it, and immerse yourself into community service.  If you’re going to do it to “pad” your resume and look good in the community, you are better off not doing it at all.  You’re wasting your time.

Please don’t just show up for one day and then go back into hiding until the next Dr. King holiday.  It’s an insult to so many people who constantly provide community service worldwide. 

The Meaning and Purpose of An Award

I don’t believe in self-promotion by any means.  Okay, the picture above would contradict that, but follow me here.  If done too much, it makes you sound like a narcissistic hog:  walking around with its nose stuck up in the air, covered in mud. 

However, when something comes along that is very important and you get recognized for it, you feel proud. 

Last week was one of the moments, when I received an award for community service from the Young Professionals Connection, which is a young professional organization under the Greater Des Moines Partnership

The story, to me, isn’t how I received the award, or the acceptance speech, but the story of how this award was created. 

The Ashley Okland Community Service Award was created this year by YPC to honor the memory of an individual whose time here on this crazy place we call Earth ended too early, senselessly and unspeakable. 

Friday, April 8, 2011 appeared to be a normal day around town.  I was hanging out at Scooter’s Coffeehouse (now closed) in West Des Moines.  An acquaintance of mine, Liz Nelson, posted on Facebook that she had an extra ticket to a Civic Music Association concert at Drake University that evening and the first person who sent her a message, would get it. 

Not wanting to pass up a chance, I let Liz know I would take it and attend the performance.  About 3 minutes later, a twitter post came across my laptop that there was a shooting in West Des Moines at a model home.  I casually glanced at it and went back to work, waiting for more information to come out. 

Ten minutes later, it was posted that an Iowa Realty real estate agent was shot and was transported to the hospital.  At first thought, I selfishly was hoping that who ever it was will pull through. 

I headed home, got dressed, and headed to Drake University for the concert at Sheslow Auditorium. 

I arrived on campus, met Liz, picked up my ticket and went inside for the performance.  A little after 9pm, there was a 15-minute intermission period.  I headed outside to check my Twitter feed and get caught up.  The reception in the auditorium was not very good.  I started to see several “RIP” tweets and other tweets with “shocked”, “horrible”, and “sad.”  I scroll down my timeline to find out more about who was the agent that was shot. 

The agent died.  The name of the victim:  Ashley Okland.  I started running through my all-too informative brain trying to picture her.  I did.  I ran into her a week before at Smokey Row.  We didn’t know each other very well, beyond the fact that she served on the YPC board and the both of us participated in several YPC functions. 

The cool evening wind I was feeling felt like an ice storm that blew in and froze time.  It was surreal and unsettling.  I was not in a state of shock.  I was angry.  Pissed off.  Only a coward would do this and run.  Only a cold-calculated individual would commit a heinous and unspeakable act.  

Ashley Okland

A couple of deep breaths and then a long drawn in breath and I exhaled.  I turned around and walked back inside for the second half of the concert.  Yeah, there was no way I could enjoy the rest of the evening.  I was worried about everyone else that knew her:  her family, friends, and colleagues.  It was not going to be easy for them.  

During the final portion of the concert, I knew what I needed to do:  write about it.  I knew what to write and what I needed to describe.  Not for myself, but to offer what small solace it could offer at a time of raw emotions that is neither neat and clean, but rather crestfallen and heartbroken.  I have always been able to shut off my emotions and write what I think and observe.  That night, I needed that ability more than ever to do it. 

Arriving home, I sat down and read as much as I could from the Des Moines Register and other sources online.  As the cursor blinked, I began writing.  In two hours, I wrote this piece that resonated with the YPC community here in Des Moines.  Out of all of the blog posts I have written over the past 6 years, this one was the most challenging and the one I didn’t want to write.  In fact, I hate re-reading it even to this day. 

But I re-read the post once a month as a reminder for myself that internally I will not have satisfaction or relief until the coward who pulled that trigger and cut down an innocent person is captured, tried by a jury of his or her peers, and learn their punishment for this crime. 

Flash forward, eight months to that day in April, I’m receiving congratulations from friends upon being bestowed the inaugural Ashley Okland Community Service Award.  I was selected due to the work I have done as a volunteer in several groups and in general.  I’m a volunteer veteran.  I’ve been lending my time to volunteering for roughly 6 years.  Ashley was just starting to hit her stride as a volunteer. 

Yes, most of you who are my friends will keep reminding me that I’m deserving of this award.  I can’t deny that.  I should embrace it. 

But this award isn’t about the winner of the award, for it is the person for which this award is named after.  We tend to forget the story and the value of what an award means when it’s named after someone, as a way to honor them, or remember them when they are no longer here. 

Let us not forget this reminder when we are recognized for the great things we do in our careers, jobs, and in the community, be it church, park, or school.  For every award, there is a reason and a purpose behind it.