Wednesday, November 26, 2008

This Strange Career into which I've Stumbled like a Hungry Dog with a Diamond Collar

The morning sun pulled back the sheets of the evening with the cold kiss of a late-blooming winter; never a morning person, I found myself yet again stumbling out of bed to reach blindly for my PDA. Through the darkness, the device bobbed and gleamed as a will-o-wisp calling me to the hitherland.

I knew I had to be somewhere, but no idea where and wherefore. My eyes gradually brought the swirling whirl of light into focus, and my calendar for the day emerged.

The schedule danced between poverty and promise.

My life as a fundraiser has been, if nothing else, an exercise in accommodation and vergence.

My morning began with breakfast at The Mansion on Turtle Creek for a meeting with my friend Chuck May from Philanthropy World. We discussed his magazine's new Partnership Plan, an extremely innovative combination of cause marketing and target marketing that promises significant returns with our most important customers and donors. Chuck has been a real mentor for me in so many ways, and I credit him with helping me to grasp what Phil Cubeta has been trying to nail into my head for so long: donors are not checkbooks, but people with needs and hopes and desires.

Chuck has helped me to understand that I am not in the business of marketing, but relationship building. He has been a great friend... who happens to have excellent taste in where to get breakfast.

The day then swung me back to the Center for Nonprofit Management, set in the posh surroundings of the Wilson District thanks to the generosity of the Meadows Foundation. I spent an hour in the company of my colleague, Ray McLeod, discussing the unique challenges presented to non-profit organizations blessed with rapid growth.

I then found myself enjoying the pleasure of a visit from Pat Lockerd, President and CEO of Wednesday's Child Benefit Corporation. This was my first real conversation with her, but she struck me as a visionary leader with a passionate drive to change the world for the better. Thank God for people like Pat.
Together, we conspired how to change the world in various and sundry ways... starting with region three of the Texas Department of Family and Protective Services' Child Protective Services Division. I became all too familiar with the sickening tragedies of the world of foster care when I was one of the pirates aboard the Central Dallas Ministries ship.

Amidst our conspiring, I lost track of time and had to set a date to speak with Pat next week. My day was quickly rushing past me, and I had a pressing engagement.

Doing my best Clark Kent impression, I rushed into the private men's room down the hall to leap out of my snazzy black suit-and-matching red shirt/tie combo into my ratty old jeans and a t-shirt.

I scooted out the door with double-takes from my partner at the Center, Katy Spicer. Moments later, I was driving past the Central Dallas Food Pantry. Standing at the bus with their donated groceries were senior citizens; down the sidewalk rolled a legless man in a wheelchair. I miss seeing these folks every day... more than I ever thought I would.
A few blocks farther down the road, I pulled into the parking lot of The SoupMobile. I quickly found myself in the presence of David Timothy, a.k.a. The Soupman; he is is one of my few links to the sanity of understanding our world's insanity.

David runs The SoupMobile. Every day, he distributes about 500 meals to the homeless on the streets of Dallas.

At least, that was what he was doing from 2003 until earlier this year. When Dallas' new Homeless Assistance Center, The Bridge, opened in May 2008, the City of Dallas changed its laws related to distribution of food within the Downtown area (where most of the homeless continue to gather and live). As such, David had to change his basic operating model.

After five years of distributing meals nearly every day in the same place, David was uprooted and his customer base was destroyed. The reason why I love David's approach is that the homeless are engaged as the ones who distribute the food: this is not about food as much as it's about dignity, respect and trust.
That's one of the essential messsages I learned from Central Dallas Ministries' Larry James. We should not treat the poor like stomachs to be filled, but lives to be nurtured and neighbors to be welcomed into our lives.

David reminds me of Larry in some ways, but mostly in the way that he sees challenges as opportunities. Not one to be intimidated, David likes to model himself after the "greatest underdog story of our time" -- Rocky Balboa.

Seriously. The man plays that darn Rocky theme every time he pulls in to the lot to distribute food.

David graciously allowed my to follow him to his new location today in South Dallas: "right on the front lines of the fight," he called it. Together along with a rabbi and two suburban Christians, I joined a team of homeless people who wanted to spend the next two hours feeding their friends.

For breakfast that morning, I'd eaten a $13 bowl of oatmeal at The Mansion while sipping on $6 coffee. My company and I were dressed in suits and ties, as were most of those around us.

For lunch, I was giving away homemade vegetable beef soup, peanut butter sandwiches and bags of pork rinds. The nicest thing I was wearing was the pair of plastic gloves that David had given me.

Later that afternoon, I was one again in my suit and tie, dashing up the steps of the private Catholic school that I previously attended. I spent the next few hours meeting with the capital campaign committee: I was just another rich white guy in a room full of rich white guys going over lists of yet more rich white guys whom we were discussing more like bank accounts than actual people.

This is my life.

Every day is a balancing act. Every day is a constant struggle with figuring out who I am and what I am supposed to be doing in this world. Every day is challenging, rewarding, frustrating and exhilarating.

And every tomorrow is full of more promise than even the most abundant yesterday.

I have never laughed so hard or cried so much in all of my life.

And what a life it has been, and promises to be.

Thanks for joining me on the ride. Together, maybe we can find a way to change the world?

I'm in if you are.