Tuesday, January 20, 2009

The Reach Them to Teach Them Story

Executive Summary

8.8.88. August 8, 1988 was a life-changing day for me. I accepted my first teaching job with Knox County Schools in Knoxville, Tennessee. After seventeen years in the classroom, I prepared to begin my eighteenth year “on the other side of the desk.” My formal education, while excellent, could not have prepared me for what being a teacher would require from me. Had I known that in the years that followed that I would be challenged beyond my perceived limits; that I would experience elation , frustration, satisfaction, and heartbreak each and every year, would I have chosen this profession? Or perhaps a more accurate question- would this profession have chosen me?

Teaching is a calling on my life, a unique privilege given me and many others who truly understand the essential role we play in molding young people into the adults they will one day become. For many children, teachers don’t make a difference in the lives of their students; they are the difference. This concept is the heart of Reach Them to Teach Them.

Eighteen years after accepting my first teaching job, my professional life had taken several dramatic turns. I spent nine of those years teaching in elementary schools in rural, urban, and suburban communities. I served as the Director of Children’s Ministries at a local church for three years. Then in the fall of 2004, I took on the challenge of teaching middle school.

Middle School. America’s gauntlet for adolescents. Middle school is the testing ground for cruel comments, peer pressure, failure, and self-preservation. Middle school is where kids who struggle find that being “bad” is preferable to being “dumb.” What fertile soil for planting seeds of self-confidence and identity in the lives of kids!

When I began teaching in 1988, a family friend gave me a “congratulations on your new job” gift. The gift was Guy Doud’s Teacher of the Year cassette tape. The recipient of the 1986 National Teacher of the Year, Guy Doud, eloquently related classroom stories that brought tears of laughter and heartbreak. It wasn’t until years later that I would fully understand the impact that Guy Doud had on me as a teacher.

April, 2008
One day that stands out in my memory is the day I shared a poem from Dr. Guy Doud’s book, Molder of Dreams, with my eighth grade Reading classes. The poem, entitled Please Hear What I’m Not Saying,” examined the practice of wearing masks to hide who we really are from the outside world. “Don’t be fooled by me. Don’t be fooled for I wear a mask, a thousand masks, and not one of them is me…” Our class discussions about this poem broke down the walls between the cliques. As my students and I explored the idea that every person risks rejection, fear, and ridicule when we remove our masks, we forged an unbreakable bond. After school, I reflected on the day’s lesson and what it was that made the lesson exceptionally effective.

After evaluating the lesson, I was moved to write Dr. Doud a thank you note. Surprisingly, he responded and informed me that he had retired from teaching and makes a living as a motivational speaker. Then God started opening doors. I mentioned to several other teachers at my school the possibility of having Guy Doud come to Knoxville to remind us of our “calling.” I also mentioned this dream to my small group at church.

That day in April, I was given a vision to remind people in positions of influence (teachers, youth leaders, parents, etc.) of the enormous privilege we have to invest our lives in things that have eternal value. Guy Doud’s tape served as a reminder to me of the power of my influence in my classroom. I used to listen to the tape when I felt discouraged, frustrated, or just felt that what I was doing wasn’t making a difference. I must have listened to that tape ten times a year for eighteen years!

With my friends behind me and the Lord in front of me, I took a step of faith and booked Guy Doud to speak in Knoxville on the day before the students returned to school from summer break. (Bear in mind, the biggest event I’d ever planned was a birthday party)! In those early stages, we had no idea how we were going to pay for this endeavor. Then we experienced the first of many miracles. An anonymous donor placed a cashier’s check for $3,000 in my mailbox at school. That check signaled to me that we were onto something very special. Guy Doud did indeed speak to a crowd of nearly 500 people of influence and we were on our way!

After the first event in 2006, our team was faced with the decision to quit or stay the course. We had succeeded in pulling off a successful event. The crowd left inspired, post-event feedback was positive, all bills were paid, and we were finished…or were we?

The questions began as early as the night of the event. What’s next? Who’s our next speaker? Where do we go from here? Our team was anxious to carry on, but I was hesitant. We needed clear direction. Our success surprised us. Then we experienced another miracle.

Word of our vision reached Ed Jessup, a high-ranking marketing executive with Case pocketknives. In the spring of 2007, I was invited to meet with Mr. Jessup for the purpose of sharing our dream. After sharing our story, Ed was convinced that the message of Reach Them to Teach Them must be shared with a broader audience. Under his tutelage, I learned the power of dreaming big, and never being intimidated or afraid to ask. Mr. Jessup threw his full support and the expertise of his staff behind us. With his head for business and our determination, we were ready to carry on our mission.

As Ed Jessup walked our team through the process of writing a marketing plan, we were challenged to consider businesses to approach for corporate sponsorships. An obvious choice for consideration was Chick-fil-A. Janice Halliday and Travis Spiva joined us at the table as representatives of Chick-fil-A to gather information about Reach Them to Teach Them to share with the local owner/operators.

We took a significant leap of faith and booked the Tennessee Theatre which seats nearly 1700 people. Along with the challenge of finding sponsors, we needed to secure our speakers and fill the seats. Dr. Doud was all set to deliver the message with passion and power, but we needed bigger name than Guy Doud to garner the crowd we needed. As I researched Chick-fil-A, I came across a book authored by S. Truett Cathy entitled, It’s Better to Build Boys Than Mend Men. This book summed up our mission. I felt that our “big name” for 2007 had to be Truett Cathy, the founder of Chick-fil-A.

Janice Halliday agreed to make the call to the corporate headquarters. She was told that Truett was unavailable on the date of our event; he’s already booked at least a year in advance, and he’s over eighty years old! Janice shared the name and number of Mr. Cathy’s assistant with me so I called the corporate headquarters and my request was politely declined. There was virtually no chance to have Truett Cathy speak at our event.

Our team explored other possibilities with the challenge of finding someone who fit our mission. We were looking for someone with a story to tell, not a polished storyteller. No matter how hard I tried to dismiss Truett Cathy, I could not shake the feeling that he was our man.

We concluded that we had to find a way to share our mission with Mr. Cathy, and I was commissioned to write a letter detailing our organization and mission. Mrs. Halliday made her second call to Atlanta with the intent of ensuring that Mr. Cathy would read my letter. She was assured by Truett’s assistant that the letter would be read. No promises of anything more.

Three weeks later, I made the call to Chick-fil-A’s corporate headquarters. Much to my surprise and delight, Mr. S. Truett Cathy agreed to speak at our event on November 12th. AND we secured our area Chick-fil-A owner/operators’ support and enlisted them as our title sponsor. In addition to Chick-fil-A and BreadBox, we added Citadel Broadcasting, WBIR-TV, the Knoxville News-Sentinel, American Book Company, Print One, Case, Inc., Jessup and Associates, and Knoxville Leadership Foundation to our growing list of supporters.

Knoxville Leadership Foundation served as our administrative partner for 2007 and 2008. As a registered non-profit, KLF was able to manage our books for us and provide our sponsors with the necessary paperwork for tax-deductible donations. With their established reputation in the community, we were able to garner support from individuals and businesses that might not have otherwise taken notice of us.

One of our marketing strategies was to establish an army in the trenches, so to speak, by hosting a pre-event at a beautiful outdoor pavilion on the lake. Our invitation-only guest list consisted of those individuals in strategic positions of influence. We included business leaders, school administrators, church pastors, coaches, teachers, and others with a proven record of leadership. Our goal was to share the purpose, passion, and vision of Reach Them to Teach Them and enlist their full support. By providing dinner, goody bags, and an inspiring message, we were successful in introducing our organization in a positive light and establish “point men” in strategic places to share our message with the “influencers” we sought to reach.

As Reach Them to Teach Them took giant steps in 2007, our team realized that one “event” per year would not have the impact on the community that we desired. We were determined not be satisfy ourselves with a “good show.” We wanted lasting impact.

The Dream Team concluded that we must strategize ways to replenish the emotion and passion for influence evoked on the night of event. Another marketing strategy we used was the creation of a DVD. “The Story Behind the Glory” consisted of personal interviews with local celebrities and successful business leaders who shared their stories of the people who made the difference in their lives. By providing stories of what can happen in the lives of young people when people of influence pour into them, we hoped to reignite the flame of passion that is often all but extinguished by the pressures of the daily grind. Paid for by an anonymous donor, every person in attendance received this DVD free of charge.

With two successful events behind us, Reach Them to Teach Them had at last established the foundation on which to build a viable non-profit organization.

There was no doubt that we were impacting our city. There was little discussion about whether or not to continue on mission. Our Dream Team was fully on board. We were an all-volunteer organization with a proven track record of success. We had corporate sponsors committed to stay the course through the turbulent economy and most importantly we had the lives of young people at stake should we decide to quit. The price was too high for us to consider altering our course.

Our third event, held in October, 2008, brought Dr. Don Bartlette to the stage. Dr. Bartlette’s life is an unforgettable testimony to the power of one person to make a difference in the life of another. His presentation entitled, Macaroni at Midnight, has been shared over 8,000 times throughout America and Canada since 1972. Again, Hallerin Hilton Hill was an integral piece. This year, Hallerin spoke on what it means to have a calling, and the importance of believing in young people. We added a couple of new elements to the program in 2008. We invited a local high school student to sing, “What About the Children?” Cavanaugh Mims garnered a standing ovation. Another first was having our title sponsor, Chick-fil-A provide a complimentary dinner at the theatre as a tangible show of appreciation for those who invest their lives molding the dreams of young people. This was a huge success as many of our guests came to the event directly from work/school.

Event Summaries
August 10, 2006
Our first Reach Them to Teach Them event was held in the sanctuary at Cedar Springs Presbyterian Church. BreadBox Convenience Stores was our sole corporate sponsor. Dean Winegardner, President and CEO of American Book Company, agreed to provide transportation in his private plane for Dr. Doud. Local radio talk show host, Hallerin Hilton Hill, served as emcee, and a local youth group provided musical entertainment for the evening which drew nearly 500 people. Our first attempt at reminding and inspiring those in positions of influence in the lives of children was an overwhelming success and proof that God can use ordinary people to do extra-ordinary things.

November 12, 2007 – It’s Worth It!
The historic and majestic Tennessee Theatre was the setting for Reach Them to Teach Them-It’s Worth It! Hallerin Hilton Hill served as emcee and awed the crowd with his dynamic performance of his original song entitled, “It’s Worth It!” S. Truett Cathy filled the seats as predicted and shared a special moment on stage with his son and current C.O.O. of Chick-fil-A, Dan. Reach Them to Teach Them board member, Jo Bruce, testified to her husband’s powerful legacy. Ken Bruce served as principal of Campbell County High School. Mr. Bruce was shot and killed by a student in his office at school. But Mrs. Bruce’s story did not focus on the death of her husband, but rather on the lives of those who were impacted by his influence. And once again, Dr. Guy Doud touched the hearts of everyone in attendance and challenged all of us to “reach them” before we “teach them.” Approximately 1,500 people attended.

October 28, 2008 – The Power of One
Scott Cagle emceed this year’s event. Hallerin Hilton Hill shared a challenging and powerful message, and Dr. Don Bartlette shared his triumphant personal story of the power of one person to positively impact the life of a child. Cavanaugh Mims performed “What About the Children?” His rendition of the song brought the audience to its feet and moved many of us to tears. Chick-fil-A provided dinner to all in attendance. The addition of American Print Solutions and the increase of support from American Book Company enabled us to provide complimentary tickets to all teachers who pre-registered on Knox County’s Teacher U. Most area school systems awarded two hours of in-service credit for attendance. Over 1,600 people attended this event.

Where We Are Going

I’ve seen kids so starved for attention, that a smile opens the door to their over-burdened hearts. My heart breaks for these children. The pain, disappointment, rejection, and fear they have experienced in their lives seem too much for young hearts to bear. However, I’ve had a front row seat to watch what God can do when a caring, responsible adult steps into their lives. Making a difference in the lives of kids doesn’t take a lot of money. We don’t need new programs. It doesn’t take a new charity or a new foundation. Honestly, all it takes is for us to see the need and use what we have to meet the need. Sometimes it can be something as simple as a handshake or a hug. The one thing it does take is time. But as you know, it is time well spent because any time “lost” is actually invested and brings returns far more valuable than one can imagine. I believe if people of influence in the lives of young people could see what I’ve seen, they would make conscious decisions in order to positively impact the lives they are privileged to touch.

What if every teacher, scout leader, youth pastor, and parent consciously took the time to establish a positive relationship with the young people in their lives?

In five years, Reach Them to Teach Them will host events in 25 cities in the southeast United States. Each event will serve 1,000-3,000 people of influence. The impact of this effort will be profound.

The need is too great to ignore. In the last 30 years, America’s educational system has dropped from number one in the world to number 18 (2003 UNICEF study). We are frantic to find a quick-fix to the problem, often blaming the schools, the parents, the students, even the media. I believe we must first look to ourselves and be reminded that when we get our relationships right, the pieces will fall into place. We will see the increased test scores. We will see the light come on in the eyes of our young people. We will be the change that we want to see in the world.

Consider this: The three year history of Reach Them to Teach Them shows that our message has great appeal to educators. Consider the impact on our nation when 1,000 (teachers) x 25 (events) = 25,000 educators are trained, motivated, and inspired to ensure that EVERY child has an opportunity to reach his/her maximum potential! When Reach Them to Teach Them effectively shares our vision with a minimum of 25,000 people per year, then not only are their lives changed for the better, but also the lives of the young people they serve. If each of those influencers successfully reaches 10 children that may have otherwise fallen through the cracks, that means the lives of a quarter of a million children are positively impacted because someone took the time to intentionally be a positive person of influence in each of their lives. For many young people today, positive adult role models don’t just make a difference in their lives; these role models are the difference.

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