Year One – In the books
Last summer, we announced that I would go full-time with Life that Counts, the 501c3 committed to helping people make better decisions for healthy outcomes. August 1 marked the first full year serving in this capacity and literally living my dream, at 37 years old. It has been absolutely beautiful and I have a grateful heart. Sure, we have seen our fair share of challenges, but isn’t anything worth doing worth enduring for?
Throughout last school year, I feel as if I could have sent out an amazing email update every day or so of the stories of lives being impacted, emotional connections being made on a daily basis, and number of messages I received from younger people and older people who have been impacted in some way through the work we get to do. Yes, you read that right, the work we get to do.
The summer capped off a wonderful first year. We had many successes, and there are even beautiful spots in the areas I feel like we were not as successful. Many lessons were learned, and I’m sure that many more will be learned, as we continue. We are not nearly as far or as good as we want to be, but we are better than we were this time last year. I read somewhere during my early to mid-twenties that the definition of success is having different obstacles this year than you did at the same time last year.
As always, there are many people to be thanked for making this a true joy. First, I want to thank the principals who trust us to come in and help lead the way to create safe environments for healthy relationships, so that lives can be nurtured and encouraged. A very special thank you to the upperclassmen who chose to serve as Peer Mentors. You wield more influence to younger people as a young person than you’ll ever realize. You are remarkable! We could not do this without the people who work very hard to help support the organization. My thoughts go to different faces all over the country who have worked tirelessly in some capacity or another to help Life that Counts have the lifeblood of resources.
We added an additional staff member, this past year. Lauren Moore read about what we were doing on a LinkedIn post. Sent a message offering to help, volunteered her time and hard work with no expectation for compensation. Within 5 or 6 months into volunteering, we were able to find a way to bring her in full-time so that she could leave a third shift job to work in a more flexible work environment doing something she is passionate about, where she could also be more present for her husband, Michael, and have more time with their 3 young kiddos. Some of you may have had the privilege of interacting with Lauren. She has been a tremendous Godsend and I am grateful for the can-do attitude she always brings and for her amazing family! Thank you for joining us on the ride, Lauren!
The Things which Unite Us
Small-town, Alabama is an interesting place to live and work. My wife and I grew up in Gadsden and moved away in our early 20’s to serve in full-time student ministry. We stayed outside of the state for the better part of 12 years and had the opportunity to move back, making our home in Cullman 5 years ago. It truly is funny sometimes the way people work and live. Many in our area have roots that go back to the early founding members of the community. Yet we all get to share in the rich heritage of a city held together on the common threads of faith, hope, and love.
Responsible to Our Future
Sometimes, it can be a very easy thing to sit back on the periphery and wait on someone else to pick up the slack and help out, if you will, to do the right thing. I believe it was John Marshall who served as a chaplain to congress who said it best, “Evil prevails when good men fail to act.”
This past year, we have had the immense opportunity to help forever shape the lives of thousands of young people in our county and thousands more beyond. And, if you thought that I forgot about the most important people in my life, well, that would be a bad bet. None of this is possible without the loving support of my beautiful bride who works tirelessly and then some to help keep it all together. Our two boys are there with us every step of the way. Though we own two vehicles, we always choose to carpool because it gives us more time together as a family.
Speaking of cars, I have put over 35,000 miles on the little 4-door Altima we picked up from Tony Serra last fall. If you want to know a shortcut for anywhere in Cullman, Winston, or Morgan counties, I can probably help. I am very thankful for the 30 mpg that it averages in the trips between visiting the schools and helping lead mentoring or speaking at an assembly.
God has been kind to our family of four, this year. Throughout the lean months when salary could not be made, new friends and old appeared from nowhere with gifts.
Caping off a Great School Year
When I travel out of town for trips which require an overnight stay, we have made it a point that one of the family always goes with me. The first flight out to Denver to speak at and help lead in a national mentoring conference, my wife, Alexis, along with 6 students, and a parent joined in. After being home for less than 48 hours, our youngest son, Joshua, joined me for a speaking conference in San Jose, CA to help train others whose primary job is to communicate to students. He would want me to tell you this. While we were there, we got to drive through a cloud and it rained on us!
After that, and less than 8 hours of being home, the whole family flew out of the country to serve on mission in a third-world environment for a couple of weeks. Nassau sounds like a vacation spot until you get in the highly congested and extremely impoverished city with no access to air conditioning during the day and the hope that your room cools by bedtime. But, oh how thankful I am for the people whose paths we got to cross! It was such a joy to present for that.
We had over 100 students fly in from all across the US. They came from the wheat fields of the Midwest and the mountains of the Dakotas, to the rolling hills of southwest Pennsylvania, the outskirts of our Nation’s Capital, and the Lonestar State of Texas.
The Bahamians and the Haitians are truly beautiful souls. Many live in conditions that are far worse than we would consider below the poverty line. Yet, they do so with no complaints and mostly joyful hearts.
There’s a story of a young girl who came to one of our VBS sites each day. The second day there, she wore the same thing as she did the first. She had on a different dress on day three and asked one of the young ladies, a student from Tennessee, if she liked her dress. The student replied that she did. When she did, the young Haitian girl thanked her and said, “Because it’s the only other thing I own.”
After serving out of the country, we came back home for a few days before heading out to Mobile and Tampa for speaking commitments with the Alabama Department of Education and the Character Camp for the SE US. Both were occasions to share with educators and administrators the value of Positive Youth Development and the healthy changes that it can bring.
Earlier, I alluded to what happens when good men fail to act. Remember the young woman from Tennessee who shared the story about the Haitian girl? Well, as it goes, this same young lady stood up to share how one of the fundraisers that she did to help raise money for the trip was sorting through old clothes at a thrift store. The young woman shared how she had thrown away clothes in much better condition than the young Haitian girl owned. As her eyes welled up, so did mine.
We often take for granted this unfair advantage that we have living in the Land of the Free and the Home of Brave.
What is your “Why?”
My challenge to you is this ~ find some cause that is worthwhile to you for volunteering your time, contributing a percentage of your resources, and to pledge support. Every city and every community has it’s organizational leaders who are striving to make their part of the world a better place. So many in our world have a roof over their head, shoes on their feet, and food in their belly because of the partnerships of people, like you.
Now, if you have taken the time to read this far, thank you! That means a lot to me, truly, because time is the resource you will never have back. It also means that somehow you are intrigued by this work of ours and labor for helping people make better decisions for health outcomes.
I’m asking you to pay it forward and make an investment in future, and into those who will take up the mantle of our legacy after we have passed on from this life into the next. After all, we exist to help students make better decisions for more healthy outcomes with each one learning to lead a Life that Counts.
About the Author
John is a veteran youth worker who loves students and is passionate about helping transform youth cultural. He is married to his high school girlfriend and together, they have two teenage boys. Click here for more on John.