Saturday, December 29, 2007


Earl Hipp is a friend of mine. He is also a well-respected author, accomplished speaker and prolific blogger; but maybe his most important title is that of a mentor. According to Earl's latest book's website "Man Making is a practical and inspirational guidebook for men. It shows them how to awaken and apply their instinctive man-making skills. In this book, every man, regardless of his level of commitment to this work, will find something he can do to support a boy or boys on the journey to manhood."

Earl is very passionate about helping men help boys in their respective journeys. His latest blog entry highlighted Mustafa Mahdi, the spiritual force behind The Rising Son, Inc. in Jonesboro, Georgia.

Earl writes, "The Rising Son Young Men's Development Center is providing after school daycare, tutoring, mentoring, rites of passage events, a small summer camp, field trips, and lots of positive attention to many boys." Learn more about them by clicking here.

On their website, you will find this page of troubling statistics that show the negative effects of boys being raised without fathers. Some of the numbers are fifteen to twenty years old now; but, I don't believe they are dramatically different today. If anything, some of them may be worse.

After reading these numbers, it reminded me of a statement Michael Resnick, Ph.D., the assistant director at the Adolescent Health Program at the University of Minnesota made in my video series entitled TOUGH DECISIONS: A Teenage Dilemma published way back in 1991, when he stated, "Young people need to be connected to at least one caring, competent adult. The good news is, it doesn't necessarily have to be their mom or dad. But, it is essential for young people to feel a connection to a responsible adult."

After reading those numbers, it's glaringly obvious, especially for boys, to have a connection to a positive male role model. I believe that is one reason why we are seeing such a surge of mentoring programs all across the country.

Something needs to happen to get these numbers down, and that something starts with each and every one of us. Maybe one of your New Year's resolutions could be to become a mentor to one or more young boys and pledge to help him, or them, on their journey to manhood.

Sunday, December 16, 2007

Not All Steroids Are Bad

In my last post, I discussed Kevin Everett's story and the controversial treatment for his spinal cord injury. The controversial part is the hypothermia treatment they used to drop his body temperature down to about 92 degrees. That, along with the not-so-controversial part of his treatment, which is infusing large doses of Solumedrol, an anti-inflammatory steroid, kept the swelling down in the affected area of his neck, the 3rd, 4th and 5th cervical vertebrae.

That is what kept him from being paralyzed. The medical community has mixed feelings about the induced hypothermia because of the potential side effects. There haven't been any scientific studies done on this new procedure; but after seeing how it worked on Kevin Everett, I wish it would have been available when I had my accident. I'm guessing in the not-to-distant future it will become a common practice. That's very exciting for me to think about.

Dr. Barth Green, MD, the Miami Project's president and co-founder, has done some pre-clinical research on the subject. You can read more about this story by clicking here.

On the other end of the steroid spectrum are the anabolic steroids we've been hearing about for years and the illegal use among athletes to enhance their performance. With the release of the Mitchell Report last Thursday, it has come front and center again in the sports world.

In October, Marion Jones admitted to using steroids and had to return her five Olympic medals. Last week the International Olympic Committee (IOC) officially striped her, and her relay teammates of their records and Olympic accomplishments.

It's nice to see good news about drugs and an athlete these days. It's especially exciting for me to see new treatments, used in conjunction with proven treatments, like using Solumedrol to keep accident victims with potentially life-threatening spinal cord injuries have new hope that they, like Kevin Everett, may not have to take the same journey people with spinal cord injuries like mine have had to travel.

Thursday, December 13, 2007

Kevin Everett, Three Months Later

It's only been three months since Kevin Everett broke his neck on the kick-off that started the second half of the first game of the NFL season for the Buffalo Bills, but a lot has happened to him since then.

I just got my new edition of Sports Illustrated and anxiously read Tim Layden's excellent article on Everett's controversial treatment, amazing recovery and prognosis for the future.

The Road Back chronicles his accident, early treatment and recovery in great detail and gave me a tremendous insight into this fantastic story.

It's long, but very informative. If you haven't read it yet, I encourage you to do so. If you have a spinal cord injury, or know someone who does, I believe it will give you a lift just like it did for me.

Thursday, December 6, 2007

"Lunch Lady Land"

Last Thursday, I was in Northern Minnesota, in the heart of the Iron Range, in tiny Aurora, a community of about 1,700 residents, speaking to the secondary students at Mesabi East High School. We did an assembly and then I spent the rest of the day in four classrooms. In one of the classrooms, a student came in with his electric guitar and small amplifier. He asked if he could sing a song for me. He wanted to play "The Lunch Lady Land" song. It was the song he played in their annual talent show.

I said, "Sure, let's hear it."

He started to sing this song and it practically brought me to tears because the lyrics were so funny! In fact, he had to stop a couple of times, because, he too, was laughing as he sang.

When he finished, he told me it was an old Adam Sandler song from Sandler's days on Saturday Night Live.

When, I got home, I looked on YouTube and found the music video with Chris Farley playing the part of the Lunch Lady. It's from 1993 and I think you'll agree with me it's very funny. I think it's especially funny if you have memories like I do of your days in school eating school lunches.

Check it out and see if you agree with me:

I think the main reason this struck me as being so funny is because several years ago I gave a two-hour keynote address to the Minnesota School Food Service Association's annual conference; then, spent about two hours in the exhibit area testing the food vendors wares, and talking to many lunch ladies. It remains my all-time favorite conference, and I believe always will!

There were about 800 women and maybe twelve men in the audience who were the most unassuming, compassionate, caring group of people I have ever addressed! It was a great group of people who loved what they do and love to take care of your children.

The people who run the hot lunch programs around the country are one of the most maligned group you can imagine. And, from my experience, they take it all in stride. Yet, with all of the complaining we do about how bad our lunches are, I rarely get a bad school lunch whenever I visit a school! In fact, that day in Aurora, I had a GREAT lunch and the lunch ladies took wonderful care of me! They always do.

If you're still in school, remember to thank the lunch ladies every now and then. I thank them after every meal they serve me.

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

The Fischbowl

I just came across an incredible blog by Karl Fisch, a teacher at Arapahoe High School in Littleton, Colorado entitled "The Fischbowl." He covers a wide variety of subjects, but two video clips he posted are extremely thought provoking. They address the rate of change and where he believes we are headed. He looks at the shifts that are happening in the world. As he states, "Shifts happen."

If even a small percentage of his projections come true, children who entered Kindergarten a couple of months ago will graduate from very different schools than they entered this fall.

Once you click on the posts listed below, you can read the post to get to the video, or simply scroll down to the video and play it. "Did You Know? 2.0" is a little more than eight minutes long and "2020 Vision" is fifteen minutes plus. They will both make you think. They will give you something to talk about with relatives over the Thanksgiving vacation.

Check out these videos:

"Did You Know? 2.0


"2020 Vision"

Monday, November 19, 2007

I spent Friday in Minnetonka Middle School East with their sixth graders. Minnetonka is a western Minneapolis suburb. At the end of the day, I stopped in to see my sister, Kathy, who teaches seventh grade English there, and she introduced me to What a GREAT website!

According to FreeRice's website:

"FreeRice has two goals:

1. Provide English vocabulary to everyone for free.
2. Help end world hunger by providing rice to hungry people for free.

This is made possible by the sponsors who advertise on this site. Whether you are CEO of a large corporation or a street child in a poor country, improving your vocabulary can improve your life. It is a great investment in yourself.

Perhaps even greater is the investment your donated rice makes in hungry human beings, enabling them to function and be productive. Somewhere in the world, a person is eating rice that you helped provide. Thank you."

Once you go to the website, it will show you how to play on the right side of the page. Simply follow the directions, click, learn and help fight world hunger.

I'm addicted! I spent a couple of hours over the weekend clicking, learning and doing a small part to help give away free rice to people who need it. You should try it!

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

"That sucks!"

I was at Henry Sibley High School in Suburban St. Paul, Minnesota today to give a presentation to their senior class and had fun for about eighty minutes with approximately 400 students, many of whom have already started counting the days till graduation.

I know I made an impact on these seniors for a couple of reasons. One, they gave me a standing ovation. That’s always a good sign! Secondly, at the end of the day, one of the counselors approached me and wanted to tell me what she had experienced.

She told me in the hour or two following my program, in which I addressed a number of issues including college, three students came to her and told her they had not been planning on going to college; but after hearing me speak, they wanted to get information on applying to colleges for next fall! She was amazed and very thankful.

Pat Johnson has hired me a few times over the last several years to speak at Sibley and at another school where she worked before she moved to Sibley. She wanted me to spend some time with their seniors; then I was free to go because I thought I had double-booked another school for the afternoon. I told her that school had been rescheduled so I could spend the rest of the day at Sibley. So, she went into hyper speed and started trying to schedule classrooms to visit. We went looking for teachers who might want me to visit their classroom. Once I’m in a building, I want to be with students. I always have a hard time leaving a school!

We finally went into a teacher lounge during lunch and met Lee Huenecke who teaches tenth grade health classes. He smiled and said, "Sure, come into my room. I was planning to give a test today, I'm sure the students wouldn't mind putting it off another day."

We went into his classroom and he told his students they were having a guest speaker today, instead of the test; and no one had a problem with that!

Pat then introduced me and she went back to her duties as one of the assistant principals in this school of about 1,600 students.

Since these students hadn't heard me in the morning, I started to tell my story and early on, I said something like, "I broke my neck playing football when I was in high school."

I no sooner got out those words, and a student in the back of the classroom matter-of-factly said, "That sucks!"

It just hit me and I lost it! I started laughing and had a hard time regaining my composure so I could continue! In more that 5,000 speeches, no one has ever said that, at least not that I could hear. It was just hysterical and set the tone for the rest of the hour. I had more fun with these kids than I've had in a long time and I think the reason was I was very relaxed and they immediately felt comfortable with me. They knew I could laugh at my situation, and they were very open to what I wanted to tell them. I made a great connection with the whole class and we bonded right off the bat. I had 'em! It was an amazing, fun-filled hour.

I also made a special connection with a young man whose name is Rolando. Rolando showed me some leadership skills as he helped me navigate my website with a small, Mac laptop. The room wasn't equipped with a large monitor, so Rolando would take the laptop and walk up and down the aisles showing everyone the pictures we were discussing. It was fun to watch as he took ownership of the tasks I had him carry out and I could see his character come out as the hour moved on.

It was one of those "teachable moments" that lasted an entire class period! I would like to be a fly on the wall tomorrow during class to see what the conversation will be like when Mr. Huenecke asks them what they thought of my presentation.

Students are including me in their emails

I told you on October 6th about the Virginia Youth Leadership Forum I speak at each summer at Christopher Newport University in Newport News, Virginia. Well, I have an update.

I started a Facebook listing a few weeks back and almost immediately two students who were at the last two forums, signed on to my listing as Friends. We've exchanged a couple of emails and our relationships are continuing to develop.

Then, on Monday, I received this note from another student who has been corresponding with me on a fairly regular basis since July:

"Wednesday I went to my own 504 meeting. I helped to figure out what accommodations I need. It was a great experience. I feel like I will be ready for college in a year."

The significance of this note is she wanted both Teri Barker-Morgan, the director of the program, and me to know she's advocating for herself in the planning of her Individual Education Plan (IEP). The student, Elizabeth, has credited her attendance at YLF and me as key components of her newly-found confidence in her ability and willingness to be a big part of her self-advocacy in her education planning.

She's a very determined young woman with a wonderful future to look forward to. I'm excited to see her taking an active role in her education, and humbled she thinks enough of our friendship to include me in her email notices like this.

Friday, November 9, 2007

Community College Diversity

I spent Wednesday afternoon with a Human Relations class at Minneapolis Community and Technical College in downtown Minneapolis. The twenty-five students are working towards an Associates of Arts degree in Business Office Administration. Their instructor, Margret Lydell, asked me to address issues like leadership and diversity.

I spent two and one-half hours addressing those and a good number of other issues like creative problem-solving, critical thinking, attitude and motivation. We had a great session and, at the end of class, they asked several very good, thoughtful questions.

There were several things that stood out for me, but one of the big things was the diversity and the number of immigrant students. At one point, I asked how many students were born in a country other than the United States. By far the lion's share of the students are first generation immigrants.

They told me there are eighty different languages spoken at MCTC! I don't know exactly how representative of their population this particular class is, but it just struck me how such a diverse group of young people are studying at one small, post-secondary institution in the middle of downtown Minneapolis. I think it's great!

They obviously understood me because of the questions they asked, the conversations I had with a few of them after class and the comments a couple of students made to their instructor, Margret Lydell.

After the students had all gone, Margret told me a couple of great stories about what students had told her.

Another good day, doing what I absolutely love. Another reminder I'm not done yet!

Thursday, November 1, 2007

My new buddy, Jacob

I was back in Denison, Iowa yesterday at the Denison Job Corps. It was my fourth visit to their campus, and once again, I had a great day! I did my assembly for the whole group; then, I did three small group programs.

In the second group was a young man whose name is Jacob. I was having a good time doing some experiential learning exercises and he seemed to be very engaged in what we were doing. That group left and when the last group came in, Jacob was in that group as well.

I had my website hooked up and we were using it to look at the pictures of my accident, photos in the hospital and I showed them pictures of my van and how I drive. I also wanted to show them some of the educational materials I have to build on some points from my program.

The staff person who had helped me the hour before had to leave, so I asked for a volunteer to assist me with navigating my website. Jacob volunteered right away. Like most young people today, Jacob is very adept at using a computer and he was a tremendous help.

To say Jacob strikes me as a character is a huge understatement! He was wearing a nice leather jacket, heavy, work jeans and steel-toed boots. He told me he was studying to be a welder. I'm betting he'll be a very good one.

We started joking with each other about his thick, full beard, and about our slowly expanding foreheads. I told him I can empathize with the whole idea of male pattern baldness!

The reason I wanted to write about him is I feel like I made a great connection with him and it didn't take a whole lot of effort on my part. I don't know how he feels, but I know I won't forget my new buddy, Jacob!

It was just another example of how we, as adults, can make a difference in a young person's life in a very short period of time. It happens to me ALL of the time.

Friday, October 26, 2007

An Instant In Time

It always amazes me how many people were at the game the night I got hurt. Many times over the years, I have given a speech and afterwards someone will walk up to me and tell me they remember that night because they were there. It happened again yesterday.

I was in Chisago Lakes High School in Lindstrom, Minnesota, a small town about 50 miles from my house, and after my assembly with their ninth and tenth graders, a teacher approached me and told me his story.

He said he was an assistant coach at Marshall, one of the schools in our conference and a big rival. His assignment was to scout us the night of September 3, 1971. He told me a few things he remembered most about that night and what he took back to his staff at Marshall.

The night before, I attended the 26th Annual Banquet for the Metropolitan Center for Independent Living in St. Paul, and one of their honored guests was Kim Peck, the Director of the Minnesota Department of Rehabilitative Services. After the banquet, David Hancox, the Director at MCIL, introduced me to this year's keynote speaker, Minnesota House of Representative's first-term representative, Shelley Madore.

There were several people in our circle and as introductions were made, David told Shelley Kim and I had gone to high school together. In fact, Kim sat behind me in ninth grade Algebra class. Kim was also at the game the night I got hurt. Kim told her recollection of that night and what she remembered about coming to visit me in the hospital.

Here it is more than thirty-six years later and I'm still running into people who were there. If you were there, or remember something about that time, and how it affected you, please take a few minutes and comment about it here. I'm writing a chapter for the book about peoples' memories, and I may use your story. I'd appreciate it. Thank you in advance.

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

Tim Conway & Harvey Korman's comedy

If you're not a Baby Boomer or older, you never saw The Carol Burnett Show. If you are a Boomer, then I'm betting you'll enjoy watching this clip of Conway and Korman doing a skit with Tim Conway playing the part of a clumsy, dim-witted dentist, and Harvey Korman is the patient trying his hardest not to laugh. Which he eventually succumbs to, and can't stop laughing at Tim Conway's antics.

In my mind, Tim Conway was one of the funniest physical comedians ever. I believe he led the way for guys like John Belushi and Chevy Chase. And he often made you laugh out loud without ever saying a word. His actions and facial expressions were hilarious. He was funny without being vulgar, shocking or insulting.

A friend sent me this clip recently, and I've watched it about six times! It reminded me of being a young, innocent kid again. It reminded me of a time when we didn't have to worry about school shootings, gang violence, meth houses next door, teen suicide, twelve-year-old prostitutes, or kids killing other kids for their shoes. It is just plain funny. Check it out:

Dentist Sketch - The Carol Burnett Show

Tuesday, October 9, 2007

William Rodriguez

William Rodriguez was the last survivor out of the North Tower of the World Trade Center before it collapsed on September 11, 2001. He tells a compelling story about his experience and his life since that fateful morning.

I was fortunate enough to hear him speak Sunday night at a church just a block and a half from my house. In graphic detail, he told about his experiences of that day and how his life has changed. He shared pictures of his journey that has literally taken him around the world.

He has helped write legislation to benefit survivors and families of the victims. He has helped many organizations raise millions of dollars. He has been to the White House five times. He has visited with heads of state in many foreign countries. He testified before the 9/11 Commission. He is a masterful storyteller. And, coming from another professional storyteller, that being me, he said, "Wow! Thank you so much. That means a lot to me."

He's also had his life threatened. Been discredited by so-called experts who were not at the WTC on 9/11. But most notably, not one word of his, and many other eye witnesses of the attacks who testified before the 9/11 Commission had their names, or their personal accounts of the day, even mentioned in the official report!

He saved untold numbers of lives that day because he was in possession of one of the five master keys to the stairwells in the North Tower. According to him, the holders of the other four keys ran out of the building to save their own lives instead of risking their lives to save others like William did.

Against orders from more than one of his superiors, he made several trips up the stairwells and unlocked doors to let people out. Oh yeah, William was employed by a maintenance company. He was a janitor in the WTC for twenty years. His job for the last ten years had been to clean the stairwells of the North Tower!

He has told his story to millions of people around the world, many through Spanish-speaking television. Yet, here in America, most people have never even heard of him. His story needs to be heard before it's too late.

After his speech, he told me how he has started to show some of the effects of all of the toxic dust he inhaled that day. His lungs have, among other toxins, asbestos in them. He told how many of his friends have already succumbed to the affects of asbestos poisoning and other respiratory diseases.

I urge you to go and hear him tell his story if he ever comes to your community. Or, go to his website, and view a video of one of his speeches. You won't regret listening and learning the story of a true American hero. I certainly will never forget his speech.

Saturday, October 6, 2007

YLF Virginia 2007

I made my third visit to the Virginia Youth Leadership Forum at Christopher Newport University in Newport News, Virginia in July. I want to tell you about an extraordinary program, group of kids, young staff and a wonderful woman by the name of Teri Barker who directs the program.

Each year Teri brings in twenty to twenty-five students who will be entering their junior or senior year of high school in the fall. All of the students have disabilities of one sort or another; some of them are severely disabled and medically fragile. They have a nurse on staff and five or six extraordinary personal care attendants available at all times to help kids who may need assistance.

Besides the students with disabilities, Teri also has a staff consisting of former delegates, many of whom have been involved with the program for up to eight years. Everyone has his or her assignments and from my perspective, the program appears to run very smoothly. If one were to ask some of the staff members they may get a completely different answer at any given time, especially after they have just put out a small fire.

This year was my third year being at the program and was by far my best experience yet. I can’t wait to go back next year!

Our ride picked us up at 11 a.m. on Sunday morning and took us to Christopher Newport University’s campus. When we got there, Teri, as usual, was there to greet us. Tim got out of the van, and greeted Teri while the lift-equipped van driver unlocked my chair, and began to get me off of the bus.

I started connecting with staff members who I’ve known for two years now. There are many very special people involved in this YLF program and I feel privileged to have the opportunity to know them.

I have spoken at amazing leadership programs all over the country, but none compare to what happens in the week with a small group of individuals at YLF.

First of all, most programs involving young people usually last from Friday afternoon until Sunday afternoon. A lot happens in 48 hours with young leaders in groups of 300 or more high school students! I watch kids come from all parts of the state not knowing anyone and by the time just two short days have gone by, relationships have been made that may last a lifetime. When put in an excellent learning environment, young people surrounded by positive, like-minded individuals grow and develop in ways that are absolutely amazing!

The unique thing about YLF is it runs for five days! It culminates in these students with special needs giving a presentation before members of the Virginia legislature! I have never seen anything like it. When the students arrive on Monday, and are greeted with cheers, applause, hugs and high-fives, they often say that was one of the highlights of their experience on campus.

I spoke with one young lady who told me this was the first time she had ever spent a night away from home. She will be a junior in high school this year and has some very lofty goals. We had a couple of wonderful opportunities to have extended conversations and I believe YLF was something she will never forget. Of course, YLF is something many people never forget.

One of the staff members, Thomas, has been at all three of the programs I’ve attended. He uses a three-wheel scooter to get around, is significantly affected by cerebral palsy, including tight muscle spasms, and a severe speech problem. However, he has a smile that lights up the room!

Two years ago, he and I became fast friends. In the three YLF’s I have attended we’ve made each other laugh more times than I can count. It’s at the point now where all I have to do is look his way, catch his eyes and we both start smiling.

In my address at their mentoring luncheon on Wednesday, I mentioned something about Thomas; he let out a big yell started laughing and practically jumped out of his chair. He doesn’t need to develop character because he is already is one!

On Tuesday night the four groups each put on a skit. Their theme this year was “Learn, Empower, Achieve, Demonstrate – LEAD.” Each group had to work from a scenario and give their version of how that scenario would play out.

Now remember, only two days earlier these young people had shown up on campus knowing no one, many being very shy, and most had never been on stage! They gave four excellent short skits that brought the house down!

One young man, Steven, who has severe cerebral palsy involvement, uses a wheelchair to get around, and a talking board to communicate stole the show when, at the end of their skit, managed to stand up and flex his arms over his head in a bodybuilder type pose. The smile on his face went from ear to ear! As a matter of fact, he did the pose several times. He didn’t want to get off the stage!

In just 48 hours these kids had come from quiet, shy, almost bashful individuals to expressive, cohesive teams performing on stage in what can only be described as heartwarming events.

Tim and I left campus early on Thursday morning to catch our flight back to Minneapolis. While we were loading the students were also boarding buses for their trip to the State Capitol in Richmond where they were to give their testimonies for a panel of Virginia government officials, including legislators from the Virginia Assembly and Senate. They also get a group picture taken with the Governor.

That day is the one I would like to see. I listened to several of the delegates give their testimonies on Wednesday and would love to have seen the students present them at the Capitol.

There’s much more to this story. In fact, there’s an entire chapter in my book “I’m Not Done Yet” devoted to YLF.

Friday, September 21, 2007

Who says you can't go home?

I went home twice in the last two weeks. First, I went back to my old high school, did a presentation for the entire student body and received two standing ovations. I spent the rest of the day in three classrooms building on points from my ninety-minute program. And, I had a blast! I needed to be in that gym that day. I fed off of the energy from the students and everything just clicked. I had them laughing one minute and just like that you could have heard a pin drop. I took them on a long roller coaster ride, and based on many conversations I had that day, and the following weekend, I made a difference. That's the whole idea. I only have students long enough to plant the seeds, then I turn them back to the teachers to nurture them.

Then, last weekend I went home again and watched the high school football team win their first game of the season in impressive fashion by a score of 26 to 12. After the game, I asked the coach if I could go into the locker room. I gave a very short pep talk and congratulated them on a well-played game. There was a lot of positive energy in the room, the kids were pumped, as was I, and I entered the locker room for the first time since the night I got hurt in 1971.

After the locker room cleared out, I sat and talked to the head coach, Dennis Hale, and a longtime assistant coach, Don Kuiper. Coach Kuiper was actually one of the assistant coaches when I got hurt. He has spent close to 40 years teaching and coaching in the Worthington school district.

They showed me a new type of offense they were running called, "The Wristband Offense." I had never seen a team play that style of offense before. I have to say it looked pretty complicated. It was very impressive to watch their team play an entire game without huddling and watching the kids read the plays from their wristband.

We went over their scorebook and analyzed what had just happened. I was curious to know how many more plays they could get in without running a standard offense where the team huddled after every play to call the next play. They were able to run 78 plays while their opponent only ran 54. With that kind of play count advantage over the course of the year they will certainly have a dramatic advantage over their opponents. Besides that, it was fun to watch. Their offense was spread out all over the field. They threw the ball 38 times for more than 225 yards. That's a lot of passing plays for a high school team to run in a single game.

Another one of the highlights for me that evening was talking to several students who approached me and thanked me for my presentation the week before at Worthington High School. I know how difficult it can be for a teenager to approach me sometimes. It's not that I'm not approachable; it's just not something many young people have an opportunity to do because speakers aren't usually around a school a week later.

That's one of the reasons why I like to spend an entire day in the building when I visit a school. I truly believe a major part of my success comes from the fact I don't just go into a building, do my presentation and go on to the next building. I believe a lot of learning takes place in the classroom visits that follow my assembly program.

The classroom visits allow me time to do a couple of experiential exercises that build on very important points I make in my assembly. It also gives students an opportunity to ask questions they might not otherwise get to ask in a large assembly in a gymnasium or auditorium. When classrooms are connected to the Internet, I like to take kids to my website and show them pictures of my accident, my hospitalization, my van and several other cool things. It’s all about those “teachable moments.”

It’s not true; you can go home.

Wednesday, September 5, 2007

Fairmont TARGET Workshop

Mark Hernes runs the Fairmont TARGET Group at Fairmont High School in Fairmont, Minnesota. I spent six hours on August 29th with about 100 student/athletes of his leadership group. He has a program that covers ninth through twelfth grade. We spent a six-hour day in a hot church and had several amazing experiences.

I put together a leadership packet of about twenty handouts, and did several small group and large group exercises. I'm only going to discuss one of the exercises.

One of my favorite exercises is having a group line up by birth date without speaking. They need to figure out alternative ways of communicating and sometimes that can be a difficult task. No matter the size of the group, usually someone thinks they are on the right spot only to find out later they are not. With these young leaders, everyone was exactly where he or she needed to be. They got creative and communicated by writing their birth date down and using hand signals. However, no one pulled out his or her driver’s license. When I asked them about it, several replied, “I don’t have one.”

To which I smiled and replied, good reason then, huh? Rarely is it, especially in a group that large, does everyone gets to the right spot.

The next part of the problem is they need to multiply their birth date by their birth month. They are supposed to line up by smallest number to largest. Then I give them more directions on how to break a tie. The first tie breaker is they add up all of the numbers in their home telephone number, and the largest home phone number goes first and works its way to the smallest phone number. If there is still a tie, the second tiebreaker is their home address. The smallest home address goes first to the largest last. In a group this size, we had several ties. Two of the tiebreakers went to the second tiebreaker.

As soon as I started giving all of these directions to the entire group, inevitably people start panicking and looking for a calculator, or paper and pencil, even if they are not involved with a tie.

They scored 100% on that part too. I was impressed. This is the first time I have every done that exercise in a group that large when everyone got to the right spot. Oh yes, this time they are allowed to talk. What usually happens is they lose their focus; start talking about all kinds of things and make mistakes.

What stuck me about this exercise was watching several of the leaders take charge and direct people where they needed to be. That’s when I know the person running their program is teaching leadership skills. Mark Hernes is running a good program and I commend him for his efforts.

That exercise was representative of the whole day. Kudos to Mark, his staff and especially the student leadership in his TARGET program!

Tuesday, September 4, 2007

First Day of School 2007

Another school year has just begun, and what a first day I just had. I spent the day at Lincoln Secondary School in Esko, Minnesota, a small town in Northern Minnesota on Interstate 35, about twenty miles south of Duluth. I had fun with the students doing three short programs for their seventh and eighth graders, ninth and tenth graders, and juniors and seniors.

Then the real fun began. A middle school math teacher by the name of Russ Davidson approached me to thank me and I asked him if he would like me to visit his classroom. With an abbreviated schedule for the first day of school and classes only running about 20 minutes, I watched a middle school math teacher teach with more passion than I have seen in a long time. The three classes I sat in on were seventh and eighth grade transitional math classes. He quickly went through his expectations and requirements for the year, handed out textbooks, and then gave the students to me.

I showed them how to do slant or lattice multiplication, did a fun math exercise that will only work this year, and spent my short time sharing some of my beliefs about how important a good education is to them.

The two of us fed of each other’s energy and had a learning experience that was just amazing. I think I got as much out of the experience as anyone.

Russ has spent his entire life, except for four years away at college, in Esko. He grew up there, and got his first, and only, teaching job thirty-five years ago in his hometown. He shared stories with me about his family, grandchildren and plans for the future. Under Rule 90, Russ is planning to retire at the end of this school year and move with his wife of 37 years to Florida. When he leaves, Esko will have a hard time filling his shoes.

The passion he puts into his classroom was obvious the minute I entered the room. He got excited just handing out textbooks!

The fun thing for me was it was completely unplanned. My contract stated I would give three large group presentations and be done at 1:00 PM. Whenever I visit a building, I like to spend as much time as possible with students because I can get more done. I would love to be a fly on the wall in his classroom tomorrow to see what his students have to say about their experience today.

Sunday, September 2, 2007


On August 24th, I spent the better part of the day attending a workshop in St. Paul put on by Advocating Change Together (ACT). ACT is a grassroots disability rights organization run by and for people with developmental and other disabilities. Among other things, ACT is working to help make people with disabilities lives' better by teaching them skills to make them better self-advocates to take charge of their own lives.

To paraphrase their flyer, the objective for the meeting was: "Do Metro Area self-advocacy groups want the metro region of Self-Advocates Minnesota (SAM) to work together as a team? And, if we do, we need to define the structure, strategies and players."

I spent close to four hours watching people with various levels of developmental disabilities make some incredible decisions based on very rational thought processes much of society doesn't think they possess. Therefore, "We" need to make those decisions for this group of people. They proved to me in that short time society is not giving credit where credit is due!

I was very impressed with several people who were obviously making many, if not all of the decisions they needed to live their lives to the fullest. It was a fun experience.

I was especially impressed at the end of the workshop when it came time to vote on the object of the day; only one woman needed clarification on the question put before them. I had been interjecting some of own thoughts and suggestions throughout the meeting; so, I tried to explain the issue in a little different language I believed would make it easier for her to understand.

Then she understood the question and voted with the rest of the self-advocates to make the motion unanimous. By the way, the only people who were allowed to vote were the individuals who had disabilities. The staff members from the various organizations were not allowed to vote. After all, the workshop was about self-advocacy.

The crowning achievement for me was when they asked for two volunteers to plan the next meeting and get their new project off of the ground, one woman shot her hand right up and eagerly volunteered. She was ready to go! Almost immediately, another woman also volunteered.

I immediately told them how impressed I was they were taking on that new responsibility, and they were demonstrating exactly what the workshop was all about, self-advocacy. They both got huge smiles and thanked me for the compliment.

I'll be watching to see how their new leadership group develops.

Wednesday, August 22, 2007

A Real Lesson Learned

Back in September of 2005, on the first day of school, Martha Cothren, a social studies school teacher at Robinson High School in Little Rock, did something not to be forgotten. On the first day of school, with permission of the school superintendent, the principal and the building supervisor, she took all of the desks out of the classroom.

The kids came into first period, they walked in, there were no desks. They obviously looked around and said, "Ms. Cothren, where's our desk?"

And she said, "You can't have a desk until you tell me how you earn them."

They thought, "Well, maybe it's our grades."

"No," she said.

"Maybe it's our behavior."

And she told them, "No, it's not even your behavior."

And so they came and went in the first period, still no desks in the classroom. Second period, same thing. Third period, the same. By early afternoon television news crews had gathered in Ms. Cothren's class to find out about this crazy teacher who had taken all the desks out of the classroom.

The last period of the day, Martha Cothren gathered her class. They were at this time sitting on the floor around the sides of the room. And she says, "Throughout the day no one has really understood how you earn the desks that ordinarily sit in this classroom." She said, "Now I'm going to tell you."

Martha Cothren went over to the door of her classroom and opened it, and as she did 27 U.S. veterans, wearing their uniforms, walked into that classroom, each one carrying a school desk. They placed those school desks in rows, and then they stood along the wall. By the time they had finished placing those desks, those students for the first time I think perhaps in their lives understood how they earned those desks.

Martha said, "You don't have to earn those desks. These guys did it for you. They put them out there for you, but it's up to you to sit here responsibly to learn, to be good students and good citizens, because they paid a price for you to have that desk, and don't ever forget it."

She also did a Vietnam memorial service with her classes.

The whole story is located here, complete with sources on

My comment:

Our men and women continue to pay the price, that's why when you see the Bush Administration continue to cut benefits to veterans, and the conditions at Walter Reed Hospital, among countless other things they've done to our veterans, it should make every American, at the very least, upset enough to write to your representative and senators in Washington and absolutely make a statement in the voting booth!

Actually, a quick Google search showed a couple of hundred pages and all of the pages I looked at confirmed the story’s validity. Now, forward something around the 'net that’s true about a very cool teacher, and a lesson well learned.

Saturday, August 11, 2007

Elpis Enterprises

I met Paul Ramsour in about 1996. At the time, Paul was a member of the Minneapolis Jaycees, and was working with kids making birdfeeders in small workshops with groups all over the city. Meanwhile, I was running a small business I call Prairie Woods in an old lumberyard in White, SD, commuting between Minneapolis and White. Prairie Woods was trying to make a for-profit business profitable by building products made out of old barn wood, a manufacturing company's waste redwood pieces, old fence boards, pallets and any other waste and recycled wood we could get our hands on. I saw raw materials everywhere I went.

Paul was buying pine boards to make the birdfeeders, and I asked him why he would buy new wood when there were so many raw materials out there, free for the taking? Now, he uses cedar cutoffs from fence companies, and old cedar fences people give us when they tear down an old fence and build a new one. Elpis Enterprises is the result of countless hours of work on Paul's part, along with several other people who have made a commitment to helping young people in Minneapolis.

We now have a shop in an old building in St. Paul. I say, "We" because I'm now a board member trying to do my part in helping with the mission of building hope for youth. Besides the woodshop, we also run a screen-printing business. If you ever need any T-shirts silk screened, give us a call, or send us an email and we'll give you an estimate. We can work with your design, or help you design a shirt you can be proud to use.

I have been helping to run a few workshops lately and have been working mostly with Jessyca, a young woman who is actually coming to work as a staff member for Elpis. We conducted one workshop last week that stands out for me. We had about ten young people involved in a summer recreation program at a Minneapolis park and recreation center. The two young women who were their leaders were excellent and helped Jessyca and me assist these children each build their own small birdfeeder.

It was a fun experience for everyone but one young boy. He was giving up because it was too hard. He just couldn't get the nails pounded in and was very frustrated. I tried to get him to keep trying to no avail. One of the leaders told him he couldn’t take part in their next activity if he didn’t build a birdfeeder. He made a birdfeeder.

Afterwards, I talked to the group and asked them a few questions. My first question was, “Did you learn anything from this experience?”

After a couple of answers like, “I learned how to make a birdfeeder,” and “I learned nails bend pretty easily,” and “I learned how to hold a hammer.” My little friend then replied, “I learned never to do this again.”

I said, “Wait a minute. I hope you didn’t learn that. I hope you learned if you give up, you wouldn’t accomplish your goal. I hope you learned just because a problem is hard, doesn’t mean we should give up. I hope you learned you can accomplish things you never thought possible if you put your mind to it.”

Then I quoted Henry Ford and said, “No job is too great if you break it down into a number of small tasks.”

I told them they started with five pieces of wood, and made them into two pieces, the base and the roof. Then they had Jessyca add a small brace, help them drill some holes, put the pieces together, inserted two pieces of plexiglas, added a bag of birdseed, and before you knew it, your project was complete.

I hope my little friend learned he is capable of doing all kinds of things, and he’ll never accomplish anything if he doesn’t try.

Michael Jordon, the great basketball player once said, “I missed every shot I didn’t take.”

Monday, August 6, 2007

When Bridges Fall

I live in Minneapolis, and have crossed the 35W Bridge more times than I can count since moving here in 1975. In fact, my mother and I crossed it on Tuesday night, about 22 hours before it fell. My sister, Vicki, and her two children, Gavan and Sinead, had also crossed it on Tuesday. I found out later, my second cousin, Jeremy and his girlfriend, Kelli, had crossed it about 5 PM, just an hour before it collapsed. They are going to school on the edge of downtown and live about a mile from the bridge. Then, I got an email from a friend who told me he and his wife crossed it on their way home from work at about 5:30. One of their coworkers crossed it at 5:45! That was too close!

I know there are stories like those all over the Twin Cities because it is such a major artery and carries about 140,000 vehicles each day.

I was working a youth program that night with Paul Ramsour, the executive director of a small non-profit group called Elpis Enterprises. We were at a Minneapolis City Park doing one of our birdfeeder workshops when people started walking up to our booth and telling us the 35W bridge had just collapsed over the Minnesota River in Burnsville, a southern suburb.

When we were done with our workshop, Paul had to drive 35W to get to his home, also south of the Minnesota River. As often happens in events like this, initial information is wrong. After several minutes, people started telling us the bridge that fell was the bridge between downtown and the University of Minnesota spanning the Mississippi River.

It came as a bit of good news he would be able to get home. Little did we know the magnitude of the story until we got home and started watching the coverage on television. It's going to be a major story in these parts for years to come.

It's another one of those life-defining events where you remember where you were when you heard some incredible news. It's like for those of us who are old enough to remember where we were when we heard President Kennedy had been shot. Or, most recently, where we were when we first heard about the attacks on 9-11.

Hopefully, this will be a wake-up call to start fixing our infrastructure. I've been reading about the state of the bridges and roads in America today, and it's a sobering fact: we need to speed up the fixing and building of our aging, and crumbling infrastructure.

My prayers go out to the people who were killed and injured, the people still buried in the river, and to their families and friends whose lives will never be the same.