Tuesday, November 29, 2016

Cultivate Hope With Nuru International On #GivingTuesday

This year Nuru is working to raise $300,000 to expand its efforts to 1,500 new households in the southern highlands of Ethiopia. And today, on #GivingTuesday, a generous donor from West Virginia has stepped forward to match every donation received up to $15,000 today. Will you make a donation to help maximize this match and help Nuru serve even more families in 2017? Every bit helps!

Since the summer of 2007, I have had the incredible honor of working together with a few of my friends from my undergraduate days, namely John Hancox, Jake Harriman, Andy Cogar, and Trey Dunham to make our own unique contributions to a massive global problem. The problem is global extreme poverty. And, while the problem by itself is huge, the very fact of its existence leads to the proliferation and thriving of an array of other problems including global instability, violent extremism, child soldiers, slavery, and human trafficking just to name a few. 

Back in 2007, we had no idea what might be in store in the years ahead, but we had a plan, a ton of passion, and a number of really smart and committed leaders contributing their skills to building an organization that could make a tangible impact in the lives of others. As we launched Nuru International in September 2008, a number of our friends had thrown their lot in with us and committed time and money to helping spread the word about the issue, and Nuru's unique contribution to the problem. In a matter of months, Nuru had grown from an idea to an actual organization that was serving approximately 2,500 people in southwestern Kenya. 

And as of this year, that number has grown to more than 100,000 people. That's more than 100,000 lives changed for the better because people like me and you stepped into the arena and chose to do something rather than stand by idly as our global neighbors suffered. And we are just getting started. In 2015, our western staff left Kenya for good, and local leaders are continuing to adapt and improve their efforts to address extreme poverty in their country. They are cultivating hope in areas of the world that are all too often forgotten by most.

Earlier this year, I had the honor of traveling with Jamie to visit our second country project in Ethiopia. The area where Nuru works is high up in the mountains of southern Ethiopia, and it is about a 2.5 hour drive from the nearest city to the area. Together, Jamie and I listened to stories from farmers and their families about the transformation that had taken place for them since Nuru's arrival. They talked about increases in crop yields and being able to feed their families. They talked about improving their savings and their health, and they talked about things I didn't think about with regard to programs. They talked about how their marriages were healthier because they were not frustrated by conversations about money or frequent discussions about children being sick. Their marriages were healthier because they were developing skills to improve their livelihoods. There are so many aspects of our lives and our relationships that improve when people have the ability to make meaningful choices for their future! As we walked along and talked with these families, we also witnessed how Nuru had equipped these families to be able to cope with one of the worst droughts in Ethiopia to occur in many years.

Farming is risky business, and farmers are inherently risk takers; it’s always been that way. All over the world, our food supply relies on farmers taking risks. All over the world, parents want a better life for their children than the one they had. Amarech Sama was among the first individuals to enroll in Nuru's programs in Meteka Mele Ethiopia in 2014. Her community was deeply affected by the drought, but because of Nuru, she and her family are thriving. In fact, Amarech just gave birth to a baby boy, and has not only improved her own financial literacy, but she is participating in programs to learn to better care for her newborn in Nuru's healthcare training programs (and teaching others) ways to better care for their infants as well! Please watch and share this video to learn more about Amarech and the work of Nuru in Kenya and Ethiopia as well.

This holiday season, you can help change the lives of thousands of our global neighbors, and cultivate hope in the southern mountains of Ethiopia and beyond. Will you share this post and make a gift to support women like Amarech Sama and move Nuru's mission forward today?

Tuesday, November 22, 2016

Review: The ONE Thing by Gary Keller with Jay Papasan

While I was passing through an airport, I saw a book with an intriguingly simple cover, and it just stood out so much I had to take a look. The book is called The ONE Thing: The Surprisingly Simple Truth About Extraordinary Results by Gary Keller with Jay Papasan. When I saw it I had to stop for a minute and open it up. As I skimmed it quickly in the airport, I thought, “this book is very captivating to me.” I decided I might grab a copy in the near future and give it a read.

I’m intrigued by books and activities that cultivate self-mastery, productivity, and ways that we can develop ourselves and others, and this book was just so unique in its delivery, I had to check it out. To start, the book is printed with black, white, red, and grey ink. Sections of the book make it look like someone has already read it and circled, underlined, starred, or marked sections where key points are being made. For me, it made reading the book more interesting because it was like I had someone else’s (the author’s) notes to refer to as I read the book.

The main premise of the book is that we are not made to multi-task, and that we become most productive when we focus on ONE thing at a time. And, when it comes to goal setting, we find greater productivity toward those goals as we break the goals into smaller steps. For instance, if I have a goal of running a marathon in a year (which I do), what is the one thing I need to do in the next month to move toward that goal, and then, what is the one thing I need to do in the next week to achieve my monthly goal, and what is the one thing I need to do today to meet my weekly goal. It sounds really simple, and it is, but here’s the trick. While it is simple, it is not easy.

It is not easy to stay focused on the ONE thing whatever it is, while you are being distracted from every possible angle with other things, things that may or may not be important, but regardless of their importance, they are not as important as the ONE thing. The book’s mantra about ONE thing helps thin out a long list of goals, and to prioritize ONE thing at a time.

Looking for a book to help simplify and streamline your life? Check out The ONE Thing by Gary Keller and use it to decide what your ONE thing is for each area of your own personal development , business development, spiritual development or whatever area you are determined to grow in. And as you do, I pray you are able to filter out distracting voices so that you can focus on the ONE thing that will bring you toward your most fulfilled and fulfilling life!

Monday, November 21, 2016

Reflection: Marine Corps Marathon 2016

After two full and amazing days sharing Nuru’s story with folks at the expo, I had the privilege of lining up with about 30,000 other runners from around the world to run my fourth Marine Corps Marathon.

This time was really different for me. I had not trained as diligently as I had in previous years, and I had a couple of injuries during the summer. Not only that, but this was the first time I ran the Marine Corps Marathon without Jamie there with me. She was of course busy caring for Sylvia, so I thought this year I would be running for all three of us. This was my first Marine Corps Marathon as a father too.

Thankfully I was at least able to start the race with my good friend JR Pittman. He decided to run for Nuru with me this year, and we had a great run during the first half of the race, and then my lack of training at longer distances began to catch up with me. I made it about eighteen miles before I started cramping up, and I think that was about the same time the sun came out, and the temperature began to shoot upward a little more quickly. Even with the heat, the fatigue, and the cramping, I am so glad I persevered through it.

When I think about all of the runners who have joined me in running to help Nuru fight extreme poverty, I get a little emotional. Thirty thousand people run this race each year, and I’ve been so grateful that slightly under 100 of them have run with Team Nuru. And, I think about all that each one of us gets out of the deal. Not only are we helping others half way around the world, but we are also making ourselves better in the process.

A lesson I learned from my first Marine Corps Marathon in 2013 was that the training and the race provide a great tool for exercising self-discipline, long-term planning, and working toward a larger goal. I’ve been able to translate those same attributes into many other areas of my life, and I can’t help but think that they will help me be a better father and a better husband too.

When I crossed the finish line, I took a few seconds to express my gratitude for finishing the race. I also took a few seconds to pose for a starjump in honor of Jamie since she wasn’t there with me this year.

As the miles began to add up, I remember two distinct voices in the crowd (other than the ones offering hot dogs, beverages, and gummy bears). There was a little girl around mile 17 and a little boy around mile 22. They were probably each around six years of age. The little girl yelled out as I went by, “Keep going, you can do it!” and the little boy yelled, “Don’t ever give up, keep going!” And for some reason, amid all of the various cheers and shouts, the words of these two children yelling with all they could muster made their way into my heart, and my eyes teared a little. Their words of encouragement are what we all need to remember, no matter what the challenge is we are going through.

There is at least One Voice out there that believes the absolute best for each of us, and if we are attentive we can single it out above all of the noise. And, as we apply discipline to our lives and accomplish challenging goals, we become more and more attuned to that voice. May we each keep running and keep our ears tuned in for that Voice.

Thursday, November 17, 2016

Our First Road Trip With Sylvia

After an incredibly action-packed first few days, Jamie, Sylvia, and myself loaded up into the Nuru van for our first road trip! As a result of the generous support of a Nuru donor, we were headed to Washington DC to set up a booth for the 41st Marine Corps Marathon Expo.

Thanks to some guidance given by one of the nurses at Mon General, we were able to get Sylvia situated pretty quickly in the vehicle. And as we pulled out of the driveway, we quickly made a discovery. It appears Sylvia really enjoys the open road. She rested peacefully as we introduced her to Maryland, Virginia, and Washington DC. (To be fair, she had been to these places before, but this was her first time outside the womb).

As we pulled into the convention center at National Harbor a light rain that had persisted through the day began to lift. Jamie and Sylvia made their way out for a walk, and I began unloading banners, tshirts, and other cool Nuru International signage so we could make our presence known for the first time at the Expo. This year marked our fourth year having a team run for Nuru, and since Nuru’s CEO was a Force Recon Marine, it only made sense to have representation at the Expo.

The setup went fairly quick and we were able to get settled in with some good friends in the area, and we had an incredible team of volunteers join us at the booth including current USNA MIDN, and one of Jake’s old roommates from USNA as well as folks who have been part of Nuru from our earliest efforts!

Sylvia and Jamie came down to do some quality inspection of the booth, and after their approval, I knew we were prepared for the opening of the expo. It is incredible that we get to do so much of this stuff together, and I’m in awe of this young lady’s ability to travel so quickly.

Tuesday, November 15, 2016

Review: Hillbilly Elegy by J.D. Vance

A couple of times this year, a friend of mine and fellow West Virginia native, Bill Easterly, recommended the book Hillbilly Elegy: A Memoir of a Family and a Culture In Crisis by J.D. Vance as a book I should make every effort to read. Dr. Easterly, J.D., and myself have a common Appalachian heritage and the book’s title definitely had me intrigued. An elegy, according to Google is synonymous with a lament, a requiem, a dirge, or a threnody—those are all words that are not in the common American vernacular—a more wordy definition would be a passionate expression of grief or sorrow or maybe to use a biblical analogy, a jeremiad.

I anticipate the book will gain greater traction in the months ahead as I noticed the author being invited to speak on multiple major news outlets about the recent election and the role that individuals from poorer communities in the Rust Belt and the Bible Belt played in the most recent Presidential election and why these historically Democratic communities have been shifting over the last few decades to a Republican base.

The book is mix of memoir and social commentary. The characters are all comprised of J.D.’s family members and is partially a biography as seen from the eyes of Mr. Vance and researched further through interviews with members of his family. It is partially a narrative of the daunting challenges, frustrations, and traps that people in Appalachia experience as part of their daily existence. It’s also a story of overcoming the odds and how J.D. made it from Middletown, Ohio into the Marines, onward to Ohio State University, and even further onward to Yale Law School.

But it is more than that. It is a first-hand account of Appalachian family values like honor and doing one’s best to care for one’s family and resilience in the face of adversity. It’s also an account of just why so many people feel down and out and how the opioid crisis is wreaking havoc in poor communities in West Virginia, Kentucky, Ohio, Michigan, and Pennsylvania. It’s about feeling out of place as a first generation college student, and feeling even more out of place among the wealthy and elite. It’s about discovering that the ‘normal’ of one’s upbringing seems like a complete anomaly in the world of Ivy League education and the ‘normal’ of that education seems like life on another planet for folks from our common backgrounds.

This quote sums up J.D.’s life experience as well as the lives of many others I know, including myself when I think about how life could have turned out.

I was able to escape the worst of my culture’s inheritance. And uneasy though I am about my new life, I cannot whine about it: The life I lead now was the stuff of fantasy during my childhood. So many people helped create that fantasy. At every level of life and in every environment, I have found family and mentors and lifelong friends who supported and enabled me.

There’s so much I want to say about the book and about J.D.’s thoughts about how to improve things in the heartlands of America, but I’ll simply say that if you grew up in Appalachia I believe you will find many of the stories extremely familiar.  If this wasn’t your family’s direct story, you knew this story. I sit here trying to process it all; I just can’t find the words to articulate all of the ways this book stirred me. The language was direct, accessible, and familiar throughout the book. J.D.’s insecurities, anxieties, and trials were not all directly relatable but they definitely had a strong sense of familiarity for me as I think back on the neighborhood where I grew up—a neighborhood where not many finished high school or even thought about college, and where my graduating class lost 20% of its enrollment between the end of my junior and senior year of high school.

More than anything though, as I read, I found myself filled with a deep gratitude for the fact that both my wife and myself had incredibly supportive nuclear and extended families, neighborhoods, and church communities, that protected us, mentored us, supported and guided us because they wanted us to have a better life and more opportunities than they had. If you grew up in Appalachia you know J.D.’s story well (though probably not as well as this first-hand account), and if you weren’t blessed to be able to grow up here, you might better understand some of the cultural complexities and challenges and triumphs of this part of the world by reading his book. I highly recommend Hillbilly Elegy to anyone, but especially my friends who are also first generation college students from this part of the country.