Helping to bring a project full circle from inception to fruition, which happened just yesterday for the Rainbow Kitchen, one that exists simply to help others, is an extraordinary feeling. My latest involvement in a project helps feed 150 people every day, 36,000 meals a year, and it feeds not just their belly, but their social connections, self worth and an essence of spirit. That’s the ‘Radical Renovation’ of the Rainbow Kitchen through the actions of community, driven by HeroWork. Its like a modern day barn-raising, if you can visualize a community of volunteers coming to help fix one building.

But what has it done for me, personally?

I want to bring you back to how I first heard about HeroWork, because I feel as though I was directed to it, and I know, after talking with many of the people involved, that others feel the same way.

I was on a personal mission to write this blog about the meaning of heroism in everyday life, when I ran across a local organization that rebuilds charities in such a way that it caught my eye. It was HeroWork, naturally, and I mentioned it in this earlier post in December 2014. Lending a helping hand, sharing a smile, or simply acknowledging someone creates a lightness of being that brightens this world. It just does, and when many of us get together and do it, the light gets brighter.

The second time I was impacted by HeroWork was when I saw Paul Latour tell his inspiring tale of how it evolved out of an act of giving; by helping a neighbour with MS deal with their yard work. Pretty humble beginnings that have flourished and grown every year to the completion of the latest renovation that is estimated at $500k over three weekends with hundreds of volunteers. This takes the total tally to $1.8M in the Victoria area. Amazing, but I’m getting ahead of myself, let’s get back to the final crossroad where I decided to become involved.

The third time I heard about HeroWork was when a friend of mine told me they were renovating Citizen’s Counselling Centre where she worked. Now, I don’t always ‘get it’ when something is trying to grab my attention, but I saw clearly that in less than 10 months I was being directed to become a volunteer and work on that building. I signed up to volunteer on the very first day and I was a grunt worker that carried out lots of broken up concrete, sand down some doors and various other odd jobs. I felt like I was part of something bigger than just myself, something that made a difference. Isn’t that what we want out of our lives? We want to matter, and this involvement accelerates the process of making a tangible difference in your very own community.

That was it: I was hooked. Over the next few weeks I became instrumental in the fundraising campaign by organizing the silent auction items through a team of gifted volunteers. Such a stark change from absolutely zero knowledge to becoming passionately involved. Life can take some serious corners, and when we see them coming it’s all the better.

After that event was over, I had to focus on my day job of teaching and I didn’t get to become involved until about 8 months later when Paul Latour asked how things were going. The preparation steps were starting to get underway for the next project and I was asked to come in and see if there was a position that suited me.

I had just finished my teaching contract and the timing was right to get involved once more. After reviewing the potential positions, I was thinking quietly to myself that I like talking to people, so perhaps something on the Neighbourhood Liaison Team would be a good fit. Paul started to ask me what I thought, and as I was sorting out what I thought, a most beautiful moment happened.

As if time stands still, I almost feel as if the light in my brain got brighter and Paul indicated with his finger on the outlaid brochure of potential positions, pointing to one particular spot: Project Manager: he saw me as one of the three event managers outside of the renovation.

“What?!” I quietly breathed to myself. I’m sure my eyes widened slightly, but not wanting to give away both my feeling of inadequacy and my thought of potential, I sat for what felt like many minutes. I’m sure it was just half a second, but I said out loud “Oh, yeah. I can do that,” then ended off with a smile that may have shown off some false bravado mixed with a dash of panic.

Although I had led projects of similar financial value before, it was with large government agencies and many professionals to assist me if I ever needed help, and I also was an expert in my field. I was jumping in to something that I was simply passionate about, without having the experience of what it actually meant.

Over the next few days I felt that in this role I just might be over my head. But at the same time, while I felt challenged to fulfill a role I did not feel particularly prepared for, I also didn’t want to shake the confidence Paul Latour saw in me. That feeling of knowing someone you admire greatly has confidence in yourself, is so vastly comforting, and so incredibly powerful.

I started leading two teams in the project, and liaising with the other two project managers. Time flew by and I was both nervous and excited, trying my hardest to perfect meetings and inspire action and connection.

Paul shared with me that meetings are not just a time to get answers, they are also a time to connect with teammates. This is done though being genuine, asking questions, and sharing stories, like “What brought you to HeroWork?” which is one of my favourite questions.

I dealt with personnel conflicts, and issues that I alone could not solve, but what I realized is that I was partnered with people that have been through many projects before, and they had all the answers I needed. I didn’t need to prove anything to anyone, I merely needed to be present, ask questions, and allow everyone else to do their part.

I learned to ask “What does that look like?” when presented with an issue, and be specific in details around logistics, because during the event, knowing when, for how many, and what options are available on the food service team will determine if certain people can eat the food we spent the summer preparing for delivery.

My teams were food and volunteers, and dealing with significantly different teams and personalities was exciting and educating. But, there was a common thread that was present throughout the entire preparation phase, and the event: we are all there to do our best in making a difference for others. It is such a giving environment! We were a diverse mix of people that started to create a community of common purpose.

One of the startling things I learned was how different people operate in a planning environment versus the real event. Some people I hardly knew, and thought weren’t really processing the planning of the event ended up being stars, shining brightly due to their particular “can do” attitude and on-site leadership ability. This startling realization reaffirms how each of us learn differently. Some through simple paperwork and discussion, others through role-play, and acting out live scenarios; which I find are great for those complex decision-making environments.

There have been times when I sat down after one of the ‘rush’ times on the site and simply smiled at the energy of my teams. Smiling, encouraging, and willing, even amid the chaos of arrival time of the waves of volunteers. When problems arose, they were handled with curiosity and genuinely seeking amends and corrective action. It was beautiful to be able to take in those moments of gratitude during the event.

I learned so much during the first weekend, especially from my veteran team mates, that it came full circle from planning to doing. The wisdom that comes from those that have been there, and done all of the jobs before I ever got involved was so extremely valuable!

Now starts the iterative phase of documenting the process for improvement on the next project. But, getting back to the original question: what has it done for me, personally? It has:

  1. given me an appreciation for the complexity of the renovation
  2. broadened my understanding of the entire HeroWork role
  3. expanded my comprehension of the impact of this work in the community
  4. given me more skills negotiating people
  5. helped my project related skill base
  6. brought me closer to all of my team members as real people with whom we all share a common underlying goal
  7. sent me home each night after a day at the event with tangible evidence of the difference we strive to make every day
  8. made me happy to get out of bed at 5am to be on site at 6:30am to start the renovation day
  9. expanded my family of people I care about
  10. given my efforts greater meaning in this world, and though my actions, my life. I know my life is achieving more.

Together We Achieve More [TEAM] and HeroWork is all about teams, which are just small communities. Like it says on the back of some of the volunteer shirts, “It takes a community to rebuild one“, and I feel like I just spent the summer helping to create a community of likeminded individuals work singleminded on a project that brings such lightness into this part of the neighbourhood.

I envy the landscaping as it is desirable to visit the location, but there is so much that nobody will ever see about the project, like all of the electrical work, the plumbing, the crawlspace work, the roofing, and everything that is hidden behind the last closed door, wall, floor or ceiling. Isn’t this like getting to know the spirit within people?

I know so many more people now. I appreciate the time and effort I contribute to these types of projects and my life has greater meaning. I feel better about what I do during my time, and I am confident that my light shines brighter having risen to the challenge of Mr. Latour’s level of confidence in me.

I owe much to leaders who see in us what potential we have and ask for one step toward it. Often we are too close to see our own potential, so we need these people in our lives. I am so glad the universe brought Paul Latour in to my life so that he could challenge me, and I could make a difference. Now there are many of us, through this latest project at the Rainbow Kitchen, that can share the light around our own communities and together brighten this place we live in.

I liken the difference HeroWork makes to a pebble in a pond, that ripples out from the tangible legacy we leave at each charitable location that is renovated. The pebble is tossed high in the air by every person that gets involved in the project initially, then the ripples of the pebble as it plunges into the pond are felt as each person is impacted by the new facility.

One by one each person feels the difference this project made, and that will go on for many years to come, impacting thousands of people through our complex social interactions. Every time I interact with another person I will strive to remember, this is a ripple moment. What I say and how I respond can direct the feeling of this moment in many different ways.

I am a different person: more enriched, with more connections, having made a greater impact on more people than ever before, and I am grateful for every single second of it.

Hoo-Haa!

[a chant from those that know it]

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