No words necessary, just hope and possibility

Achilles Nashville's first race in 2014.

EDITOR’S NOTE: This blog was originally published Wednesday, May 14, 2014 on the Overbrook School Blog. It was written when I was serving as director of communications for Overbrook School and campus host facilitator for the first Achilles Hope & Possibility race in Nashville.  The race continues this weekend, Oct. 21, 2017, on The Dominican Campus. Join me there again this year. 

St. Francis of Assisi said, “Preach the Gospel at all times. If necessary, use words.” For those involved with Achilles International Nashville Hope and Possibility race, words were not necessary. The gospel was living, breathing and, in hundreds of cases, running a five miler.

Melanie Yappen was one of the original founders of the Achilles International Nashville chapter, an organization that pairs able-bodied athletes with disabled athletes for weekly runs and road races, and the first race thre years ago. Mrs. Yappen said nearly 700 runners ran the first race with 10% being disabled. The disabled runners ranged from blind runners to amputees. Some completed the race in wheel chairs and on hand-pedal bikes while still others were pushed.

“It was truly an inspirational celebration of running by athletes of all abilities,” said Mrs. Yappen, that first year as she stood at the finish line cheering on all athletes and giving out as many hugs and high-fives as she did medals. “We hope on a broader scope that our community-unifying event will paint a brighter horizon for healthier lifestyles for people with disabilities and an increased acceptance of people with disabilities.”

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Value responsiveness

Do you value responsiveness?

Do you consider responsiveness a value?

Is it important to you that someone with whom you have a personal or business connection is “quick to respond or react appropriately or sympathetically”?

It may seem out of line with values such as integrity, respect, honesty and responsibility but responsiveness is a tremendously important value that seems to be slipping away from many in both the personal and business world. Responsiveness may be corroding, in part, because of the technology that on the surface seems to help us stay better connected. However, the blame cannot be all technology’s because responsiveness is a human value not an algorithm.

We all get emails, texts and (sometimes) letters and phone calls daily. They can pile up, especially if you’re running a business or a school or an organization large or small. However, not responding to these messages sends a message whether you intend it to or not.

“If someone walked up to you and asked you a question, would you turn around and walk away from them without responding? Would you ever do that to someone?” asked Shana Rossi, director of admissions at Padua Academy and consultant with Partners in Mission. Yet, not responding to emails, texts and phone calls does essentially that. It turns around and walks away from someone without a word.

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Camille, Betsy, Katrina, Harvey & Irma

Recommended reading about Katrina.

It was Sunday morning and I woke up early, maybe 6 a.m., because I couldn’t sleep. I went downstairs and turned on the TV and there it was staring at me from the radar, eating up most of the Gulf of Mexico. Hurricane Katrina.

Heart racing, I grabbed the phone and called my parents, who lived in New Orleans. My mother answered, groggy.

“Mom, get up! What are you doing? You need to evacuate now.”

“We’re staying,” she said. She always said that.

Everyone did before Katrina. I grew up in a suburb of New Orleans and my whole life I heard stories about Camille (1969) and Betsy (1965), like they were family members who were always getting into trouble. I think maybe my Uncle Kenny lost his camp in Betsy? And maybe it was Camille that my mother told me she sat in her house and watched the trees bend half way to the ground in the howling wind, never breaking, just bending with the storm? I have one vivid memory of sleeping in a hallway when I was young – not even six – with a mattress leaning against the wall making a tent of sorts for me and my sister. I don’t remember which hurricane it was. But I was gone by the time Katrina hit. I woke up in Tennessee that Sunday.

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Far is near

Welcome to America

Maybe a year and a half ago my daughter came to the dinner table one night and asked, “How much does it cost to send candy to the Netherlands?”

“What? Why do you ask?” we responded.

“I want to send some candy to the Netherlands,” she replied nonchalantly.

“To who?”

“To my friend. She is sending me some candy from the Netherlands and I’m sending her candy from America.”

Whoa. Wait. What?

“Did you give someone from the internet our address?”

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Language lessons

Ms. Hollahan's students

Amy Wieck Hollahan taught for 17 years before she found her calling as a teacher.

This week she met a new group of students, most of whom don’t speak English. She can’t stop smiling when she talks about these children who come into her classroom each fall having just been torn from their former lives and “placed” here in Nashville. She will help them learn English this year, teach them about classroom rules and even get in some math lessons. But they have taught her so much more.

Hollahan spent 15 years teaching in a private Catholic school before she decided to move to Metro. Her daughter was teaching at Haywood Elementary and she decided to apply. She taught fourth grade for two years at Haywood before she was asked to get her English Language endorsement and teach English Language Learners (ELL), or as they are also called, SIFE (Students with Interrupted Formal Education).  The first year she taught she had 19 children in her class from seven different countries.

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Summer reading, option B

What did you read this summer?

I’ve read two non-fiction books recently and I seem to be recommending them to everyone. The first I would have never picked up on my own, but it was the monthly read for my book club: Being Mortal by Atul Gawande. The second book I had been waiting to read since I first saw Sheryl Sandberg in an interview talking about it: Option B by Sandberg and Adam Grant.

Being Mortal’s subtitle, Medicine and What Matters in the End, gives a hint at the subject matter but not the depth and care that Gawande gives the material. Gawande’s writing mixes medical science, journalistic storytelling and personal sharing. I never felt overwhelmed with the medical subject matter; rather, I found the book engaging and meaningful.

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I have an idea!

What Do You Do With An Idea by Kobi Yamada

My friend Caroline is a librarian. I like librarians. You can talk books.

Plus, Caroline is also an Anglophile, so we can chat about dodgy things happening across the pond. She’s funny, too. And I like to sing, “Sweet Caroline,” to her.

But one of my favorite things about Caroline is she gave me an idea. Actually, it was a book she showed me about an idea, “What Do You Do With An Idea?” by Kobi Yamada.

I read the book and instantly connected to its message. Though presented as a child’s story, the book spoke straight to the heart of this adult. I love its illustrations by Mae Besom. Each depicts an idea as a living, breathing thing that grows and becomes more colorful in the process. Sketches of tan and gray slowly become infused with brighter yellows and blues, greens and eventually even reds as you turn the pages.

Yamada’s story takes readers through a familiar journey, a journey that begins with a small thought. The thought or idea continues to pop into your head and try as you may, you cannot stop thinking about it. I think we’ve all experienced this phenomenon. Yamada encourages the reader to gently reconsider ignoring that idea.

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Caution: sign ahead

Communicating through pictures —  and, more specifically, signs — can be a powerful way to send a message.

My daughter commented the other day that on our rural street there are not many signs. No bent arrows indicating sharp curves ahead. No speed limit indicators. Nothing telling you to “keep right” or “yield.” There is, however, a sign with a picture of a cow. Below it is another sign that reads “loose gravel.”

Loose gravel and cows ahead

Clearly there could be cows ahead, and the road is covered with loose gravel instead of smooth pavement. I live on this road and it makes for interesting travel (and running), but I digress.

I’ve started to notice these types of signs popping up in more locations. Using just color and a simple black silhouette picture, the signs communicate a message. They also tell a story.

In my commute from country to city, two signs I pass tell the story of a journey. There is this:

Tractor warning

And then this, about 35 miles away:

Fore!

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Communicating well

Remembering some old rules of writing that still apply.

“But with so many words having many meanings communication can be a bit precarious.” Someone left that comment on the Two Roads Communications Facebook page. It’s true. Communication is precarious.

To communicate well is not easy. Look around: There is a lot of lousy communication. To communicate well, one must transfer an idea clearly from a thought into words (or pictures or other forms of art) that others understand. That can be tricky, because we all interpret things differently.

My husband and I have both worked in the communications field. We joke that we communicate well with everyone but each other. Emotion has a lot to do with communication among loved ones. But in business, taking excessive emotion and subjectivity out of communication can improve its clarity. Professional communications therefore strive to create messages that can be clearly understood by all.

Writing should be provocative, creative and concise. It can be those things and still be simple. Be understood clearly. Be done well.

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Fabric, lace and art

My grandparents walking through the University of Texas campus during college in the 1940s.

As much as I enjoy reading, gardening, being outdoors and the work of writing and marketing, I also enjoy fashion. Or, I should say, I enjoy observing fashion. I love the history of fashion and the artistry behind its creation. Often, you can instantly date a photo just from the clothes people are wearing. This is true not only of historic photos but family photos as well. Case in point, photos of my family when I was a young child are so clearly from the 1970’s.

My family when I was roughly a year old.
The rose dress
My sister’s First Communion photograph and a dress I adored, my rose dress.
Purple flower girls in front of paneling.
Maybe it is actually the paneling that gives the date of this photo away.

Two of my great-grandmothers and my grandmother were seamstresses, if not by profession, by hobby and passion. My grandmother sewed many of her own clothes, especially when she was young. Some of the photographs I have of her as a young college student and young married mother would be right at home in Vogue magazine. She had an artistic gift; her medium was fabric.

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