Monday, November 23, 2020

1975 - Mrs. Fox - Lessons from a Teacher Who Loved the Dodgers


(50 Nifty Years in United States Series)

You always remember that teacher who looked and smelled great. As an 11 year old, in 5th grade, we had Mrs. Fox as our Catholic School (non nun) crush teacher. I believe it was her first year teaching and we were her first class.

We knew she was special – by the last week of September, she was letting us watch the Dodgers in the play offs. An at the same time she was teaching us about math by calculating batting averages. (Okay statistics were never my thing – as some may know, I liked it so much in college I had to take it twice.) 

I learned so much that year especially about 5th graders.  They are not too cool to learn – there is an enthusiasm about new things still. I have worked with thousands of 5th graders over the last 40 years through outdoor environmental education groups at the different camps I have served. And 5th graders are the best. By 6th grade it’s a 50/50 shot and hormones start to kick in.

Mrs. Fox knew that and taught to that principle. I remember lots of hands on science stuff, SRA reading labs and different hand made projects. Those labs were all about persevering and moving along at your pace. That lesson alone is a great take a way in fifth grade. As is asking for help. I know that as I moved through those projects, sometimes, I would get stuck. I recall having to do a take home airplane model. I worked on that for hours after school and I just did not know how to make it look right. I had a paper towel holder and  model paint. It was frustrating at best and I had to ask my parents for help. 

At the end of the school year we had a BBQ at her house in Pasadena – this was the first time that I felt part of a community other than in school – she made us all feel welcome and I have used that as a filter til today. Of course her husband was there and he tended the BBQ and just seemed beyond cool, especially since he was married to Mrs. Fox. 

Learning how to be part of a group and being inclusive – she mediated several conversations throughout the year between students – Eddie and Ray where part of our class and I am grateful for the lessons that she brought to me personally and how to stand with others who may not always be like me. It really is a time when you learn about being different and that it starts to matter to those around you that we all have differences. 

Inclusivity (sp?) has been a major theme in my life and the work at camp has always been about creating community and learning along the way. I am in a great deal of dept to teachers and mentors along the way who not only talked about it, but they also led with action. John Maxwell says it best. "Your talk talks and your walk talks, but your walk talks louder than you talk talks."

Thanks to Mrs. Fox and her community as well as the dozens of teachers who have influenced my life that I have spent the last 50 plus years in these United States.

Monday, November 16, 2020

1974 - Joseph - Leadership From a 14 Year Old Altar Server


Altar servers - not an actual picture of Joseph or myself

(50 Nifty Years in United States Series)

Joseph – To be honest I cannot recall his last name. He was in 8th grade at Holy Family School, South Pasadena, CA (I know that because that is the highest grade one could attend at that time. He was a blonde guy who towered over us and over the school. I remember that he was the school student body president. He was an altar boy/server as well and I want to say I had served once with him on the schedule and it may have been after this story had occurred.

I seem to recall he played baseball as well and was a catcher. He was a Scout as well because I recall times that he wore his uniform to school. He was also the first tangible representation of servant leadership that I can recall.

Historically, altar servers go back to the third century in the church. As a 12 year old, St. Tarcisius (later named patron saint of altar serves) endured persecution and ultimately died from injuries when he refused to desecrate the Blessed Sacrament (Bread and Wine) while carrying it to those who had been imprisoned for their belief. An early servant leader.

It was during Holy Thursday mass during the Easter season. I remember walking in and seeing a row of 12 chairs at the base of the altar – which was different to start since I had never seen that before. I was intrigued since Joseph was wearing a different robe; as the priests and others involved were lined up at the back of the church.

It was a large crowd and I wanted to sit closer to the front so I could see. I dragged my grandmother to the port side of church and as close-up front as we could get. I had a view and I kept an eye on Joseph all along thinking “this is different.” At the end of the homily there was quiet as everyone was still seated.

The twelve folks who had processed in at the beginning were now moving to the front and seated in the chairs. Joseph went up to the podium and talked about the supper and about service. Then he did an amazing thing and washed the feet of the twelve. I know many of you know the story and at the time I recall hearing about how it all happened.

I was astounded and amazed. I remember feeling pride that I knew him and we were in the same school. I thought that maybe someday I could be more like him. Perhaps in a few years, I could be chosen to be the one who did this at that mass as well. I recall the talk that week in school. Joseph had proposed doing the part of the service.

Not an actual picture of Joseph or a priest who is a Dodger

He was destined for the priesthood. Perhaps he would play for the Dodgers. I remember passing him in the hallway at school and he would actually acknowledge us with his smile and encouraging voice. Everyone wanted to be like him.

I do not know what became of Joseph. I do know that it made an impact on my young life and I am here recounting those moments of that hour over forty some odd years later. How grateful to be part of a community that allows for freedoms like the one that was shared with me at an early age. How grateful for Joseph’s voice on that one evening so many springs ago. 

An example of what it meant to be a leader; a servant leader that I did not even consider I would need to know and what an influence it would have as I have spent these years in these United States.

SUPPLEMENTAL: For practicing Catholics reading this; I choose "Joseph" as my confirmation Saint.

Monday, November 9, 2020

1973 - Lesson from an Irish Priest


Interior Holy Family Church in South Pasadena, CA.

(50 Nifty Years in United States Series)

Father Thomas McGovern – He was the first priest that I knew as an example of leadership. He was appointed Monsignor around this time and I recall how big a deal that was in the parish. He was also the priest who taught us how to be altar boys (as it was know at that time). The previous year, upon completion of our first communion, we were (most of the boys in my class at Holy Family) all conscripted to become Altar Boys (that’s what they called altar servers back then).

My first time as on the schedule and I got up very early so as to arrive early. No one was there but a handful of people in the church. I got the altar garments on and proceeded to set things up. I got ready to light the candles, which was one of the reasons I had arrived early and had very much wanted to be the one to do so. I lit the flame extender and in doing so I extended the wick on the lighter out a bit too far. As I reached to get the first candle lit on the altar, the wick burnt completely off and landed in the flower arrangement. I looked out at the church and back at the flowers to make sure no one had noticed. As I looked, the traces of smoke began to rise from the slightly dry flower vase.

I did the only thing I knew to do. I panicked a bit. In doing so, I ran back to the sacristy and found water…Holy Water. I ran back out and noticed more smoke and in my 9 year old brain…there may have been flames as well.

By now, the other Altar boy (my friend John) had arrived. He helped to get the candles lit and everything else prepared. Father McGovern would not know anything had happened.

During the service, the altar boys sat on these small backless seats that were right next to the priest. They were directly in front of a wooden outcropping on the altar itself. At one point, John went to sit down and I could see that he slammed his back on the lower part of the outcropping. A muffled “hmph” that was audible enough for Father McGovern to turn around and raise an eyebrow.

As with any good friend, I did what I knew to do. Attempt to control my laughter and do so very poorly. I could see tears of pain on John’s face and that made it worse. Father McGovern cleared his throat and again we attempted to maintain composure.

During communion at this time, Altar Boys had a “Communion Paten” to hold under the chin of those receiving Communion. I, of course stood next to Father McGovern and extended the “paten’ with each “Body of Christ.” It was a fascinating thing to see so many faces and tongues. There were not many that accepted the communion wafer at that time in their hand. The whole idea was to catch the communion wafer or bits of it should it fall from the recipients mouth.

This was an early morning mass and I had been up for two hours already in the excitement of the being an altar server. By the time communion rolled around, the excitement had worn a bit and monotonous drone of the endless communion line took a toll. I was standing on the step above the participants with Father. My eyes felt very heavy and I just kept raising the paten towards each person. There was something hypnotic in all those tongues. I know thinking back on this, that it was not a long time. But the next thing I knew, Father McGovern was trying to balance the Communion Cup and the paten and me as I almost fell forward in a sleepy state towards one of the parishioners. I received a look of astonishment and admonition. At this point, I was convinced that I would never serve again.

At the end of the mass service, we would go back into the sacristy and kneel as father would give us a blessing. This is where he would put a hand on each of our shoulders and pray for a moment. In doing so, I can say that Father McGovern was part Vulcan and administered an equivalent Vulcan neck/shoulder pinch as he pushed down. At the end of the “blessing” he uttered in his Irish brogue, “Let’s do better next time.” 

I think about this nearly everyday. When I go to bed at night and then when I get up the next day. I have used these words in self reflection so many times. I try and be a better husband, father, director, leader, servant or otherwise given any opportunity.

I am grateful for so many early lessons in the 50 plus years since my family moved to these United States. And I am grateful for the opportunities that no matter how things may go wrong, you have the freedom and opportunity to do better next time.

Monday, November 2, 2020

ELECTIONS - Then and now (1984 until present)



I originally wrote this in a non presidential election year. As I think about tomorrow, I find it more compelling that so many Americans will choose to not vote. My family left a country and came to the US because of a dream of freedom to be and live a better life. Please VOTE!

My Story:

One of the fundamental things about coming to these United States has been the opportunity to vote in elections. It wasn’t until I turned 18 (1982) that I was able to apply for Citizenship. I did so almost immediately given the opportunity.

I recall as far back as 1972 (during that election) that we had discussed the presidential election in school. We even had the opportunity to conduct a mock vote at our school. I also recall one of the other students telling me that I could not vote since I was born in a different country. My teacher that year even referred to my sister and I as “those Portuguese children.” The tone was clear; ultimately, we were allowed to vote in the mock school election.

So, upon turning 18, I began the process. I had already been through the process with my grandparents. I spent nearly a year from 1977 to 78 helping them study for the Naturalization test. In my pursuit, I recall going down to the INS (Immigration and Naturalization Service) office at the Federal building in Downtown Los Angeles. The lines were always long, and it always seemed like an all-day wait. In fact, on two different occasions I arrived at one o’clock in the morning to get in line since only the first 100 people would get a number to be seen that day. 
That process is what was expected at that time. My good friend, Bob Montes, spent a long night in front of that building with me and I am grateful for his companionship. 

It was nearly 3 years to complete and I also recall going to that seem building for the Naturalization event and then being moved to the convention center (about 4 miles away) for the actual ceremony. Til tI have all my paperwork and the letter from then President Ronald Reagan welcoming me to the United States as a Citizen. I COULD NOW VOTE.

I have done so in 34 elections. Yes, it has been 36 years and I missed two elections due to moving once and a second time when the only two items to vote for were local judges. I rationalized that I did not know enough about them to vote.

Tomorrow, America has the opportunity to go to the polls and determine who we want to represent us in our government for the next few years (locally, state wide and nationally). There may be other measures on your ballot as well.

For me, I will be voting the way that I believe makes the most sense to me. I consider the person and their integrity and as much about who they are as a person as I can find. Research about candidates is easier now than it has ever been. You can find so much information out there.

I also believe that whomever we hire to do the work of representation needs to be clear about their roll. If they have had the position and you disagree with their performance, like any job, they may not be the right fit. Consider changing that person not because they are blue or red, but because they are not doing what they were hired to do.

I have had the great opportunity to interview nearly 5400 people over the years for working at camp and have hired nearly 2200. I believe that past performance is the greatest predictor for how someone will perform in the future. This is a method I have adopted into my voting pattern as well.

I have voted left and right. I have worked on a national presidential campaign. I have contributed to causes and candidates. I have, in fact cherished the American experience and hopefully demonstrated it for my children so that they will hold and cherish it as well. And I have voted with the mindset that not all people have this opportunity and I cherish that.

I am so grateful for the opportunity to vote. I have to say that I have not always exercised that opportunity as I noted above. I consider my family stories of oppression and lack of opportunity in my birth country.

It is an inalienable right that will always be here and we all need to make sure that to preserve it, is to practice it.

Please Vote and thank you for letting me be a part of these United States for over 52 years.

1972 – Lessons from Eugene Cernan, Ronald Evans and Harrison Schmitt and five mice

Cernan, Evans, and Schmitt 

(50 Nifty Year in United States Series)

Sound familiar? From 1969 until 1972, I watched every bit of the Apollo flights that I could. In the spring of 1970, I remember coming home every day that week and asking my mom, “are they home yet?” Those three other inspirational men on Apollo 13 did make it home safely. 

These three were the last three men to set foot on the moon in 1972. The mission also carried five mice named Fe, Fi, Fo, Fum and Phooey.

So why the last one, the one where one of them left a plaque and stated. And I think about those words; even today. He stated ”And, as we leave the Moon at Taurus-Littrow, we leave as we came and, God willing, as we shall return, with peace and hope for all mankind.”

It was the “we shall return” statement that had me. I was bound and determined to be one who would return. At that age, I also knew I wanted to be an architect. And I knew I would be going to the Air Force Academy and that I would be an astronaut. Perhaps my 8 year old logic was that I would help build things on the moon.

Artemis is NASA's current program to have sustained development on the moon.

This lasted all the way into high school. By my junior year I had known that astronauts were not very tall and I believe the tallest of them was just under 5’9.” The height concept being that they could have the stamina of taller folks but consume less and inhale less oxygen.

Anyway, I had met with the US Air Force recruiter and had the grades and then the SAT’s and all that was needed. I had also recently gotten contact lens and failed to mention that they were as thick as coca cola bottle bottoms (a visual that you will understand if you have ever had a drink from one).

Needless to say, my visions of walking on the moon (let alone building something there) where short sighted since I failed to mention this due to my blind aspirations. “Do you see what I’m saying here?” The recruiter did when we got a copy of my driver’s license and those horrific words jumped off and disqualified my goals and dreams. “Must Wear Corrective Lens.” 

It is a dream and I love that about the American experience. Where else can an almost 5’6” Brazilian born immigrant have aspirations to be inspired and have even a remote notion of a chance to walk on the moon.

There are not many who will know the names Cernan, Evans and Schmitt or could possibly name two or three of the other 32. I am grateful for the inspiration and for the Apollo models that lined my room and for allowing me to dream and develop new dreams as I have spent over 50 years in these United States.

This past Spring, NASA was looking for a new class of Astronauts. Here is a link to a short video for those who may be inspired by the current class.

For those seeking trivia: The term "American Dream" was first used in 1931 by James Truslow Adams. In his book, The Epic of America, he wrote, "life should be better and richer and fuller for everyone, with opportunity for each according to ability or achievement."

Friday, October 30, 2020

2012 – What Gift Is This Person Giving Me?


A consistent team of 10's

(40 Summers 40 Lessons Series)

John Maxwell says, “Whenever I see my staff, I put an imaginary “10” on the forehead of each individual. This helps me treat each person like a 10, a high performer who makes a difference to me and the organization. Inevitably, they respond as if they are a 10!

If you don’t already do this, why not start today? Put “10s” on the people you lead. Treat them based on their potential, not their performance. You’ll be amazed how both will rise.”

It is John’s law of the lid. “Your leadership is like a lid or a ceiling on your organization.” As you help raise the lid on your colleagues and team members you will see yours rise as well.

My Story:

The moment I had met the new HR manager, I knew that there was something that need clarification. That individual had told me that they were there to help me. I had heard the old adage and had often joked with others about how government folks are here to help. “I’m Dewey Tentical. I’m from the government and I am here to help.” That’s how the joke goes; right?

I went on to listen to the reasons things are done the way they are and that the system was put in place to help me.

Over the next several years, each time I went to the HR offices, I was always met with that manager and the top reasons why what I had just turned in where in fact done incorrectly. (This was the world prior to online on boarding of employees.) I got to the point that it was one of the most dreaded portions of my position. While I loved bringing staff on to develop and lead and grow, the paperwork portion was dreadful.

For those in the seasonal camp industry, the spring time was all about that on boarding process and making sure that the employee that you had spent hours recruiting, interviewing, reference checking to finally have them accept the position. And then, the paperwork.

Not actual picture of Cathy.

Each time I had an encounter with that manager made me more and more frustrated. I tried to make sure that I had things done the way that was required and there were always pieces missing or some item was not in the proper order.

It seems that whatever tactic I approached her with made me frustrated and often resentful of any experience with that individual.

I would recount stories with my staff team of how ridiculous the process was and how hard I would work to make it happen. It seemed that I was missing a crucial piece of information.

Undergoing a transformation is never easy. At this point I had read a dozen of John Maxwell’s books as well as dozens of other leadership and management books. I could not see a way that she would ever change and embrace anything that resembled what I was looking for in the way of service.

I knew that her leadership lid (one of John’s irrefutable laws of leadership) was stuck and something needed to change.

It was during a retreat where I was rereading one of John’s books that it suddenly occurred to me. That retreat was about leadership and I was asking for something from her and limiting my belief about that individual. I had never put a 10 on her forehead.

I had not been grateful in any way for the lesson I was being presented with from Cathy. I had never even thought of her as someone that I could learn from and had made Cathy into a position and not the person that she was and the potential that she could share.

I had a limiting belief about someone and had prided myself for years on how I saw everyone in that leadership capacity of being their best self, with that exception.

I had made that mistake and I changed how I looked at Cathy.

From that day forward each encounter I had started with a silent prayer about the “gift” that Cathy was bringing to me on that day.

I cannot say that all my corrections on HR forms ended that day or that a process was missed in on boarding a new team member. I did however change my reaction and how I looked at a fellow human being who was doing her work and I had just dehumanized her into a manager.

A wise man said “We have different gifts, according to the grace given to each of us. If your gift… if it is serving, then serve…”



Monday, October 26, 2020

1971 - Things You Learn From Your Grandmother

One of the few pictures I have of my grandmother

(50 Nifty Years in United States Series)

Albert Einstein is known to have said, "You do not really understand something unless you can explain it to your grandmother.”

 ‘Donna Santina’ – Geralda Ferreira – my grandmother (In Portuguese they say VoVo) . Specifically, my grandmother on my father’s side. “Santina” means 'saint' in Portuguese. She was also my Godmother (Madrinha) . And a tremendous influence in my early life.

For a few years, my grandparents (on my father's side) lived with us in our home in South Pasadena, California. They had moved to the US a couple of years after us and as many families from the old country and that generation, we were all under one roof. When they moved out in 1976, they moved to Downey, California (birthplace of the Carpenters).

Anyway, after they moved, I spent about every other weekend at their apartment and a great deal of the summer. I worked from an early age at my father's gas station that he owned about a block away from their apartment. I would get up and spend the day pumping gas, checking oil, cleaning windows, sweeping up and having lunch daily at the hamburger stand right behind the service station run by an elderly Korean man.

My grandmother made sure I got up and always made dinner at the end of the day and sit and listen to what had occurred. My sister and I attended Catholic school and I was an altar boy because my grandmother made sure that I would go to church on a regular basis. Fast forward to my junior high school years and by then we had moved to Temple City all the way from South Pasadena (about 11 miles).

Both my parents were working by then and during my 7th and 8th grade year, I would call my grandmother almost daily when I got home from school. She would ask about my day, and I would talk to her about my homework. Sometimes short calls and sometimes longer depending on the day's events. To this point in my life I had no other person who was always so engaged in what I said and what I was doing. She was an active listener and would ask questions that surprised me. 

When she and my grandfather decided to become American citizens, I spent the better part of a year reviewing the Citizenship history test with them. They had a thick Portuguese accented English as they would answer my questions and prompts. It was a constant review and I would say the answer and they would do their best to recount the proper words. It was a great deal of memorization and listening to my version of the answers. All this coming from someone who had a rudimentary education in rural Brasil. She had this tenacity that she would learn how to answer all the questions in the best manner possible. It was a deep listening when I would recite the questions and answers. It did not occur to me that while she was approaching her late 60s, she was still willing to learn. It was a great example for a young mind.

There are dozens of articles and stories about things that you can learn from a grandmother. My grandmother helped me develop a sense of who I was and how to listen with intent to hear what was being said and not necessarily to respond.

I always think of her example of listening and most of my memories are based on her doing just that. She passed away in 1979 and even now, I think about her and I am grateful for that example to learn how to listen to others. It was a brief time that she lived with us and when I think about these past 50 plus years in the United States, I am all the more grateful for the opportunities it provided, not just to me, but my extended family as well.

1975 - Mrs. Fox - Lessons from a Teacher Who Loved the Dodgers

  (50 Nifty Years in United States Series) You always remember that teacher who looked and smelled great. As an 11 year old, in 5 th grade,...