Noses On!

It’s that time again! May 24th is the day! To be exact, it is Red Nose Day, one of my favorite charity events! For this one day a lot of media and public attention is given to the cause of ending childhood poverty. Since it was launched in 2015, Red Nose Day has raised more than $100 million dollars to impact the lives of nearly 9 million children.

Here’s what I love about Red Nose Day…

HOPE Buffalo is a movement in Buffalo, NY in support of adolescent health and wellness. HOPE stands for health, opportunity, prevention, and the three “E’s” of education, equity, and empowerment. The staff and volunteers see the impact of poverty everyday on the lives of young people. Last year they joined the call to don the Red Nose. They look great, don’t they?

First, it attacks a root cause – poverty. I’ve been working in human services, public health, and social change for my entire career. Within these domains there are many issues that adversely affect children which can be traced back to a common factor – children and their families living at or near chronic poverty. Red Nose Day is an attempt to address poverty by supporting programs and initiatives that keep children safe, healthy, and educated. These efforts do more than simply meet an immediate need for children. The myriad acts of kindness associated with helping also address the poverty of hope that children and families living in chronic poverty experience. You can make a difference by spending as little as $1 to buy a Red Nose at Walgreens or Duane Reade stores. If you would like to do more and give more, become a member of my fundraising team at A Nose for Tenacious Change.

Okay, isn’t this the cutest Red Noser you’ve ever seen? A couple of years ago a colleague got a nose for herself and for her son. You can just see this photo being featured in a graduation montage in a few years, right?

Secondly, it animates important ethical and spiritual values in my life. For me these are informed, with neither apology nor arrogance, by Christian Quaker spirituality. They come specifically from the teaching of the disciple Matthew, chapter 25, verses 31 to 46, a selection the Common English Bible calls “Judgment of the nations,” an intriguing title during these times. Most people already know this passage because one small phrase – “the least of these” – is frequently quoted in the context of explaining why we should care about others. If you have never read the whole section to get the full context and story, you may wish to do so. Though you may not share my faith, you may find we share the ethic.

Howard Macy’s “Red Nose Training Manual.” Download it today and get started!

Thirdly, wearing a red nose is fun and a great way to brighten the day of others! Don’t forget…to celebrate Red Nose Day you need, of course, a red nose. May 24th is just around the corner and you don’t want to be the only one with a naked nose do you? Okay, I understand the doubt and I can hear that voice in your head right now asking, “Yeah, but…what do I do once I put the nose on?” Good news! My friend Howard Macy (professor emeritus, philosopher, theologian, a wicked trumpet player, and a fellow Red Nose aficionado) is the author of the Red-Nose Manifesto which you will find in his Red Nose Training Manual, a masterpiece which might have won the Nobel Prize in literature if the Swedes had not cancelled it this year. (Sorry Howard.) To get started, simply download Howard’s brief, easy-to-read book (lots of illustrations) and follow the instructions. From Training Phase Moves to Intermediate Moves to Advanced Moves, Howard will lead you by the Red Nose to the point where you will be proudly sporting it wherever you can. Here is one of his Advanced Moves that I have used before, “When teaching or leading a group, slip the nose on subtly while looking away, then turn around and continue to lead.” If that seems too daunting, how about this Intermediate Move: “Slip on the nose when you’re stuck in traffic. Smile broadly, sing with the radio.” If you are Red Nose virgin and even a semi-public appearance seems way too much to you, try this Training Phase Move by yourself: “Slip the nose on when you’re tempted to feel disrespected or seriously important.” Personally, I have no less than eight red noses – including one in my backpack for Red Nose emergencies when I travel. (Fair warning: I’ll be working in San Luis Obispo, California this year on Red Nose Day. Ha!)

As much fun as I have with my array of red noses, especially on Red Nose Day, the cause is a serious one and the need is great. I do not often ask people to contribute to something, but I am making that ask today. My life’s work has been to try to make this world a better place for all – including “the least of these.” The mission of Tenacious Change is to animate and equip people, organizations, and communities to lead change for the greater good. Participating in Red Nose Day is one small thing each of us can do for the greater good. I would be honored to have you on my Red Nose Day team at A Nose for Tenacious Change. Thanks!

Remember…Be Greater, Do Good, Everyday. Put on a Red Nose and Change Forward!

Tom

Click here to join A Nose for Tenacious Change at Red Nose Day. And thank you!

 

Doing Good Everyday in South Texas

Rural Texas, like the rest of rural America, is often overlooked by the rest of the country. Like my native state of Iowa, much of rural America is viewed as “flyover” country, and of little importance because it thought to be occupied mostly by livestock and farm fields. What a sadly mistaken…and, frankly, ignorant…understanding of rural America. 

Fortunately, groups like the Community Action Corporation of South Texas (CACOST) know better. CACOST serves an extraordinarily large part of the state – 16 counties that cover the entire southern tip of the state. For the past several months I’ve been working with CACOST on the implementation evaluation of its teen pregnancy prevention initiative, the South Texas Teen Leadership and Development Program (STTLD). Sadly, this is one of 80+ programs of the Office of Adolescent Health Teen Pregnancy Prevention program that is going away due to significant budget cuts under the current administration. STTLD serves a very rural part of Texas with some of the highest rates of teen births in the state and the U.S. It is a significant loss to the youth, families, schools and communities it serves. But what does it matter? Isn’t it just all livestock and fields down here, anyway? Does any good thing come from rural America? (Read with a “sigh” and eye roll for effect.)

For the past several months I’ve been reviewing the weekly facilitator logs that

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With STTLD Facilitators in Corpus Christi

document the work of the STTLD program facilitators. These facilitators conduct approximately 50 classroom programs each week, for at least 25 weeks in the school year. Now, let’s do the numbers and see if they are seeing anyone other than livestock. 50 classrooms X an average classroom size of, say 20 (to be conservative, since we know there are few if any people in rural America), equals: 1,000. Now it is true that the STTLD facilitators have to travel large distances to see 1,000 students a week but there are still at least 1,000 students in rural South Texas who will lose the program on June 30th unless something changes.

Each year the leadership of CACOST sponsors a board and staff leadership retreat in Corpus Christi. About 125 to 150 board and leadership staff attend. This is only about a fourth of the number of all CACOST employees in all positions. This is the second year I’ve had the privilege to attend this meeting. Last year I did a plenary session that focused on the poverty of hope experienced by too many people in our country. I was asked back this year to do the closing keynote on working more effectively together. I have come to understand the value and appeal of the meeting to board and staff…it feels like a family reunion and it is wonderful!

While I was here, I also did interviews and focus groups with the STLLD leadership and staff as part my evaluation work with CACOST. The STTLD leadership and the leadership of CACOST are doing everything they can to continue the program because they know how important it is to the youth and communities they serve. What impresses me most about CACOST is that the organization and its leadership are intentional about keeping the people they serve foremost in their thoughts and plans.

Case in point…yesterday several CACOST staff led the retreat in a very complex yet

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The Zuppot Family – Zenobia, Xander, Zeke & Zola

powerful poverty simulation. I was assigned the role of being a disabled grandpa (Zeke), with diabetes, who was raising his two young grandchildren (Xander and Zenobia) with his wife, Zola, who did not speak very good English. Zeke’s disability kept him from working and Zola had a low wage job. Our grandchildren came to us from a daughter who was incarcerated on a drug distribution charge. One of our grandkids, Xander, dealt with ADHD. His medication requirements and Zeke’s need for insulin, meant the family faced a pretty big monthly prescription bill plus the regular monthly expenses. It was a moving simulation for people in the room as they experienced a full range of emotions including, embarrassment, shame, frustration, anger, and hopelessness. Several were moved to tears. In debriefing the experience, it was clear that it was a powerful tool for helping CACOST board and staff experience, or re-experience, what it is to live without enough resources or opportunity.

Organizations like CACOST are critical to the survival of families in rural America. But is that all they deserve…to simply survive? I don’t think so. Neither does CACOST or the other Community Action Agencies that were created in the 1960’s as part of President Johnson’s “War on Poverty.” I have the privilege of currently working with CACOST and another Community Action Agency in San Luis Obispo, CA. I’m very proud to be associated with these two organizations and to be helping them to achieve the greater good in their service areas. They both know it is not about helping their clients just survive poverty, but to thrive and rise. Both CACOST and the Community Action Partnership of San Luis Obispo are being impacted by the cuts in teen pregnancy prevention at the Office of Adolescent Health. Even worse, the youth they serve are those that suffer. Both organizations know all too well what happens when we fail to invest in the future of our country and care for those in greatest need. We must never forget…poverty is not a choice. That is the lesson we learned again in the simulation yesterday.

On a personal note…I had a wonderful surprise today when I finished the keynote for

Tom with Nisa and Megan
Tom with Nisa (on the left, who actually owns my books) and her colleague, Megan

CACOST. A young CACOST staff member, at the urging of her colleague, approached me for a selfie. Now, I’d like to tell you that I get that request a lot, but I don’t. So, I asked, “Of course…but why?” The young woman replied, “I’ve got two of your books. I heard you speak last year but it was only this morning that I realized you were they same person that wrote those books. They were recommended to me by a professor in a counseling class I took and I found them incredibly helpful both professionally and personally.”

Okay, I was shocked speechless. Both books were written over 25 years ago and I had no idea any even still existed…except on my shelves. I was really honored and moved by her request. Thank you Nisa and Megan for making my day!

If you’d like to join Nisa as an owner of these books, you can still find them on Amazon: If Your Parent Drinks Too Much and Counseling Helpsheets, co-authored with my good friend, G. Lamar Roth. I cannot vouch for their condition…I’m still stunned they are available.

Be greater. Do good. Everyday. Change Forward!

Tom Klaus

 

Naming, Knowing, & Trusting

“Here’s my promise: I will know your first and last name by the end of the week.” This didn’t sound like much of a promise really; until you consider that it was a promise I made to more than 100 youth, most of whom I was meeting for the first time.

Early in my career I was put in charge of a four-week summer youth camping program. I was barely aged out of the “youth” category myself. (Looking back at that period, I ask, “What in the world were they thinking?!?!” yet, it was a position I held for 11 summers.) Each week we would receive a new batch of campers and each week I tried very hard to get to know each of them by name. Sometimes I was successful; other times I was not. Occasionally, I’d stand before the whole group at the orientation and make that promise. Always, though, even unannounced, I would do my best to learn and remember each camper’s name so I could greet them by it…at least once by the end of the week.

There were two reasons I made this effort.

First, being known by our names feels good. Who has not known the embarrassment of being known as that “other person” or “hey, you” on occasion? Or the awkwardness of being called by another person’s name…even if it does look a lot like ours? Or the irritation of being called a different name that is a mispronunciation of our name? (You can imagine how many times THAT happens to me, especially during the holiday season, with the last name of “Klaus.”)

When I work with people, even on short assignment, I do my best to learn and remember their names – first and last – because I know how important it is. Sometimes, I even rehearse the pronunciation of their names, especially when I mess up the first time. A few years ago, I was working briefly with a woman whose first name was a lovely Spanish name that was nearly unpronounceable to me. I kept Anglicizing the name – not belligerently or uncaringly – but because I just couldn’t get my mouth and tongue to make the right Spanish vowel sounds. She became frustrated and corrected me rather directly. I came home that night, consulted with my spouse on the correct pronunciation (Spanish is her first language), and I rehearsed like crazy. The next day my effort was obvious even if my execution was still imperfect. This experience, which was a bit difficult for both the woman and me, reminded me how important it is to know a person’s name and to get it right.

Second, getting know, and correctly using, the names of people is a simple yet solid community building activity. From the moment those campers arrived, my staff and I had only six days to create a sense of community among them, which we knew would “make or break” the whole camping experience for many of them. By learning their names and being able to use them, and allowing them to know and use our names in return, we were taking the first steps in community building.

Correctly learning and using the names of people is still one of the easiest and best strategies in community building and community change. Each of us can do it and we can do it all by ourselves. The only permission we need is the permission of the person whose name we are trying to learn and use.

However, knowing a person’s name does not equate to knowing the person. This is a mistake commonly made in American culture which values fame and celebrity. Just because we know the names “Beyoncé” or “Lady Gaga” does not mean we actually know them. In community work we need to go beyond just knowing names. We need to know people and we need to be known by them. We need to get to know people as we let them get to know us. This is the beginning of trust. This is important because, as you may know already, change happens at the speed of trust.

At another point in my career I worked at University of Iowa Health Care as a fundraiser for the children’s hospital. As part of my orientation I received a packet of information that included a wallet card titled, “15 House Rules for Service Leadership.” I still have it today because I think it offers some great advice for learning people’s names, getting to know them, and building trust. See what you think:

  • Break the ice
  • Stop and help
  • Take the time
  • Keep people informed
  • Anticipate needs
  • Respond quickly
  • Respect privacy and confidentiality
  • Handle with care
  • Maintain dignity
  • Treat adults as adults and children as children
  • Listen and act
  • Help each other
  • Keep it quiet
  • Look the part
  • Respect our differences

Be greater, Do good, Everyday.

Tom Klaus

 

My Day at the White House

I was surprised (no, stunned) and honored with an invitation to the White House early last week for a meeting that took place at the end of the week. I was clueless why I received the invitation, especially on such short notice, so I called and asked if it was a mistake and, if not, what were they thinking? It wasn’t a mistake but the person I spoke with couldn’t tell me why I was invited (which is not exactly a confidence builder). It was all a bit mysterious but I went anyway thinking it was probably a mistake and I would either get thrown out or picked up by the Secret Service. Still, just in case, I didn’t want to miss the opportunity.

After five security stops (one online and four in person), I got into the building and I learntjust-me why I had been invited. It seems a recent research paper that Ed Saunders and I published earlier this year in Community Development, the journal of the Community Development Society, got some attention. Ed, who is the former Director of the School of Social Work at the University of Iowa, and I have been collaborators for 25 years, since 1991. Our recent research and paper on the integration of community engagement, collective impact, and sustainable community development grabbed the interest of a Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) official and that person, in turn, moved it up to the White House.

I was invited to the meeting as a way of introducing me and our work to the people in the Administration and around the country who are working on the President’s Promise Zones initiatives in 22 disadvantaged communities. (Also, my Midwestern self-deprecating roots tell me I should note that I was an easy “get” for the meeting because I live only 30 minutes away.) Because this is a 10 year initiative that is not tied to a Federal budget line, it is expected that the Promise Zones initiative will survive the change of administration later this year.

The unique, and apparently appealing, facet of our work is that it situates the social change phenomenon of collective impact within the larger framework of community development. Collective impact has been widely adopted by government, funders, and communities around the globe.

Many thanks, and kudos, to Norm Walzer, the editor of the special collective impact issue of Community Development.  I’m sure Norm is always pleased to know when people are reading the journal.

Thanks as well to Paul Born and Liz Weaver and their crew at Tamarack Institute for giving me the blogging and workshop space to vet, and vent, some of our ideas to their constituents in Canada. Tomorrow I head back to Toronto to be with them again in the Community Change Institute this coming week where I’ll be a learning lab leader and also lead a couple of workshops. It is always great fun to work with them!

Ed Saunders and I have enjoyed a long collaboration on program development, evaluation, theory development, and testing. It is gratifying to know that people are reading and finding value in our work. My work with Ed has been some of the most enjoyable and satisfying of my career.

It is even better if our hard work contributes to making the world a better place, especially for those who are disadvantaged and marginalized in our society.

It was a far more interesting and amazing day than I expected. I didn’t get thrown out or taken away by the Secret Service, but it was still an exciting day.

Be Greater. Do Good. Every day.

Tom Klaus