Friendship, Community Engagement and the Inukshuk

Part 2: Community-Driven Tour 2008
(For Part 1, head here)
If there is anything that has stood out about this tour, it has been the spirit of connection, friendship, warmth, love that has infused every step along the way.

The line between friends and family blurred years ago for me. These days, the line between clients and friends has blurred equally. And this trip has joyfully blurred all of it.

Along the route from Tucson to our first “official” stop, we visited Jeane Vogel – friend, colleague, incredible artist. We had planned on spending a whole day just playing with Jeane, seeing St. Louis, her hometown. And after dinner the night we arrived, I got the stomach flu, rendering me useless to anything but the bathroom the whole of our “day off.”

Jeane made me soup, and brought Dimitri a supper that included local beer. She hung out in our hotel suite, and let me moan on the couch. That’s what friends do.

(On the way back to Tucson, we will stop in St. Louis and try again. I want to see Jeane’s studio. I want to be surrounded by the beauty of her work. I want time to play with my friend who always makes me find something to laugh about, even in the worst of life’s tragedies.)

In Danbury, CT, we got to spend time with my best friend from childhood, Debbie, and her husband, whom I have known since we were all 18 together. And for the first time since our kids were born (Lizzie is almost 23), Deb and I took a whole day together to just do nothing. We did some shopping. We picked apples. We drove to pretty places.

It was great to visit with her sister (and their new puppy!), and her mom and dad (who were my 2nd family when we were growing up), and Deb’s own kids. But having Debbie all to myself for a whole day – a day where we could just “be” together – was total and complete heaven.

From there, we headed into western NY, where I got to see two friends I have not seen in 22 years. Roz and Paula and I were dorm-mates when I first left home for college in Binghamton, NY. And after 22 years apart, we picked up as if nothing had happened. Spending time with real friends is like that.

We are in Canada now. This part of the tour has been a million stories in one short week.

A fabulous day in Toronto with Dimitri’s family, surrounding him with the love and language and food that brought comfort to his mourning soul. I watched him relax and simply dwell in it – watched as his aged uncle and aunts showered him with love in the language of his birth – a language I do not understand, but knew every word they said. Even in the sadness of mourning,  love is its own language.

We connected with our friend and colleague, Jane Garthson, who drove the 90 minutes from Toronto to Guelph to help out with our workshop there.

Jane registered attendees. She sat at the book table while Dimitri took care of all the other workshop details. She helped us pack up as we prepared to leave. It was a wonderful gift. But then, friendship is always a wonderful gift.

As we prepare to leave Canada for Michigan, we are in London. Our dear friend Nathan Garber helped arrange for a workshop here, and we have spent the day with Nathan and his wife, Margaret, as they showed us the London they love.

In the late afternoon, we headed to Gibbons Park, where Sunny, the sweetest dog in the world, takes Nathan and Margaret for a walk each day. They showed us the park bench that Nathan and his sister and brother dedicated to the memory of their mother. We marveled at the work of the river beavers, as Margaret lamented the loss of tree after tree after tree.

In the sun’s last light, we walked the wooded trail along the Thames, looped across the almost-done-flowering meadow of the floodplain. As night fell, we meandered back across manicured park lawns, blanketed with fallen red maple leaves. Back at their home, we shared dinner and conversation curtailed only by the late hour.

Friendship. Love. Family. Connection. What else is there?

Several years ago, a colleague (who has since become a friend) had left the business world to work at a foundation in the next phase of his life. He was facilitating a group of consultants from the Community Benefit world, and as a warm-up, asked the group to tell of their favorite client. Consultant after consultant either said, “Well, they are all favorites,” or “I guess it would be the one I’m working with now.”

Finally Jon interrupted. “Are you guys all kidding?” he asked. “I just left the world of corporate marketing, and if I loved a client every 5 years, I considered myself lucky. Do you guys really love all your clients?” And we all smiled. In the world of community work, the answer is almost always, “Yes.”

And that has been the rest of this trip. Jane Kreha from the Dorothy Johnson Center for Philanthropy in Grand Rapids, who merely had to call and ask, “Can you keynote for us?” and I was ready to change my schedule to do so, just to be able to work with Jane again.

June Renzulli, whom I will sorely miss working with at Danbury’s United Way as she ventures into the land she is tentatively calling “retirement.” For the past four years, I just need to hear June’s voice on the phone and I am smiling.

Jenny Hansell, at the Northeast Community Center in the small town of Millerton, NY, whom I have known for years from Charity Channel and have now had the opportunity to meet twice in person.

Elaine Mintz, who, along with a cast of dedicated community members, is creating in record time one of the most dynamic management support organizations we have seen – the Greater Danbury Nonprofit Resource Center.

Karen Chase from the The Brasher-Northrop Museum in tiny, picturesque Kent, CT; Dana Treacy at Cornell Cooperative Extension’s Institute for Non-Profits in Rockland County, N.Y.; Sara Anderson at the Albany Chapter of AAGP; Suzanne Smith Jablonski, at Ithaca’s Tompkins County Public Library Foundation; and Michelle Baldwin at Pillar Nonprofit Network in London, Ontario – who all spent hours on the phone with me, preparing for the sessions we did in their communities. Each of them is becoming a friend – isn’t that a great feeling? When you know just from those few encounters that friendship is beginning to happen?

And then there is Gayle Valeriote, at the Volunteer Centre of Guelph / Wellington, who instantly became a friend and then single-handedly made our trip to Canada possible. After reading my books, and after sharing our work with the Volunteer Centre’s Executive Director, Cathy Taylor, the two of them began putting wheels in motion. Gayle gathered funders from across the county to meet with us and to sponsor our visit. She called Nathan and then Michelle Baldwin in London, to be sure our reach would extend beyond Guelph. At every point where something was possible, Gayle made it happen.

And the result in Guelph was the largest crowd we have addressed so far during this journey – 75 enthusiastic people showed up for a 90 minute workshop first thing in the morning, in a town of just over 100,000 people. They came from as far as Niagara Falls – 125 km away.

And that brings me to the Inukshuk. At the end of my talk in Guelph, Gayle and Cathy presented me and Dimitri with one of the most meaningful gifts we have received from anyone, ever. It was a glass figure, connoting a man made of rocks. An Inukshuk.

Here is the story they told us:

“In northern Canada, these stone figures can be seen across the landscape. The figures would mark hunting grounds, connecting people in their journey from place to place. Throughout the north, the Inukshuk has become a symbol of connectedness, of friendship and cooperation. That is what you have done for us today. That is the gift you have given us.”

I hear their words in my head as I type this, and tears well up.

And so to you, my friends who are reading of our journey, that is what I want to share with you in this post. The joys of this trip have already been far too numerous to describe in one post (or even a dozen posts). Amazing work, connecting the dots between individuals who are creating amazing community benefit. Amazing scenery (autumn in the northeast US and southern Canada – red and gold and breathtaking). Amazing terrain. Niagara Falls. The gorges and waterfalls of Ithaca and the Finger Lakes. The vast, almost endless corn and sunflower fields of Kansas on the trip across.

But the most amazing thing of all, without question, has been that sense of connection – connection of spirit, of purpose. Friendship, love, warmth.

As I have taught in every workshop I have done so far and will continue to share throughout this tour, that is what sustains us, as organizations and as individuals. Friendship and FriendRaising are not about asking people for money. They are about asking for that connection, and the joy that comes from that engaged sense that we are far more effective together than apart.

There is nothing better in the whole world. That connection is, quite simply, all there is.

Photo Credit –  Inukshuk at top of page: On Campus News, University of Saskatchewan

For the next post in this series, just follow the link.

2 Responses to Friendship, Community Engagement and the Inukshuk

  1. Thanks for helping me see how my visit to Guelph fit into the amazing tour and for seeing how many people you have made happy as you travel. I hope we find a way to see each other again soon.

    And rest assured, I will be using some of your ideas when I facilitate the first stakeholder meeting of a potential Toronto MSO in a couple of weeks. I want them to believe Toronto can be an amazing community!