How Giving Back Helped Me Pay it Forward

August 23, 2016

Little did I know when I started interacting with a new friend last winter that it would lead to my fulfilling one of my life goals; which is to give back to the community after a very rewarding professional career in IT project management.  I decided that I needed to share some of what I had learned throughout my many years in the corporate world to foster workplace performance. Not only had I never lost a project due to my well-developed PM skills, I had loyal and dedicated teams. Sure, this may sound boastful, but it’s true. Being grateful for the experience, I wanted to offer tools and techniques that I had gleaned to others as my legacy to contribute to the improvement of corporate culture.

kids

Volunteering my skills and offering workshops turned out not to be so easy. After several lengthy failed attempts involving writing proposals, offering startup funds to get my “Enlightened Leadership” concepts into my university curriculum, and then to my spiritual organization’s mindful leadership program to no avail, the successful situation actually came to me. When my friend wasn’t able to take an assignment, he suggested that I coach summer school for kids. I had co-coached with him for several months providing me with a basic understanding of how to work with the kids, but teaching multiple times per week for eight weeks was a totally different situation. After a very brief negotiation with the head mistress of the learning center, I had to design 18 classes with only 10 days’ notice. It was at this point that I decided to use the backdrop of what I had wanted to present to the older group, just on a more modified scale.

My philosophy was to start with the youth teaching the basics of interpersonal skills, time management and planning projects as a foundation for being a more informed participant in the workplace. Hopefully, these skills learned at a young age would help these students grow into adults with better emotional intelligence as well as analytical understanding of the requirements they might face later. This material was ground breaking for 6th and 7th graders. And my interactive, problem solving and team-oriented style was new to them. That said, eventually we all got used to the program; I adjusted to them and in turn, they got used to speaking to each other and thinking more analytically. By the end of the eight weeks, the kids were all writing and presenting on the elements of a project plan using a model familiar to them – the five questions: Why? Where? Who? What? When? One of my life goals is now accomplished. I did it and they did it!

As I finished the summer session, I wondered what would come next only to see a brief article in the local paper advertising for STEMS (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math) volunteers to help local teachers in the school system. I applied and was quickly accepted. My training is in a few weeks. So on to the next chapter of paying it forward to give back. My experience has been both exhilarating and exhausting. I expect the next experience with coaching kids to be equally rewarding.


God Pays Parking Ticket

July 7, 2013

A few weeks back I went to a spiritual program in a quaint historic town in West Virginia. It’s a lovely place, complete with a small university which has its own campus sidewalks patrolled by a security force. If you’ve ever visited such a small town, you might also be familiar with the local police and how vigilant they can be at prosecuting any one that might break local rules, regardless of the circumstances. So here’s how it went. I arrived at the location about 4pm and pulled up to the side of the campus sidewalk in what I believed was a legal spot even putting money in the meter. I then attended dinner and the evening program after registering in the dorm.

ImageThe next morning I went out to the car to find a ticket on the windshield. At first I was very confused thinking that I had gotten the ticket for parking near the dorm. Then I read the ticket more carefully; it said, “For parking in the wrong direction”. Wow, I couldn’t believe it. Apparently, the evening before when I had parked near the program at campus, I had pulled up to the parking meter on the wrong side of the street. Since there were no other cars on the street that Friday afternoon during the summer break (no students were on the campus), I didn’t realized that I was on a two-way street headed in the wrong direction. I went into breakfast rather wired having just received a $90 ticket! Ok, so technically it was my fault; according to the absolute letter of the law, I was in the wrong. However, I wasn’t familiar with the town or the roads and after driving for 1 ½ hours through the countryside to get there I was a bit disoriented (I tend towards motion sickness on curvy, windy roads).

Once at breakfast, I tried to calm down and began to figure out my course of action. I could go down to the police station a couple blocks away and plead my case (ignorance, of course). I thought the police would understand if I was nice and explained that I was from out of state, etc. At the program the night before, I had made a new friend who was now helping me think through what to do. In addition, she insisted upon going with me on my mission which fueled my courage, as well as resolve.

As we left the dining hall another woman handed me a retreat brochure, which I tried not to take, already having one, but she insisted. I left with the brochure in hand wondering why she had given it to me. As my new friend and I walked up the street, I went over my “speech” that I would give to the police. We had a bit of trouble finding the address, which gave us more time to be together as well as for me to think about the situation until I said, “Well, the worst that came happen is that I pay the ticket and God sends me another client to help me pay for it”. At that moment, I opened the brochure and stopped in my tracks – since there were 4 $20 bills inside – $80 in cash. I stood there in amazement. No one had ever given me money like that and I didn’t even know the woman who had handed it to me. I told my friend that I couldn’t accept it but she insisted that it was a gift and I had to accept or be rude.

We finally found the police station and it was closed. I wrote a check and put it in the box outside the station placed just for the purpose of taking the envelope with parking payments. The police don’t even bother to open on Saturdays; they just have a box and expect people to pay the tickets that they issue with strict warning that otherwise one’s car could be impounded any time in the future. Not worth the chance.

When I went into the program for the morning session, I found the woman who had “paid it forward” by giving me the money. She told me her story; apparently, she was doing a friend a favor and getting a lot of money for it and felt like she had money to share. As a result, I decided to give her a reading. It wasn’t required, just a gift to her. She was thrilled with what I told her to the extent that she wanted to become a client. If she hadn’t helped me, I wouldn’t have known her and I wouldn’t have helped her. In the end we both benefited and God paid the parking ticket for me after all.


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