Category Archives: Non-Profit

Intend to Win

In early spring, I pledged a two-year commitment to Teach For America, a movement that fights to close the opportunity/achievement gap in low-income communities across the nation.

Becoming a teacher has always been a goal of mine. Some of the most influential people in my life have been teachers. The people who taught me in high school and college served as advocates and allies during a critical season of my life. It’s no wonder I wanted to join their ranks. I’ll be teaching elementary at Satchel Paige in the fall.

To say that teaching is a thankless and difficult profession would be a serious understatement. Some have asked why I would put myself through the rigor and trial-by-fire that is educating in low-income schools.

Simply put: because it’s work worth doing.

This is not a knock on any of my previous jobs. Quite the opposite. Every job I’ve held in the past built upon prior knowledge and helped me develop a skill set that is perfect for teaching. When I realized that TFA was an option for me, my focus became laser-like. I began to reverse-engineer and take the steps that would make me a great candidate for the TFA organization. Even the jobs I disliked illustrated a sort of ‘divine discontent’ to motivate me to seek work that suited my views and strengths better.

This is chance to attack the inequity that is systemic in America, to kick open doors of opportunity for students that will not walk through them otherwise. If I’m to leave a mark on the world, this is the first scratch I’ll make. Every child has value.

This next season of life will be challenging to say the least. Heck, even this last season was tough. I just completed five consecutive weeks of training in Tulsa, Oklahoma (teaching summer school and packing my brain full of strategies I’ll use heavily in the fall).

Luckily, I have a support system of friends, family and mentors that will be in my corner, cheering me on. My church community, my girlfriend and my new collaborators from TFA all champion this path I’m on. I feel sturdier than I have in the past. Some of the most vocal members of ‘Team Garrett’ are former — you guessed it — teachers.

I’m doing this because I can. Or maybe I can’t. Either way, I plan to reach my full potential as a communicator and as a encourager. I want my students to reach their potentials as citizens and innovators. Who knows whether the ‘problem child’ in my classroom might go on to invent new energy sources or cure diseases or colonize the moon.

Speaking of the moon, this excerpt from JFK’s speech on September 12, 1962 puts it well:

“We choose to go to the moon. We choose to go to the moon in this decade and do the other things, not because they are easy, but because they are hard, because that goal will serve to organize and measure the best of our energies and skills, because that challenge is one that we are willing to accept, one we are unwilling to postpone, and one which we intend to win, and the others, too.”

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Beauty and The Least

Cherith Brook is a catholic worker community that I volunteer with weekly. Expect more thoughts on their amazing culture and work real soon. I recently wrote a piece for the their newsletter. Check it out when you have time. The print edition drops later this week, but in the meantime, view or download the pdf here.

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Good Read: “Generation Sell”

I read an enlightening article recently about the unique entrepreneurial qualities of my generation.  NY Times author William Deresiewicz calls us “Generation Sell.” While I normally kick against generalizations, this one seems apt.

Every generation has it’s own unique youth culture from beatniks to hippies, from punk rockers to grunge and its slackers. Each group had an emotional center and a unique vision of social reform. Deresiewicz claims that today’s youth culture is much more than skinny jeans and retro hats. He lives in Portland, so he has a pretty accurate pulse on all things hipster: “I see…..food carts, 20-somethings selling wallets made from recycled plastic bags, boutique pickle companies, techie start-ups, Kickstarter, urban-farming supply stores and bottled water that wants to save the planet.”

I can’t examine these ideas with the objectivity that Deresiewicz can. I’m a member of the group in question (people born between the late ’70s and the mid-’90s, more or less). Definitely go read the article for yourself. It actually brought a lot of clarity to the reason that I have the conversations that I have with my peers as often as I do. This paragraph in particular made it plain:

“Bands are still bands, but now they’re little businesses, as well: self-produced, self-published, self-managed. When I hear from young people who want to get off the careerist treadmill and do something meaningful, they talk, most often, about opening a restaurant. Nonprofits are still hip, but students don’t dream about joining one, they dream about starting one. In any case, what’s really hip is social entrepreneurship — companies that try to make money responsibly, then give it all away.”

It’s strange for me to actually agree with a generational stereotype, but I do. Maybe its because instead of the loopy transcendence of the hippies or the raging nihilism of punk rockers, my generation seems to want the world to actually be a better place. We are the generation of Tom’s shoes and the one-for-one business model. We came up with words like “terracycling,” and phrases like “ethical sourcing.” More of us than ever are managing our own brands, becoming more mindful producers and consumers. The question is no longer, ‘what do people want?’ It’s ‘what is my brand saying about me?’

Do you consider yourself to be a salesman? Are you an entrepreneur? Are you a member of Generation Sell?

Read the article here. Let me know your thoughts.

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Inspiration from an Unlikely Source

I recently heard a pastor share a commencement speech by author Stephen King from 2001.  It was surprisingly moving. I usually associate King with horror stories, sometimes involving killer-clown-spiders and zombie pets. However, in his address to the Vassar College graduates, he was refreshingly spiritual and admonished the students to make their lives ‘one long gift to others.’

Here are some highlights (emphasis added):

“We all know that life is ephemeral…..We come in naked and broke. We may be dressed up when we go out, but we’re just as broke. Warren Buffett? Going to go out broke. Bill Gates? Going to go out broke. Tom Hanks? Going out broke. Steve King? Broke. Not a crying dime.

No matter how large your bank  account, no matter how many credit cards you own, sooner or later things will begin to go wrong with the only three things that you can really call your own: your body, your spirit and your mind. We have enormous resources in this country–resources you yourselves will soon command–but they are only yours on loan. Only yours to give for a short while. You’ll die broke. In the end, it’s the blink of an eye. I came here to talk about charity, and I want you to think about it on a large scale. I want you to consider making your lives one long gift to others, and why not?

All you have is on loan, anyway.

All that lasts is what you pass on. The rest is smoke and mirrors.

Giving isn’t about the receiver or the gift but the giver. It’s for the giver. One doesn’t open one’s wallet to improve the world, although it’s nice when that happens; one does it to improve one’s self…I give because it’s the only concrete way I have of saying that I’m glad to be alive and that I can earn my daily bread doing what I love. Giving is a way of taking the focus off the money we make and putting it back where it belongs–on the lives we lead, the families we raise, the communities which nurture us.

Right now we have the power to do great good for others and for ourselves. So I ask you to begin the next great phase of your life by giving, and to continue as you begin. I think you’ll find in the end that you got far more than you ever had, and did more good than you ever dreamed.”

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