Thursday, April 22, 2021

1995 - Leadership and Bringing Others Along


Jack Tillman

(Fifty Nifty Years in the United States Series)

Back in the late 80's, Jack Tillman used to drive up and down the streets of Altadena, California with a YMCA van during the summer to recruit kids to attend camp (more to come on that).

He inspired hundreds with his folksy charm and good nature and like Will Rogers; I don’t believe Jack ever met a man he didn’t like.

To say that I worked with Jack is perhaps misleading. I was at the YMCA in Pasadena at the same time and I was always appreciative of how dedicated he was and how much support he always gave to whatever I was doing. It was Jack’s determination that inspired me.

We had campership (financial assitance) dollars every year from a local grant and fund raising efforts and if we didn’t spend it, it would be reduced the following funding cycle. This is the determination part. Not once, but several times I saw Jack do this.

On the morning of a session of camp when the bus would pick campers up at the YMCA at 11 am; he would drive up and down the hillside streets in a YMCA van and wherever he saw kids playing in their yard or on the street he would stop them. “Is this your house, is your mom home, you want to spend a week at camp?”

If they were home, he would get the parent (s) to fill out the health form, pack up their kid and Jack would drive them to the Y to hop on the bus. Bear in mind that this was the 80’s and not only did children play outside, but a man in a Y van could drive up and down the streets and ask kids if they wanted to go to camp. (And no cell phones – he would just say, “Don’t let the bus leave until I get back.”)

Determination! That is what Jack taught me. In 1995 when there was another regime change at that Y, Jack told me that he would do what it took to serve the community. And sometimes, it took a great deal of determination to stand up and continue to serve when you were left exhausted and told that whatever you did would have no consequence.

Jack was always about the business of bringing others along. His determination to include others that might not have access was an inspiration to me. It is in that model that later at my next camp, I reached out in non traditional ways to recruit kids from that California county, San Bernardino. That county, happens to be the largest county in the contiguous US at 21,105 square miles.

We were a small camp and partnered with other local agencies to recruit children in the foster system. This led to a 300% increase in our summer camp numbers that expanded our programming to two other camps as well as travel camp sessions.

That image of Jack driving up and down the streets and recruiting kids; it is seared into my memory. He was never going to leave anyone behind if he could help it. I am so grateful for that lesson as I celebrate 50 plus years of living in these United States.

Monday, April 12, 2021

1994 - Leadership and Learning Service From My Son


Alec (2020)

(Fifty Nifty years in the United States Series)

He was first so he is first. I remember the day Lee Anne called and I was at work. She said that she couldn't wait to tell me that we were having a baby. I said, "Thank you, I have to go back to work now."

I immediately got off the phone with her and called my friend and mentor, Wally. I stuttered through telling him what just happened. He was joyful and exuberant and I felt I should be the same way. If fear is a great motivator, consider me motivated.

In an earlier BLOG (Great Customer Service and My First Child) I had written about Bob Telleen and how he called on the day after Alec was born to congratulate and challenge my leadership at the same time.

Alec was due on September 30 and arrived nearly three weeks later. After going to the hospital and 37 hours of labor (more ice chips – that was my role) after being induced, Alec made us wait. Alec has been and continues to be a huge motivator in my life.

I have fond memories of carrying him for two summers in a back pack at camp. We (and by we, I mean me carrying him)  hiked all over camp and he would take naps. It amazes me how (to this day) he can nap anywhere and in a matter of minutes.

The winters at Wilfong Lodge (Camp Bluff Lake, California) with Sports Chalet Tours with him standing on the front of my cross-country skis. Our first trip to go fishing in Vancouver. Watching him at age 11, catch his first halibut which is essentially like catching a piece of plywood from 300 feet below the water surface. 

And it is his grace and generosity that always motivates me the most. He gave a kid in first grade his $10 that Alec got for his birthday because the kid had never gotten money for his birthday. Helping an older woman in line at the grocery store to lift things from her cart and then help her take it all out to her car. He drives one of his roommates to and from work on a regular basis because they do not drive themselves.

These and hundreds of other moments like this are an inspiration. Alec helps and supports.

My lesson from my oldest son is that of helping others without consideration to self.

I see him do these things and while some may consider his impulsiveness a sign of not thinking things through. It is that in itself that I want to know how to do more in my life. Throw caution to the wind and serve others. That is a spirit that I learn and grow from having a son along my journey in these United States.

Monday, April 5, 2021

1993 - Leadership and 3 Questions


"Stop! Who approacheth the Bridge of Death must answer
me these questions three, ere the other side he see."

Bridgekeeper Monty Python and the Holy Grail

(Fifty Nifty Years in the United States Series)

Aside from the Monty Python reference, it was lasting lesson I gained from my work with Don Olson who was the General Director (that's what they called YMCA CEOs back then) at the YMCA in Pasadena, California.

Don always gave me his full attention and was always genuinely interested in me. I have tried to model this (successfully and unsuccessfully) and know that he is a master of making someone feel like they are his number one priority.

Don was the general director at the Y that brought me back to the Y. I had left the Y for a short period and did some work for the Boys and Girls Club and I was working full time at a local newspaper.

When Kelly Cullen (See Blog post Leadership and Lasting Impact)  passed away, I got a call from a board member at the Y asking if I’d be interested in returning to Bluff Lake. She informed me that there was a new leader as the General Director and he was a “true” mission focused YMCA person. I have been and always will be motivated by the mission. (I serve others who lead and serve others.)

As things line up I went in and had a great first meeting with Don. I recall him asking three questions that ultimately where, “what went right? What went wrong? And how would you do it better next time?”

Those three questions (and various versions) became my way of looking at every experience I would have for the last few decades. I worked with Don for a about a year and the impact of those three questions have a made a huge difference in my life.

Upon leaving that Y and going to another, I used those questions as a way in how I approached work, leadership, programming, volunteer development, relationships and the list goes on.

It is amazing how three short, little questions change your perspective and allow for growth. It gives you an opportunity to celebrate the success. It gives you the option to lie to rest the mistakes. And it gives you the opportunity to grow by learning from both. Don retired from the Y in order to run the family business at the Oakhurst Lodge in Oakhurst, CA – gateway to Yosemite Park.

I am grateful to so many in my work with the YMCA and other agencies and organizations over these last 50 plus years in these United States. Don made an impression in how I lead by being the great leader and mentor that modeled a path that is somewhat less tread upon. For that and for those 3 simple questions, I am blessed.

Wednesday, March 31, 2021

1992 - Leadership and Lasting Impact


Kelly pictured just above his name with various other camp staff.

(Fifty Nifty in the United States Series)

In memory of Kelly Cullen – I drove to the store in Brea, California that Lee Anne (my wife) was managing that afternoon; and had to tell Lee Anne that “Kelly’s dead.” It was a sad, difficult day and a tough one. I had gotten a call from Kelly’s mom and I knew I needed to be with Lee.

Lee Anne had known Kelly since kindergarten and I had Kelly at the Temple City YMCA and then at overnight camp. In fact, he ended up working a summer at camp with us in 1989.

Kelly was one of those Y kids that I worked with at Temple City that always seemed to be there in my memory of those early days. He was dedicated and determined. It seemed like life was always going to put struggles in his way. He had several health related issues that he always seemed to dismiss as just a thing that might be an inconvenience.

He was one of those young people that when he went to day camp, he wanted to be an LIT or Leader. And then when he went to overnight camp, he wanted to be on staff there as well.  I know a lot of folks in the camping movement know those kids and can often spot them at around 10 or 11 years of age.

My first memory of Kelly at Bluff Lake was when I was the Association Program Director. We had Y kids from the Pasadena are attend camp with different guest groups. This happened to be the Orange YMCA. I had a handful of kids from the Temple City branch and Kelly was one of them. He struggled physically through the week and on the closing night campfire, I recall that each of the kids from TC had a nickname.

We cheered as each received recognition and even more when Kelly was acknowledged. There was a candle light procession to the lake and each group stood on the dam as the director read a story and doused the torch a series of flashlights lit the shape of a cross on the island. I stood near those two groups that came from Temple City. Kelly came up and told me he wanted to “be here always.”

Closing night ceremony at Camp Bluff Lake

Several years went by and Kelly eventually worked in the kitchen at Bluff Lake. Kelly was off to college and I would hear from him on occasion. When Lee Anne and I got married, Kelly was there.

After Kelly passed, we knew we would have a Kelly. I also knew that I had been a part of something that created a special place for a kid. Not just any kid, but for Kelly. I knew I had to get back to that full time work and it became part of my mission of the why I was here.

I often consider John Maxwell's Law of Legacy from his 21 Irrefutable Laws of Leadership. John talks about not abdicating leadership.  Kelly had a brief but lasting impact on my life that it seems he always exercised. I am grateful for that and for all those kids who like Kelly needed a place that can just “be here always.” 

Thanks for helping define who I am and for helping me figure out my “why.” As I have lived in these United States for 50 plus years, I am grateful for all those who impacted me and I am grateful just to “be here always.”

Monday, March 22, 2021

1991 - Leadership and Devotion to One's Best Self


"Auggie" (Pictured on Left in late 1980's)

(Fifty Nifty Years in United States Series)

Perhaps the funniest person I have ever met. He has a joke for everything and some of it would sneak up on you hours after he would say it. He also would do anything to be at camp.

He mucked or cooked and led all in the name of being somewhere where he felt included. He was one of those kids at camp who I felt really needed to be there and that it made a major difference in his life.

I cannot imagine my camp memories without him and what an impact he had on the work that I do. I picked this year for Auggie because it was a year that I had very limited camp time. I was working at a newspaper and doing some work for the Boys and Girls Club of Hollywood to help raise money to get more kids to their camp.

I had just sold my old Ford truck to Auggie and we had a few moments here and there throughout the year. For some reason it made me keenly aware that every child needs an overnight camp experience and as we were getting older, camp was an important part of learning life skills.

Auggie was one of those teens in the 80s who became a part of my camp experience as he grew and became part of the staff team and a good friend.  I started creating what would eventually become my personal mission statement that year. It involved helping develop young people on their physical, mental and spiritual level. In those days, I worked with a YMCA camp program called “Raggers” that was like a personal challenge merit badge.

The essence of the program is taking challenges to improve in areas of God, country, and devotion to one's best self.

YMCA Rag - (Click Here  For Link to Ragger Facebook Page)

I recall a time where Auggie and I were presenting to a new group of leaders, the concept of the Rag program since they were most likely going to be participating that summer.  In describing the counseling sessions, Auggie described a beautiful and deeply felt session he had been a part of in receiving one of his Rags. It was inspiring and heartfelt and touching.

I stood and just listened to what was clearly a meaningful part of his experience. As he ended his talk and had inspired a tear or two with several of the participants. I said, “Wow, that was amazing, who was your counselor?”

What happened next was somewhat devastating. I immediately saw a look of what I can only describe as despair. It was like a cartoon when the character’s face suddenly drops from glee to a look of horror. I knew the answer as soon as I saw the look.

I do not know how to apologize enough. I think of that moment to this day and how I could not take back what had occurred or my misplaced memory. I knew that I could only move forward by being a better leader and a better camp director.

It re-shaped my commitment and I my resolve. I learned that I would always be learning and that I could learn great lessons from someone who was quite a bit younger than me. Several years later, Auggie became dog trainer and I discovered another great lesson from him and an author he turned me onto named Karen Pryor.

His lessons helped me reshape the way I have approached training for the last 20 years. I would call and just listen as he described how people could make so many mistakes and how he would help them re-orient their behaviors and subsequently their dogs.

I have become a life-long learner and I have Auggie to thank for helping me shift my behaviors. It has been an amazing journey for me and my family these past 50 plus years in these United States.

Thank you to Auggie for a valuable lesson allowing me to forget those moments when I have not been a better leader and to try to be better the next day.

Monday, March 15, 2021

1990 - Leadership Lessons from John Hughes (and my Wife)


Lee Anne Leschi Ferreira

(Fifty Nifty Years in United States Series)

LOVE – “nuff said.” 

Lee Anne and I had already known one another for three years before we became a couple. 1990 was the year we were married after dating for three years.

Thinking back, our first date date was seeing “Fatal Attraction.” However we started dating in the 80’s and I define most of the decade by John  Hughes movies. Not just the ones he directed, but the ones he wrote as well like, Ferris Bueller, The Breakfast Club, Vacation movies, Home Alone, Planes Trains and Automobiles as well as She’s Having A Baby to name a few.

So, Lee Anne and I would have what she called “moments” in our early relationship. Those movies of John Hughes all had great “moments” in them. Yes “moments” is in quotes for a reason. I know I have not mentioned them yet.

My favorite moment from Ferris is when he says, "Life moves pretty fast. If you don't stop and look around once in a while, you could miss it." We have had plenty of starts and stops along the way and I don't really believe we have missed much.

As we were dating and contemplating marriage we talked about everything. This included children and how we wanted to raise our children. The Emilio Estevez character even says, My God, are we gonna be like our parents?" We have done things differently at times. One of our favorite rules has been "if they are old enough to ask, they are old enough to hear the honest truth."

Our life has been like the Griswold's on their different vacation treks. Our journey has been like what Clark Griswold said, "Why are we flying? Because getting there is half the fun."

Our life living at the different camps has included so many of our extended family. We love hearing from them and what has happened in their growth and journeys. It is quite the opposite of the Home Alone moment where Kevin says, "This house is so full of people it makes me sick. When I grow up and get married, I'm living alone."

And those relatable moments in Planes, trains and Automobiles with both Steve Martin and John Candy's character. Candy's rant that ends with "I like...I like me. My wife likes me. My customers like me.. 'Cause I'm the real article. What you see is what you get." She continues to like me and in a paragraph or two, you'll see she loves me.

Lee Anne and her "moments." Only...I would miss them. I have missed so many moments along the way. Yes, I’m one of those folks that just misses things and later might realize it if you hit me over the head. Lee would have to nudge me and say, "we just had a moment."

Anyway, Lee Anne and I have been together as a married couple for over 30 years. I always say, “I have been happily married for 30 years.” And Lee Anne, will say she has been “happily married for 8.7.” “Not consecutive.” I know this because she tells. She’ll say or text or email. “I love you today.” 

In fact this last year has been great and the last time she let me know that - was just last week. I’m nearing 31 years and when counting those up; she is on 8 years, eight months and fourteen days. Back to the “moments.”

The sum of all this lies in that moment at the end of She's having a Baby, where Kevin Bacon's character says: "And in the end, I realized that I took more than I gave, I was trusted more than I trusted, and I was loved more than I loved. And what I was looking for was not to be found but to be made."

Our life has been all these moments of love, leadership and John Hughes movies.

Monday, March 8, 2021

1989 - Leadership And Unconditional Love


Al (L) and Anne (R)

(Fifty Nifty Years in the United States Series)

The kids called him “Poppy.” Lee Anne’s dad and a guy I truly admire. I gained so much from him and from his family.

Of course, a wife and three children and so much more. He was always looking and would have the final words of wisdom on nearly any topic.

To say that Al was old school is of course the best way to describe him. A man who did not say sauce, but always wanted more gravy on his pasta. I am grateful for so much and so many memories.

Some of the stories are told and re-told. The trip to the Japanese hibachi place. “Someone needs to tell these people who won the war.” The Easter in Flagler with the stories of the “Hill.” Or the infamous dinner with the vice guy for Los Angeles County Sheriff's who was on the hunt for bookie operation not far from the house on Olive Street. Talk about cool and collected. I was sweating and Al never even blinked an eye.

I remind Lee Anne of how old tree’s can break in the wind and young trees will always bend. It seems fitting to share this story on Father’s Day. The biggest lesson I got from him was that that he instilled in his family. My experience with unconditional love came from Al and his family and Lee Anne.

It was never something that occurred to me naturally. I still struggle in many ways. From the very first holiday dinner that I spent at the Olive Street home (Temple City, California), it was evident. That next Thanksgiving in 1990 I was invited and just a little nervous. Lee Anne’s had already introduced me to him. “This is my dad. He’s Italian. From Rhode Island.” The implication was there. I got a handshake and a hug.

After dinner Lee Anne and I sat on the porch and I asked about why everyone was angry at each other. She had no idea what I meant. I explained that at dinner it was loud and they were all talking over one another and it seems that everything was an argument. She laughed a little and explained that was just a typical dinner time discussion during a family holiday. We walked in the house and everyone was still at the table and dessert was served and there were smiles and more talk. It had not occurred to me that this is what family could be like.

A family that could love and laugh and argue and enjoy one another and shout a little. I am blessed for the lesson and I am forever grateful for Al and Anne and Michelle, and Pam and Robin and Stephanie (see Steph, I mentioned you) and Aunty Ro and the husbands and nephews and Samantha and all the rest of the family that welcomed me and helped me learn how to love unconditionally. Thanks Lee Anne for sharing this family that is so rich and never seemed to question that I would fit in.

Thank you for the 30 years as I have journeyed along my 50 plus years in these United States. I can’t think of a better person to honor today and thank for being “Poppy” to my kids.

1995 - Leadership and Bringing Others Along

  Jack Tillman (Fifty Nifty Years in the United States Series) Back in the late 80's, Jack Tillman used to drive up and down the streets...