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.

Monday, March 1, 2021

1988 - Clear and Present Leadership

Always present Ron Clear

(Fifty Nifty Years in the United States Series)

The picture above is how I think of Ron Clear. So much so, that I stole it off his Facebook page.

When I met him, he was always coming at you with everything he had. There was no doubting his attention was focused.

As the program director for YMCA Camp Bluff Lake (San Bernardino Mountains, California) I had the honor of serving so many at camp. Ron (for whatever reason) decided that I was worth an investment of his time and leadership. He would invite me to tour camp during the program day and in doing so would let me see firsthand his leadership style. 

Ron was clearly a large leadership presence in camp and everyone vied for his attention. The daily routines, water shortages, septic issues, program crises, late night fires, renegade bikers, teens sneaking into the woods, staff raids on riflery or even Thursday night steak and chicken bbq; all the makings of leadership opportunities.

It seemed that even though I spent just one week a summer with Ron and his team, the memories and lessons have lasted a lifetime. What I gained most from his mentorship was that it was not about him at all. Ron is always on message and you are quite aware the he is present to whatever you are saying or doing. He Cealrly (pun?) communicates what is needed to lead.

His ultimate goal was always in serving the youth and their experience. His filter for work is about making the best possible experience and what I suspect is that he used this character of Ron Clear, Director Extraordinaire, as a way to provide that experience.

I was and am in humble awe that Ron Clear allowed me grace of his time over the period of several summers to see what leadership and culture needs to be as a way to empower others to lead as well. While it has been nearly four decades since my first experiences with Ron, I think often of those little moments when we would walk the trails at Bluff Lake and encounter the issues of the day.

Ron would empower the team to take care of what ever came up. To this day, when I have leaders, campers or others who need coaching, I put myself in a Ron Clear mindset to empower my team. Not a, “what would Ron do?” It has been more about the spirit of serving and how I help this person get the job done.

Of my 50 plus years since my family came to the US, I have spent 40 summers at camp in a leadership capacity. I am grateful for so many lessons. Ron was and is a lasting influence that gave me a great model to learn and become a leader. I think back on it all and it keeps me forever young.

This is how I've pictured the Dining Hall roof
(perhaps some lights for night view as well) 

In my mind the shiny aircraft aluminum roof on the dining hall will always be a beacon of Ron’s light and influence in my life and that of thousands.

Post Script - I want to take a moment and invite those who are reading this to consider a comment. Let me know where you are in the world and your thoughts on leadership as well. I also invite you to hit the "FOLLOW" button so you will get the latest story reminder. 

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