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You Need a Purpose During the Pandemic: Identify Your Unique Gifts – Part 1 of 3

Six months into the global health pandemic and many of us are restless. It’s an uneasy time. We want to go back to normal and resume our lives like we did, prior to mid-March.

In so many areas of life, it feels like there is little we can control.

Last week, while listening to Kenny Chesney’s No Shoes Radio on SiriusXM, I heard for the first time an Uncle Kracker song, No Time to Be Sober. I was amused and a couple of the lines from the song struck me.

I used to crack a beer and throw on CMT,

But now I’m sipping vodka with the CDC.

The song continued:

This ain’t no time to be sober.

There’s a time and place to hide your face,

And I got nothin’ but time to waste,

This ain’t no time to be sober.

The song is humorous, but the message, of uncertainty and an altered state during a dark time, hits a little too close to home for me.

Everyone is experiencing it to some degree. We may be worried for ourselves, our loved ones, friends and co-workers. We’re feeling it on multiple fronts – concerned about health, work, finances, school re-openings, COVID restrictions and the political division created by all of the misinformation from our president about the pandemic. We miss our friends and family. We miss our places of worship, going to a ball game, traveling and gathering with our friends and families.

When this pandemic ends, I don’t want to reflect on it as a period when I chose to waste time because I had “nothin’ but time to waste.” That isn’t uplifting to me, and likely not to you, either.

What about you? If you feel angst and uncertainty, what do you say we take back what we can control?

We have a choice. We can control our minds. We can control what goes into our minds. Limiting the 24-hour continuous negative news cycle and social media. Limiting the binge watching of Tiger King and other inane, mindless shows. We must guard our minds from trash.

Secondly, we must feed our minds.  With positive content that will nourish our minds. Inspiring stories, reading good books, learning new useful content, journaling, writing and sharing uplifting stories with one another.  We consciously feed our minds with positive thoughts and energy.  Bestselling author John Ortberg writes, “What makes people the way they are is the way they think. Think great thoughts! People who live great lives, think great thoughts!”

So, let’s take care of our minds. Then we operate with purpose – even during a pandemic.

If you were interviewed by NBC News anchor Lester Holt, in front of a live audience of 12 million people, to describe your purpose in life – not a summary of your job description or your company’s purpose – could you deliver it in a sentence or two with clarity and conviction?

If you answered “no” or “not sure,” you’ve got plenty of company. It’s been reported by Gallup that 70% of leaders don’t know their purpose. That number is likely even higher in the general population.

What exactly is meant by the word, “purpose”?

Purpose is the overarching principle that gives your life meaning.  It’s a forward-pointing arrow, that gives you clarity and helps you get out of bed in the morning.

You can’t be fired or retire from your purpose. A pandemic can’t derail your purpose.

The pursuit of purpose is biological. It’s programmed into your DNA. Your brain has a “seeking system” that encourages you to explore, learn and find meaning.  Your brain is wired to want to know, understand and experience purpose and the positive emotions that go along with it. You’re wired to be simultaneously driven toward something and pulled to it. So, defining your purpose is a human need.

While operating on purpose won’t answer all the questions you’re wrestling with today in these turbulent times, it will provide you clarity and serve as your Northstar for your life. You’ll know where you are headed. It gets you out of the mode of surviving and on to the path to thriving.

If you haven’t clarified your life’s purpose, how about you and I work together for the next three days – for a three-part series on purpose – and get you clear about and living on purpose?

Here’s the good news. Your life purpose is inside of you, just waiting to be released. You’ve got to find it. You’ll need to mine for it. I’ll show you how.

My good friend and client, Dave Hemink, CEO of Nonin Medical, a medical device company that provides critical products in the fight against COVID-19 says, “Your purpose is deep inside you; it is there.  It’s up to each person to find it.”

Viktor Frankl, bestselling author, renown psychiatrist and concentration camp survivor, experienced unspeakably harsh conditions during his three years in Auschwitz. Frankl lost his wife, brother, father and mother during the Holocaust.  The author of Man’s Search for Meaning, Frankl wrote, “Man’s search for meaning (purpose) is the primary motivation in life. (Defining your purpose is) the most important activity for your development. With it, we can survive even the worst conditions. It gives us meaning in life.”

Your purpose is to make a positive difference in the world – however you define your purpose.  When you operate on purpose, you create an impact. Creating impact is a strategy for playing offense with your life. Impact is defined as having a strong, powerful effect or influence on a situation or a person.

You’ll need to do some reflection work, to answer the questions posed, so grab your journal or a pad of paper and pen, answer the questions to the best of your ability and do the work. If you don’t do the work, you won’t see the results.

The three steps for finding your purpose and living on purpose are:

  1. Identify your unique gifts;
  2. Mine for and discover your purpose;
  3. Write and share your purpose story;

 

Step 1: What’s Your Unique Gift?

Each of us comes into this world with a unique gift. It’s a personal characteristic you are endowed with, even if you don’t know exactly what that gift is.

The requirement for living a life of purpose and impact is to know and apply your gift. Applying your gift for a purpose greater than you allows you to impact others and make an impact on the world. What’s your unique gift?

Here are a few questions to reflect on to get clear about your unique gift:

Who are you?

 Describe yourself in just a few words. What descriptors would you use? Examples might include that you are a loving husband, a passionate artist, a committed leader of others, a healer of the body and soul, a matriarch of the tribe, a faithful friend. So, in just a few words, describe yourself.

What is it that people come to you for?

 What are you naturally good at—so good that other people compliment you? When others consult you for advice, what do they ask you about? They may say, “You are so good at that!” And you may not even realize what you do and how you do it that makes this characteristic a special, unique gift. You may minimize the gift or even take it for granted. Or it may seem like everyone can do it, so you don’t think twice about its uniqueness. When others come to you and ask, “How do you do that?” you can rest assured that it is a valuable gift. You find the gift comes naturally and you apply the gift unconsciously. What is your gift?

What would others miss?

 Survey your close friends, work colleagues, and family members, and ask them, “What do you see as my three greatest gifts? And what would you miss if I were no longer here?” How would they respond? What do you think they would say? Write it down.

They may ask “Is there something wrong?” Or, “What’s up with you?” as those are admittedly questions you don’t get asked every day. So, when you ask, you’ll want to start by sharing with them their greatest gifts, and what you would miss if they were no longer here. It’s a wonderful way to demonstrate what that person means to you and your love for them. By sharing with them their gifts, you appreciate their uniqueness and honor them.

What do you do that feels effortless and gives you energy?

 When you give your gift, it feels effortless. Far from expending your energy, the use of your gift renews your energy. You give it naturally to others, and you give it often. What is the gift?

Hopefully, you have several gifts that you’ve identified with one particular gift emerging as the one that is unique. Can you identify your number one unique gift?

If you are still struggling, request the input of others who are close to you. Others often have a clearer view of your special gifts.

Based on your reflections, what is your unique gift?

As you gain clarity of your unique gift, can you create a gift statement that describes what you are called to do to apply your gift? Here are a few examples:

  • My gift is transparency and genuineness. I use my gift to help others, sharing my emotions and vulnerabilities to build trust and create a degree of calmness with those I meet.
  • My gift is recognizing and focusing on what others do well, so I can help them apply both personally and professionally to optimize the impact of their gifts.
  • Time and patience are my gifts, which I use to help those around me—family, friends, and strangers.
  • As one who navigates and guides people down the river of life, I assist new widows as they transition from heartbreak and loss to a future of hope and possibility.

Frank Pleticha created his gift statement: “Through my gift of empathetic and active listening, I help channel resources and contacts to the broken person sitting in front of me.” For more on Frank’s unique gift and gift statement, you can read his story.  http://theboltongroup.com/not-on-my-watch/

Now it’s your turn.

What is your unique gift statement?

Congratulations! You’ve now landed on your unique gift and gift statement– the gifts that make you special, a one-of-a-kind. That’s pretty awesome, isn’t it? You bring a uniqueness that no one else in the world brings. Now, you know what it is.

As you’ve defined it, you get to apply your gift to the opportunities and situations that come your way.

How will you apply your gift more often in the future?

Tomorrow look for my post, You Need a Purpose During the Pandemic: Mine for and Discover Your Purpose – Part 2 of 3, where we’ll discover how to use your unique gift in identifying and living by purpose.

 

For more information:

19 Fighting COVID-19: Unsung Heroes Creating Impact During the Pandemic and Unrest

As the COVID-19 crisis has spread across the country, it has disrupted every aspect of American life. During this perilous time, we all seek inspiration from people who capture our hearts and minds, who show us the path through the storm. People who are creating an impact.

Now, combined with a heightened awareness of the injustice and indignities African Americans have suffered during 400 years of racial discrimination following George Floyd’s death and the ensuing protests, we find ourselves in the grips of two pandemics that have become inextricably intertwined.

Over the past three months, I’ve learned the stories of nineteen unsung heroes in Minnesota. Ordinary people, like you and me, who are leading with hope and purpose, making a positive impact in our state and nation, in the midst of the COVID pandemic and social unrest.

I’m releasing a new book today, June 29, 2020  – 19 Fighting COVID-19: Unsung Heroes Creating Impact During the Pandemic and Unrest – where you will discover the stories of these inspiring Minnesotans. I hope their stories will fill you with optimism, hope, and encouragement. In our volatile and uncertain world, if ever there was a time for a book about resilient people who are making an impact, now is the time.

Thank you in advance for considering a purchase. With your purchase, you’ll make a contribution to fighting food insecurity in Minnesota. 100% of the author’s commissions will be donated to Second Harvest Heartland and Loaves and Fishes, so they can continue to feed those most in need during these times.

Here’s the link to buy the book: https://www.amazon.com/19-Fighting-COVID-19-Creating-Pandemic-ebook/dp/B08BCNVWK8/ref=tmm_kin_swatch_0?_encoding=UTF8&qid=&sr=

Here’s a summary of the people and their stories within the book:

  • The story of an award-winning hairstylist based in Edina who created customized DIY coloring kits with instructions for her clients and delivered from a socially safe distance with a wave from her and her young daughters, while salons were in shut-down mode. Her purpose is to “Help others look and feel great, and uplift their happiness, confidence and self-image.” She’s the loving image shaper. Her name is Alli Swanson of Sloan’s Beauty Bar.

 

  • The story of a Maplewood-based intensive care unit nurse, whose purpose is “To do anything I can do – physically, mentally, spiritually, emotionally – to help my patients feel better.” She’s the one who takes care of COVID patients. Who is in constant communication with the contact person of the family. She’s the one who is constantly checking the ventilator settings and determining if they are getting better or not. Of being there for those very ill, helping the family say their last goodbyes by iPad and being there with the patient until they take their last breath, so they do not die alone. That’s Tiffany Wolfsberger of Regions Hospital.

 

  • The story of a woman, her 8-year-old son and family who created a colorful eight circle THANK U sign on the retaining wall of their Edina home, each circle representing a COVID-19 hero group. There is a circle dedicated for doctors, nurses, truckers, grocery workers, police, firefighters, teachers and maintenance workers. And you can buy the signs and put in the yard of your hero. Or buy t-shirts. The money goes to food banks. That’s Heather Heier Lane.

 

  • The story of a Bloomington man with a servant’s heart who uses his gifts of empathy and connectedness to listen to and encourage at risk-teens with Zoom calls and connects with several older people who are isolated in nursing homes weekly. His name is Pat Siebenaler.

 

  • The story of a Hopkins woman who having found herself at her children’s pediatrician for the third time in one week, one time each for each of her three kids, to be tested for strep throat. She was so frustrated she started up a company to create a home-administered strep test. Earlier this year, the company pivoted to create a home-administered diagnostic test for COVID-19 to assist others in determining if they’ve been exposed to the virus or have developed immunities against the virus, potentially helping us to get back to work more quickly. Her purpose is to serve others. That’s Patty Post, CEO of Checkable Medical.

 

  • The story of a Plymouth man who with a few friends from church, created a website and process to connect those who are higher-risk people with a person of lower-risk in their same community for remote friendship, conversation and help with the delivery of groceries or prescriptions. His purpose is “To make life better for others. We’re all put here for a reason, to serve others as best we can.” That’s Jeff Johnson, Hennepin County Commissioner and founder of Northstar Neighbor.

 

  • A St. Paul Fire Department fire captain whose purpose is to “mitigate emergencies and return things to a safe state” and how the job of a firefighter and emergency responder has changed since COVID-19 and how he and his crew had to reinvent how they responded to and fought fires during May 28 & 29, when St. Paul experienced 55 arson-set fires, during the rioting and unrest. That’s St. Paul fire captain John Wolfsberger.

 

  • The story of a Plymouth-based privately-held medical device company that makes pulse oximetry products -a critical clinical therapy in treating COVID-19 patients – to measure oxygen saturation levels in the blood. The demand for their products has risen 10-fold so they are operating around the clock, struggling to manage a global supply chain, to meet the demand for their products. During their ramp up, they also had an employee who was MN’s second diagnosed person with COVID-19. No other ees contracted the virus and happily, the person who contracted the disease while traveling for work in Europe is now fine and is back to work. Their CEO’s purpose is to “Enable people to live purposeful lives, that positively impact others in the chaos of life.” Is this ever the time and place to live purposefully! That’s Nonin Medical’s CEO Dave Hemink.

 

  • Or how a young 21-year-old man whose purpose is “being a beacon of light when others are hopeless” who along with his friend from Shoreview, traveled to the looted Target store on Lake Street on Saturday, May 30 to clean the store of water sludge and debris. Their clean-up efforts were seen by others and before you knew it, over 1000 people joined in, creating assembly lined, to sweep & shovel out and pick up the mess fill garbage bags and arranged for a refuse company to haul the mess away.  I forgot to mention. This young man saw Minneapolis suffering and without hope and decided to do something about it. He drove 8 hours from Bradley U in Peoria, IL, to Shoreview, his friend’s parents’ home, so he could help out. He had never been to MN before but knew he had to do something – because he is a beacon of light when others are hopeless.  His name is Pierre Paul.

 

  • Of a small group of volunteers in south Minneapolis who came together literally overnight, convinced the owner of a hotel that was shuttered due to COVID-19, to allow 200 homeless people to take refuge in the hotel, in less than 24 hours, after the city razed an encampment they were staying with bulldozers, literally stranding them between looters, the national guard with nowhere to go during the curfew of May 29.  This group of volunteers is coordinating meal service, mental health services, first aid, harm reduction support and housekeeping services.  They are doing this in a horizontal way, anonymously, with no designated leader.  They call this the Sanctuary Hotel.

 

  • Of a woman who is a nurse practitioner in the neurosurgery intensive care unit of a large Minneapolis hospital who treats and cares for patients who have had strokes, traumas to the spine and other brain traumas. Now in the COVID-19 world we live in, family members are not allowed to visit their loved ones in the hospital. With her patients who’ve suffered cognitive injuries and traumas, her continuous communication with family is more essential than ever before.  She sees herself as creating impact by being a source of light during a troubling time for patients and family members, who cares and feels deeply.  That’s UofM’s Suzie Shane.

 

  • Of a man in St. Louis Park who started up a non-profit organization that provides free financial counseling and legal services and coaching to women who have recently become widows. His purpose is “to provide safe passage for others down the river of life.” He has also launched a new bestselling book in April, The Legacy Planning and Conversation Guide: The Workbook for End-of-Life Planning, a playbook to help singles and couples to get their affairs in order before they die. His name is Chris Bentley, founder of Wings for Widows.

 

  • Of the woman in Buffalo who is responsible for overseeing the safe transport of over 5000 students to and from school for the Buffalo/Hanover/Montrose school district. Her drivers cover a 157 square mile every school day. Her purpose – to get student to and from school safely and on-time – abruptly shifted in mid-March. Now, it’s to make sure the kids get fed.  Since school shut down, her team has delivered over 150,000 meals for those in need.  She’s making a huge impact. That’s Kimi Paumen.

 

  • The story of a 20-year old man who is a 5X cancer survivor, is a college student and is a Big 10 collegiate football player. Last July 19, this young man delivered the keynote speech at the Big 10 Football Kickoff Luncheon in Chicago. He lives daily by his impact declaration of: Wake up! Kick Ass! Repeat! He also coaches and encourages families and kids who are stricken by cancer and has been a big fixture at Children’s Masonic Hospital – that’s Casey O’Brien, the placeholder for the University of Minnesota Golden Gophers football team.

 

  • The story of an Area manager for 9 bakeries whose purpose is to help everyone around her, “Feel Better and Be Better.” During the pandemic, they’ve had to reinvent their model, serve today’s customers differently, look to the future for what they want to be, while they serve first responders at a moment’s notice and she works to develop women leaders, supports the LGBTQ community and works with local food banks to distribute today’s left over baked goods. Favorite story is about how she prepared 900 box lunches for the National Guard on May 30 with less than 3-hours notice from 8 stores. That’s Panera Bread’s Marie Benesch.

 

  • The story of the Hanover elementary school music teacher who in addition to teaching her students via distance learning, performs on keyboard and sings Virtual Music events on Facebook Live for thirteen straight Friday nights while the live music venues have been closed. Her purpose is “Bringing joy to young and old by sharing songs that inspire.” Each week it is a new genre and new set of songs. She averages 5000 global viewers each week and was recognized by Governor Walz during his May 7 COVID update as his Feel-Good Story. That’s my beautiful and talented wife Mary Bolton.

 

  • The story of a man who doubled pivoted his business. At the outbreak of the COVID crisis, he pivoted his Minneapolis distillery to make hand sanitizer. When his distillery was damaged during the looting and arson following the death of George Floyd and the protests, he created a pop-up food shelf to feed the community. That’s Chris Montana of Du Nord Craft Spirits.

 

  • The story of those in the fight to battle food insecurity. Second Harvest – the nation’s second largest food bank, whose purpose is “To end hunger together.” Before the crisis 1 in 11 Minnesotans as well as 1 in 8 kids didn’t know where their next meal was coming from. Today, the needs are off the charts. They are seeing new faces. Our neighbors, colleagues and friends. They are really pumping to meet demand. They need donations – they can make $1 into 3 meals. Allison Toole CEO and leading the charge at Second Harvest.

Loaves and Fishes is the largest “open to the public” meal program in MN, serving free healthy meals to Minnesotans in need. The requirements for meals since the coronavirus pandemic have gone from 3500 meals per day to 12000 meals daily – triple their regular workload.  They’ve shifted their meal from congregate dining to takeaway meals during the pandemic.  Cathy Maes is Executive Director of Loaves and Fishes.

As I’ve had met and interviewed these people, during this uncertain time, during two pandemics – the COVID-19 pandemic and the racial injustice pandemic – which has been going on 400 years but has just been heightened for many of us the last four weeks – I am encouraged. I see hope. I see people taking care of others.  Operating with great purpose, with passion and making an impact.  While in many ways, we’re dealing with more uncertainty than certainty, I’m seeing more humanity in people, by and large.

That’s encouraging. That’s inspiring and motivating. That’s inviting to all of us to look for ways we can each create greater impact. So we can serve others and thrive. I know we’ll emerge from the adversity – that’s what Minnesotans always do. The question is will you be making greater impact – or not? The answer is up to each of us! It’s up to you, folks.

Here’s the link to buy the book: https://www.amazon.com/19-Fighting-COVID-19-Creating-Pandemic-ebook/dp/B08BCNVWK8/ref=tmm_kin_swatch_0?_encoding=UTF8&qid=&sr=

About the Author

Chuck Bolton is a coach and advisor to CEOs and a five-time bestselling author. In April 2020, he launched a new book, Reinvent Your Impact: Unleashing Purpose, Passion and Productivity to Thrive, which became an international bestseller in the USA, Canada and Australia.

Since 2000, Chuck has shown his clients how to reinvent their impact and create massive value through his coaching firm, The Bolton Group LLC. He loves inspiring and encouraging others to become their best so they can make their unique difference in the world.

Chuck has coaches and consults with leaders at Abbott, Boston Scientific, Cantel Medical, Hollister, IQVIA, KMT Medical, Medtronic, Nonin Medical, Optum, Performance Health, United Healthcare, Vyaire Medical and many more.  In his prior corporate career, Chuck last served as group vice president, human resources, Boston Scientific.

For more information: http://theboltongroup.com

100% of the author’s proceeds from book sales are donated to Second Harvest Heartland and Loaves and Fishes to fight food insecurity in Minnesota

Here’s the link to buy the book: https://www.amazon.com/19-Fighting-COVID-19-Creating-Pandemic-ebook/dp/B08BCNVWK8/ref=tmm_kin_swatch_0?_encoding=UTF8&qid=&sr=

Minnesota’s Tidal Wave of Food Insecurity: The Heroes Who Keep the Most Vulnerable Fed

The COVID-19 pandemic, coupled with the precipitous economic downturn, has added fuel to a fire that is the nation’s hunger crisis. The world’s most prosperous country, the United States of America, has tens of millions of citizens who suffer from food insecurity.

Feeding America is a nationwide network of more than 200 food banks.  They reported before the coronavirus crisis that 37 million Americans suffered from hunger. Now, they estimate the COVID crisis could result in a 46% increase. That means a staggering number of US citizens will be at risk of hunger – 54 million![1]

Closer to home, food insecurity is hitting vulnerable people in Minnesota especially hard.  Prior to the crisis, 1 in 11 Minnesotans, as well as 1 in 8 children, didn’t know where their next meal was coming from. If the national trend holds true to Minnesota, we’re looking at roughly 1 in 6 adults and 1 in 4 children in the state experiencing food insecurity during the crisis.  Since the outbreak of the virus, food shelves have reported double, sometimes triple, the need for food assistance.

Fortunately, there are food heroes among us, people and organizations whose purpose is to end hunger and make sure everyone has enough food, so they can be productive and engaged, and so that they can thrive.

Allison O’Toole, CEO of Second Harvest Heartland, the second largest foodbank in the country, described the food insecurity during the COVID crisis: “Now the needs are off the charts. We are seeing so many new faces. They are our neighbors, our colleagues, our friends.  We have a team that jumped into action right away. We are working around the clock. We are hustling. We are problem-solving every minute of every day.  Not only to meet the needs of today, but to meet the operational challenges that are in front of us.”[2]

Since mid-March, more than 750,000 Minnesotans have filed for unemployment benefits, or about 25% of the workforce.  Low income workers are bearing the brunt of the fallout from the pandemic and economic downturn.

O’Toole added, “As we see the rise in unemployment insurance applications, that is the volume that’s coming to us and our partners. Many of these folks have never been to a food shelf before. We’ve seen the need increase exponentially. It was immediate and we are trouble-shooting and problem-solving every second of every day to meet the tidal wave of need coming at us. For 40% of individuals being served, it’s the first time they’ve needed to ask for help.”

Second Harvest Heartland is providing tens of thousands of emergency food boxes and other meals for families facing hunger due to missed work, illness or other hardships during the crisis.

They’ve launched free emergency farmers markets and are developing new kinds of pre-packaged options to safely distribute fresh food.

Likewise, Loaves & Fishes is a nonprofit serving free, healthy meals to Minnesotans where the needs are greatest.  Serving over 90 outlets in ten counties, their meal program began in 1982.  They served a record-breaking 1.3 million meals in 2019.

Andrew Scott, site-coordinator for Loaves & Fishes at Hope Church in Richfield and Brooklyn United Methodist Church in Brooklyn Center said, “The new model adds a couple of new balls to juggle – packing meals, orchestrating the drive through, and upholding safety throughout – from point A to Z.”

Andrew is energized by the fact that no matter the changes, Loaves & Fishes is still there ready to provide food to those in need.  “As much as we are reacting to the pandemic in a dynamic disaster-response model, another way of looking at is that Loaves & Fishes has remained an anchor for food security. We are still here for you and we always will be,” he said.[3]

Before the pandemic, Loaves & Fishes served an average of 3,500 meals a day. Currently, they are serving nearly four times their regular number of meals – over 13,000 meals daily.

“The numbers for April showed we provided 384,043 meals,” said Cathy Maes, Executive Director of Loaves & Fishes.

Partnering with Second Harvest Heartland and Loaves & Fishes is a collection of restaurant workers who’ve created a community food kitchen. Chowgirls Killer Catering, like many other restaurants, saw a downturn in its business immediately following Governor Walz’ stay-at-home order.  Chowgirls turned their Minneapolis kitchen into a hub of lifesaving cooking activities. They call it Minnesota Central Kitchen.

Pulling culinary workers from around the Twin Cities and rescuing food from restaurants, cafes, and warehouses, while observing social distancing, they’ve come together to make over 850 meals a day.

Liz Mullen, executive chef of Chow Girls, described the rationale to pivot from a catering group to a community resource kitchen.

“It was created out of pure need. Loaves & Fishes has seen a 300% increase in all their locations in the past three weeks. So, these are the people who don’t have the opportunity or resources to stockpile food. Now, more and more people are becoming vulnerable. I think of all the chefs and line cooks who have lost their jobs.  Chefs in this kitchen have a more empowering challenge. You never know what foods will be donated that day. It’s ‘Iron Chef’ every day.”

Arianna Baker-Kern, chef de cuisine, described the challenge. “We have to figure how to make it palatable. How to make it high in protein and delicious. Everyone who works in food is getting some more recognition. It has been a service that has been taken for granted. It turns your job from something that you do every day to something that is spiritually satisfying.”

Mullen added, “What keeps us coming to work each day in this environment? Because it is so important. It is so important. I have all of these beautiful people that have pulled together a whole new business model in a week. They are willing to be here and work hard for the betterment of a community. This is clearly a time when once again the food community is rising up to help their neighbors.”[4]

The impact of hunger on children cannot be understated.  Child hunger is on the rise and the ramifications are enormous. Hungry children who are school students are at higher risk for physical and mental health issues and tend to experience worse academic outcomes. In a national survey in April, 40% of mothers with children under 13 said their families were experiencing food insecurity, up from 15% in 2018.

In Minnesota, one-third of students, nearly 320,000 children, qualify for subsidized meals.

Mary Jo Lange is president-elect of the Minnesota School Nutrition Association and food service coordinator for Red Lake School District. “Amid the financial uncertainty, nutrition staff are also trying to plan for fall without knowing whether in-person classes will resume,” she said.

“It’s a huge problem. We’re getting past the point where we’re worried about how (current service) is going to work because we’ve got it down, but now we’re worried about three months from now,” Lange said. “How are we going to feed these kids? What is it going to look like?”[5]

Kimi Paumen is manager of Vision of Buffalo, the contracted transportation company serving the Buffalo, Hanover, and Montrose, a 157-square mile area with 5,000 students in Wright County, MN. She described how her purpose shifted instantly in mid-March from “getting the kids to school on time and then get them home safely” to “making sure the kids get fed.”  In just two months, Kimi’s team of drivers delivered over 145,000 free meals to kids in need within the district.[6]

 

In the aftermath of George Floyd’s death, the grocery and neighborhood stores near the Minneapolis Police 3rdPrecinct Station were looted and torched. Nearby Sanford Middle School found many of their students’ families were now without access to food.

School food services and public transpiration were suspended across Minneapolis, affecting the school’s 970 students, about 60 percent of whom are eligible for free or reduced lunch.

“The area has become a food desert for these families, many of whom don’t own a vehicle to drive elsewhere. We had to do something,” said Amy Nelson, the principal of the school.

She and her staff emailed friends and others in the community, requesting they bring 85 food kits to the school parking lot on Sunday morning.  The food kids were to include cereal, bread, apples, diapers, detergent, and other essentials. Kits would be distributed to anyone who needed them.

The request for kits went viral, as word spread on social media and in the local news.  The staff was optimistic that maybe 150 kits would be received.

The people came.  Miles of cars, SUVs, and trucks wrapped around city blocks, full of groceries. By day’s end, an estimated 30,000 food kits were delivered that fed more than 500 families.

The excess supplies and food – of which there was plenty – was taken to food shelves in areas of the city most affected by the pandemic and protests.

Mara Bernick, family liaison for Sanford Middle School, said, “People of all backgrounds and races were picking up food and helping each other. And that’s what Minneapolis is. That is who we are. We take care of each other.

“Unquestionably, there are injustices in our states, cities, counties, and systems, but to see people put all of that aside and come together to help one another – that is really what we want to be about. At Sanford Middle School, we are all about diversity and helping each other. These students see what we are doing. They are the future; they are the ones who will effect change.”[7]

Both Second Harvest Heartland’s Allison O’Toole and Loaves & Fishes’ Cathy Maes emphasized that volunteers and continued contributions are critical to the vital work they do to ensure individuals and families aren’t missing meals during these challenging times.

Maes said, “There will be a time when donors stop thinking about the need.  We have guests who maybe never made it out of 2008 and are still living paycheck to paycheck. They might have a couple of months in their pocket, but that’s it. I look at what’s going on right now as much, much worse than 2008 and with a lot of fear.”

Imagine where Minnesota would be if it were not for these – and many others not mentioned – food heroes. Each one provides a tremendous service in keeping people nourished and healthy during the double pandemic. All the food heroes are creating enormous impact. Thank you!

 

[1] https://www.feedingamerica.org/hunger-in-america/facts.

[2] Shine On Minnesota, FOX 9, May 10, 2020.

[3] Loaves & Fishes website.

[4] Shine On Minnesota, FOX 9, May 10, 2020.

[5] COVID-19 heightens fears about child hunger during summer break, Rilyn Eischens, June 9, 2020, Minnesota Reformer.

[6] Making Sure the Kids Get Fed: School Bus Drivers Are a Lifeline During COVID Crisis, Creating Impact, May 14, 2020. http://theboltongroup.com/making-sure-the-kids-get-fed-school-bus-drivers-a-lifeline-during-covid-crisis/.

[7] A Minneapolis school asked people to donate food for students after looting closed stores. ‘Miles of cars’ lined up. Sydney Page, Washington Post, June 2, 2020.

How Marie Benesh Leads by Her Purpose of Serving Others During the Pandemic and Unrest: “I Want Everyone to Feel Better and Be Better”

Responsible for nine Panera Bread cafes in the Twin Cities suburbs throughout northern Minnesota during the COVID-19 pandemic, Marie Benesh gets out of bed each morning to serve people. That’s her purpose. She serves her team of general managers and their teams in nine locations and her general managers and associates serve their guests – that is, the customer.

As an Area Operating Partner for the past four years, Marie is responsible for the overall health of her nine bakeries.  That means team member satisfaction, customer satisfaction, sales, profitability, people development and food quality. The buck stops with Marie for her area.

Marie’s approach to leadership is to motivate others.  She says her credibility as a leader is the sum of the people she’s surrounded by. She places a lot of effort in their development and enjoyment at work.

She says, “I’m first a people person. I want everyone to feel better and be better.  I lift them up, so they feel more competent and capable. If they are great, that does it for me!  I try to motivate them, act as a cheerleader of sorts. I have open discussions with each of my general managers. We operate by very high standards. I’m transparent with each about where they are.  Work can be draining and hard, so I like to make work fun and when it’s time to play, we play as hard as we work.”

How Marie serves people has completely changed since mid-March of 2020.  How guests are served is entirely different. There are no guest interactions in the dining rooms today. All food orders are served to go. The sales patterns have changed. Drive through sales have accounted for 30% of the business and now comprise 60% of the business.  A new Panera grocery channel has been quickly added so guests can order loaves of breads, jugs of milk, avocadoes, tomatoes and other products to pick up.  Curbside service has been a new add on for the convenience and safety of guests.

The COVID crisis has been particularly tough on the restaurant business. Some of the support staff was furloughed, cafes have been closed, and managers have taken pay cuts so the cafes can continue to operate.  Marie adds, “It’s a more intense time this period. We’re taking temperatures of assoicates and asking our folks if they are feeling well before they start their shift. All of us are wearing masks.  It’s hard on us all to not see the smiles of one another.”

Marie’s job is to keep Panera viable through this uncertain period. They are using coupons now for the first time and other approaches to maximize sales during a period when diners can no longer order and eat in the dining room.

Marie says, “How I serve my general managers has completely changed. For the first month after COVID, we had a daily conference call.  We needed to share information in a rapid-fire way and make sure everyone is aligned. By mid-April, we were getting a rhythm, so we reduced our calls to once a week and check-ins as required. We became more planful and less reactive.  How does the week look? How about our month and quarter? We’re trying to get back to a new normal.”

To survive and thrive, a must is being brilliant at the basics. “First, each Panera location has to ensure the safety of the food. Then, we have to focus on the wellness of associates and guests.  Are our associates protected and are our guests protected?  Are we protecting the company? Are we keeping the company viable for the short-term and long-haul?”, Marie adds.

Marie misses her guests. She said, “A number of the regulars who enjoyed a cup of coffee in the dining room as part of their daily routine were people I got to know and used to get hugs from. It was part of their day. We’re fortunate that patios have opened, and we anticipate the bakeries will be able to open at limited capacity very soon.”

While the COVID crisis has thrown all restaurants a curve ball, Marie doesn’t lose sight of the longer term and the need to continue to build the capabilities of her team and to build good partners with the community. “We need to continue to build a healthy culture where everyone feels valued and we continue to be good partners to our local communities”, Marie said.

To accelerate the number of women in management and leadership roles, Marie is sponsoring a Woman’s Leadership Group for her area.  Along with her colleagues, they’ve identified twenty female associates who have leadership potential. Through the leadership program, they will build the skillsets and abilities of their female associates, so they gain confidence and increase their capabilities in order to grow in their careers.

Marie says, “We have associates who with a bit of encouragement and help, could become a shift lead, and then, in time, a general manager.  I want to help them take that step.  At one time, I was a single mom with two young children.  We encourage them that they don’t have to be perfect, they can learn, grow, and get promoted, increase their earnings and having rewarding careers at Panera.”

Another initiative that Marie has sponsored is the Pride Parade.  Panera planned on participating in Pride Parade in Minneapolis for the first time in 2020. Unfortunately, due to the pandemic, the parade was cancelled. But Marie and one of her general managers have sponsored the I Belong movement to ensure members of the LGBTQ community feel welcomed and belong. They’ve served Pride Alliance cookies at their stores. They had a Rainbow Out Day at their Chanhassen location. Associates there wore rainbow colors and set up a rainbow arch that associates and guests could sign. Marie adds, “We welcome all people and give them the encouragement to be transparent about who they are. We want all of our associates and guests to be comfortable bringing their unique selves to our bakeries. It’s important to me to be an ally to the LGBTQ community.”

Since the COVID crisis, food insecurity in Minnesota is on the rise. It’s estimated that 1 in 11 people suffer from food insecurity in the state and 1 in 8 children suffer from food insecurity. To help those in need, Panera has a program for leftovers. All leftover food goes to local shelves, they partner with.  The product is still good, but since Panera bakes its breads daily, if bread is not consumed the day it is made, it goes to the food shelves to be donated to those in need.

Marie talks about her general manager, Julie, who heads the Panera operation at Abbott Hospital in south Minneapolis, about one mile from where George Floyd was murdered and very close to the fires that occurred the nights of May 28 & 29.  As most of Julie’s associates live in the community and rely on public transportation, and public transportation service has been curtailed during the pandemic, Julie has been picking up and dropping off associates so they can work, serve and receive a paycheck. Marie adds, “That’s typical for our general managers. We do everything we can to help our associates and guests. I’m so proud of the good people on our team.”

The general managers and their teams are always happy to serve the needs of first responders, requests which sometimes come with little notice. Marie described the morning of Saturday, May 30th. At 8:15 am, she received a call from the Minnesota National Guard, which had just mobilized guard members the previous day, to quell the unrest in Minneapolis and St. Paul, following the protests and riots after George Floyd’s murder.

The caller from the Guard asked Marie a simple question, “Can you feed us lunch today?”  Marie asked, “How many lunches do you need?” The caller said, “900.  And we need the lunches by 11:30 am at the state police depot. You’ve got 3 hours.”  Marie replied, “No problem.” We’ll see you then.”

With Panera Catering being closed during the weekend, the arm of the business that prepares large orders, generally with a few days notice, Marie and her general managers swung into action.  Remembering that Panera bakes its bread daily, the first hurdle was to get bread baked so sandwiches could be made. Marie called her retail cafes.  She asked, “We need 900 sandwiches, packed, labeled, with a bag of chips and a cookie in two hours.  How many can your café commit to?”

Six people, including her husband, who is not a Panera employee, scrambled to eight locations to help make and pick up the lunches and deliver them to Richfield, just in the nick of time to meet their commitment of 11:30 am!  An amazing accomplishment. The National Guard got their lunch.

Delivering 900 unplanned meals in three hours is the type of challenge that Marie loves to accept. That’s the way Marie rolls!  Her purpose is to serve others. In addition to ensuring an excellent food experience for her guests, she creates a culture that welcomes everyone, helps her people grow personally and professionally, while delivering outstanding results for her company. A win-win-win-win approach.

During a pandemic that is proving to be crippling to many in the restaurant business, Marie and her team are performing and delivering. She’s making her team stronger, preparing them to emerge from the crisis stronger-than-ever.

The definition of impact is to have a strong effect on something or someone.  There can be no doubt that Marie Benesh, a purpose-driven, people-first leader who achieves excellent results, is creating a great impact for all her stakeholders.

Wake Up! Kickass! Repeat! Minnesota’s Casey O’Brien Continues to Make an Impact During the Pandemic

Casey O’Brien is a twenty-year old man you have likely never heard of. He’s a redshirt sophomore at the University of Minnesota (a collegiate athlete in his second year of eligibility). Casey plays football under head coach P.J. Fleck for the Golden Gophers, and his only action on the gridiron has been for a few extra point attempts. Yet his story is quite remarkable. He’s a man who’s having an impact.

When Casey was thirteen, a freshman at Cretin-Derham High School in St. Paul, his life revolved around sports. He was a quarterback on the football team when he began experiencing intense pain in his left knee for no apparent reason.

Several doctors checked out Casey’s knee and none could identify the problem. His grandfather told him that if he chose to play football, he could expect that his knees would always ache. But Casey knew his body and knew his pain was more than the typical football grind.

His parents took him to the University of Minnesota Children’s Masonic Hospital for an examination. There, he was diagnosed with a very serious disease, osteosarcoma, an extremely rare form of bone cancer. Doctors removed a softball size tumor from his knee, removed all the cartilage and replaced his knee. They said his football career was over.

But Casey refused to quit. He had to get back on that football field. He said, “Cancer has taken over. I want my life back. I want to play football again.” And he created a plan to resume playing football.

He completed his chemotherapy. He conditioned himself and worked tirelessly. Acknowledging his quarterbacking days were behind him, he switched positions to holder. Casey created a declaration, a visual commitment of his pledge to get back on the football field. This was his impact declaration, a simple hand painted sign he posted in his bedroom. It read:

“Wake up! Kickass! Repeat!”

In 2015, Casey’s junior year of high school, the cancer came back, this time with spots on both lungs. He underwent more surgeries and more chemo. Casey battled back and refused to quit. In his junior year, he overcame a third bout of cancer. Eight days after a long surgery, sixty stitches in his lung and two broken ribs, Casey played in a sectional tournament game as holder. The next day, he went to chemotherapy.

Fast forward to 2017. Fourteen surgeries and several treatments of chemotherapy later, Casey had graduated high school and enrolled at Minnesota, the only FBS (Football Bowl Subdivision of the NCAA) team in the country that gave him a medical clearance. Coach Fleck gave Casey a shot. Casey told Coach Fleck, “I came here to play, not to stand on the sideline.”

In January 2018, the cancer came back a fourth time. Casey had lung surgery, but didn’t miss a single spring practice in March. Casey beat cancer again. All told, since 2013, Casey spent three hundred nights at the University of Minnesota Children’s Masonic Hospital. Today, he spends his days there as a visitor, and he offers the young patients and their families a reminder of what is possible. He says to listen to the doctors and staff because they are the people who will carry you through. He tells them to never give up hope. In Casey’s words, “Never give up!”

Casey shares his story, that devastating news, the circumstances he was placed in—these things were not going to dictate his life and his behavior. He wanted to play football again and he wasn’t going to take no for an answer.

On July 19, 2019, Casey delivered the keynote speech at the Big 10 Football Kickoff Luncheon in Chicago. He shared the memory of the call from his childhood hero, former Gopher and NFL great Eric Decker, when he had learned of Casey’s cancer challenge in 2015. Decker told him, “Stay strong and never give up. You have the whole world behind you.” It reminded Casey that simple words can be the most encouraging.[i]

Competing for a starting job behind two redshirt seniors, Casey got his chance during the 2019 season. He debuted on October 19, when he held two extra points in the Gophers victory at Rutgers. As Coach Fleck described Casey to the team in presenting the game ball that afternoon in the victorious locker room, “We have a living angel with us, men. He has played Big 10 football, something no one can take away from him. He’s defeated cancer four times. He’s rowing the boat with us. That’s Casey O’Brien.”[ii]

 

On November 25, Casey posted on Instagram that he needed surgery for a spot on one of his lungs. He had the surgery, and he is currently undergoing treatment. His prognosis is good. It looks like Casey has beaten cancer the fifth time. In Atlanta on December 12, Casey was awarded the Disney Spirit Award, live on ESPN, presented annually to college football’s most inspirational player.[iii]

While not cleared medically to fly, Casey and his family made the long car trip to Orlando where they watched the Gophers beat Auburn 31-24 in the Outback Bowl on New Year’s Day.

Watch for Casey to be back for the 2020-2021 season. Who would bet against him? He’ll never quit. As we know, he’ll “Wake up! Kickass! Repeat!” while he encourages others stricken with cancer and other adversities to do the same and never give up!

Now it’s June 11 and I’ve reconnected with Casey.  I ask him how he’s fared since our last discussion, prior to the outbreak of COVID-19.

Casey says he’s feeling great. He’s had to lay low during the virus, finishing up the spring semester via distant learning at his parents’ home, when the university suspended in-person classes in mid-March.

Casey has fully recovered from November’s surgery and has been working out on his own. The strength and conditioning coaching staff sent each player a list of bodyweight exercises to be done so they are in shape once practice begins. Casey says he’s excited to report back to the U on June 12th to see his teammates when Gophers football players begin their voluntary workouts.

He said, “The week of June 15, we’ll all get tested for COVID-19. Assuming those go well, we’re able to start our workouts by position groups. That’s exciting to get back with the guys. Then, we will begin practices with the coaches in July, so we’re looking forward to that.”

I asked him how the team has reacted since the George Floyd murder. Casey replied, “We have had team Zoom calls.  Our guys have talked about what they are feeling. We are supporting each other and listening. Hearing what life is like from our African American brothers. Letting them have the floor, supporting them and listening to their experiences.”

He added, “Several of our players have participated in the peaceful protests, to show their support of George Floyd, the community and the need to address systemic racism and reforms of the criminal justice system in Minnesota and the US.”

Knowing that he was be unable to volunteer at Children’s Masonic Hospital in person, as he had before the pandemic struck in mid-March, I asked Casey how his volunteer work has changed since COVID.

He replied, “I have been in contact with a lot of kids and their families who are at the hospital using Facetime. Their policy is that if you are over 18, you are considered an adult and no one is allowed to visit you, due to their COVID-19 policy. For children under 18, they are allowed one parent to visit.  So, it is very important to connect with kids to keep their spirits up. I think about how much harder it would have been for me.  There were times when I was in the hospital for a full week or longer. I’d have somebody visiting with me every single day, a parent or a brother or sister, or cousin. It made the time go more quickly. Now, other than the one parent, you’ve only got Facetime for the visits.”

He added, “People have been reaching out to me on social media and I’ve gotten to speak with a number of families and sick kids.  I just Zoomed with a family in Iowa last Friday. There’s a family in Illinois with a sick child who has a 5-K fundraiser coming up that I’m trying to support them on.  I’m meeting people virtually. I keep a close eye for direct messages I receive on Twitter so I can respond to those folks.”

Casey continues to make an impact during the pandemic with his support of others who are going through cancer. As one who knows the process too well, he’s an example of perseverance, courage, and encouragement for patients and families alike. Looking forward to the Gophers upcoming season and school reopening, Casey O’Brien continues to “Wake Up! Kickass! Repeat!” He will never quit.

[i] “O’Brien Delivers Keynote Speech at Big Ten Football Kickoff Luncheon,” University of Minnesota Athletics, July 7, 2019,

https://gophersports.com/news/2019/7/19/o-brien-delivers-big-ten-football-kickoff-luncheon-speech.aspx.

[ii] “4-time cancer survivor sees dream come true, taking field for Minnesota football,” Enjoli Francis and Eric Noll, ABC News, October 21, 2019.

https://abcnews.go.com/Sports/time-cancer-survivor-sees-dream-true-taking-field/story?id=66429460.

[iii] “Gophers placeholder Casey O’Brien shares positive news on his cancer fight,” Andy Greder, Twincities.com, December 12, 2019

https://www.twincities.com/2019/12/12/gophers-placeholder-casey-obrien-shares-positive-news-on-his-cancer-fight/

The Volunteers at the Minneapolis Sanctuary Hotel – Creating an Impact During the COVID-19 and Racial Injustice Pandemics

 One Momentous Night: Providing Housing and Safety for 200 People While Minneapolis Burned

There’s a remarkable story in Minneapolis that is emerging.  On the chaotic night of May 29, when businesses were looted and buildings burned across the Twin Cities in the aftermath of protests of the murder of George Floyd by a Minneapolis police officer, a small group of community volunteers who worked collaboratively, paved the way for 200 homeless people to be housed at the former Sheraton Midtown Hotel, which had been closed earlier in the year.

It’s hard to imagine a more dangerous time for people in Minneapolis who are homeless. Caught in a COVID-19 pandemic, homeless shelters in the area are full and not accepting new people in need, in an effort to keep their current occupants safe from coronavirus. The demand for food from local food shelves and food insecurity fears have never been greater, due to the economic calamity that has resulted from shut down businesses and historic levels of unemployment. The options for the homeless are few.

In March, nearly 100 homeless created an encampment on a narrow swatch of land adjacent to Hiawatha Avenue, named “Camp Quarantine”, in a collective belief that camping outdoors was safer for avoiding the COVID-19 virus than being crowded in shelters.  Now, that encampment was cleared by bulldozers and protestors and the national guard were advancing, in a night of fires, rubber bullets and tear gas and an impending curfew. It was a horrifying situation for those displaced.

In February 2020, shortly after the Sheraton Midtown Hotel at Chicago Avenue and E. 29th St closed its doors, local real estate and hotel investor Jay Patel came forward to purchase the property for $8 million. Patel had plans to rebrand the 136-room hotel and open later in the year.

In May, with many local hotels shuttered or operating with high vacancy, a Minneapolis city council member and some community organizations approached Patel, requesting he open the hotel to homeless people who had been displaced along Lake Street. He agreed.

The volunteers sprang into action.  Comprised of people with backgrounds in medicine, public health, social work, mental health, housing, media relations and other areas – and with no designated leader – this small group of dedicated volunteers worked around the clock during the riots.  Getting the word out to the homeless, reaching out to those who could volunteer food and medical supplies, they transformed the hotel into a one-of-a-kind shelter.  Residents and volunteers guarded the property to prevent it from being set ablaze, as buildings and businesses were across the street to the west and north, just a mile north of where George Floyd took his last breath.  They have named the property, the Minneapolis Sanctuary Hotel.  A number of Patel’s staff work side-by-side with the volunteers and residents as they go through the daily paces of providing services, as a functioning hotel would.

A volunteer who preferred to go by “Ann”, not her real name, described the situation. “Within 24 hours, we had 200 homeless people here. We’ve got 150 on a wait list.  There is such a huge need for housing.  We provide masks. Residents have sanitizing responsibilities. Having rooms with running water and soap is such a huge step up from a tent city.”

Ann continued, “From a food standpoint, we are receiving donations of pre-cooked meals in individual portions. Food is coming in from a number of volunteer organizations and we greatly appreciate the meals for our residents.”

“Residents can pick up boxed meals from people serving them with masks and gloves in the dining room. They can eat there, outside or take it back to their rooms.  We have cleaning and laundry crews who are keeping the shelter in good shape. We have staff that is providing wellness checks, first aid, mental health support and harm reduction services for addicts.”

She shared, “We are committed to ensuring this space serves the community and those who are homeless. We’re also checking out other hotels to expand this model to.  We’re doing this in a truly horizontal way, there’s not one point person, we’re all just stepping into leadership and action as required.  We’re a flat, horizontal organization.  Our hope is that other communities will take notice and create Sanctuary Hotels of their own, inspired by our example.”

A group of volunteers who are operating with a shared purpose and creating an enormous impact in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, in the thick of the riots in the days following the death of George Floyd, to provide housing, healthcare and nutrition to society’s most vulnerable people – the homeless – in a vacant hotel when buildings were literally burning across  the street. Thank you, volunteers of the Minneapolis Sanctuary Hotel.

With Hennepin County receiving $200 million in stimulus money from the federal government in April, earmarked for use by December 31 to address needs stemming from the COVID-19 crisis or to be returned, wouldn’t the purchase of the Minneapolis Sanctuary Hotel, and perhaps other hotels, dedicated to the needs of the homeless, be an impactful investment?  That’s a surefire way for government and the community to work together to tackle the vexing problem of growing homelessness in Minneapolis and Hennepin County. If you agree, contact your Hennepin County commissioner and request they support the county’s purchase of hotels for the homeless.  https://www.hennepin.us/your-government/leadership/find-commissioner

The following is a press release distributed on June 6, 2020 by the volunteers of the Minneapolis Sanctuary Hotel with additional information:

“Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed, citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has.” Margaret Mead

 

In Wake of Protests, Community Opens Sanctuary Hotel in Minneapolis

Minneapolis, MN — An estimated 200 displaced and unsheltered people have turned a south Minneapolis hotel into a sanctuary in the memory of former shelter worker George Floyd.  

The push to move into the hotel came as the city mandated curfew began on Friday (May 29) when armored vehicles and national guard troops advanced on Hiawatha Avenue where an encampment of people experiencing homelessness had just been cleared, less than a mile from the epicenter of the protests. With shelters full and limited options offered by the state, people found refuge in a former Sheraton hotel on Lake Street and Chicago. Throughout the night, people came in with stories of terror from police and other white supremacists. The National Guard shot rubber bullets at community members who stood in front of the hotel to protect it as many of the surrounding buildings burned.

When the hotel owners evacuated guests the next day, the community worked with them to keep the building open and have now turned the hotel into a sanctuary for people without housing. With the support of the owners, the community is now managing the facility with crews providing meals, first aid and harm reduction support, and housekeeping services.

All available rooms have been filled at this time, but community members are seeking more hotels to serve a growing wait-list of the hundreds of people who remain unsheltered. The metro has been under increasing pressure to provide housing for all people during the pandemic, but instead they have bulldozed tents and cleared encampments in violation of CDC guidelines. On a given night, the Wilder Foundation has found that more than 700 people in Hennepin County and nearly 20,000 people in Minnesota experience homelessness while there are around 80,000 hotel rooms available in the state. 

This sanctuary is working towards offering reparations and repatriating a piece of Dakota land by turning this hotel into housing for predominantly Black and Native community members in need. A conversation is ongoing with owners of the hotel and other stakeholders to find a solution to support the sustainability of this Sanctuary over the long term. 

For those looking to support this work, the Sanctuary encourages others to follow this model and set up community-driven sanctuary shelters across the nation.

Abu Bakr, a sanctuary resident who was living in his car before the protests says, “This building represents a better chance for people. A place for people to call their own.  Even for them to be able to come in, sit down and have a drink of water. It’s a place to take refuge. Here we are grateful for George Floyd, we understand that it was his life that made this reality possible.”

Rosemary Fister, a Minneapolis community organizer says,  “George Floyd was a shelter worker. He worked at the largest homeless shelter in Minneapolis. He supported and advocated for people experiencing homelessness while he was alive, and this will be a part of his legacy.” 

Learn more at sanctuaryhotel.org. For donations, please visit gofundme.com/f/sanctuaryhotel. For ongoing updates, please follow our Facebook page at Minneapolis Sanctuary Hotel. 

 

During the COVID Crisis and Upheaval Following George Floyd’s Murder, St. Paul Fire Captain’s Purpose is to “Mitigate Emergencies and Return Things to a Safe State”

Being a firefighter has always been a dangerous job, but during a fire, you can see the smoke and flames and feel the heat. Since mid-March an invisible virus has been added into the mix, making the firefighter’s job much more challenging. During the night of May 29 and early morning of the 30th, with 55 fires set by arson added to the formula, you get a dynamic, chaotic and volatile scenario.

John Wolfsberger is a fire captain at Fire Station 6, in St. Paul, Minnesota, on the west side of downtown. For nearly twenty years, he’s served the department. For the past two years, he’s served as fire captain, in charge of one engine with a crew of four, serving a 24-hour shift.  His crew also operates a fireboat on the Mississippi River.

John has always sought roles where he could help improve the health and safety of others. Years ago, he took an emergency medicine course and following college, got hired as an EMT for a hospital emergency room.  Working in that role, he met several firefighters who talked with him about their work. Wolfsberger was intrigued, applied to the St. Paul Fire Department and was hired as a firefighter.

In St. Paul, firefighters respond to both emergency medical crises and to fires.  He says, “The job is pretty straight forward, but what isn’t clear are the emergencies they will be faced with throughout the day.”

“Historically,” John described, “firefighters have been quick to respond to a crisis. Our approach is to overwhelm an emergency. A fire gets overwhelmed and goes away quickly. Now, in the COVID-era, we take a step back. Our instinct is to rush in and overwhelm. Now, we have to move in, approach cautiously and mitigate the problem.”

“There are new procedures to follow.  We’ve taken down the number of crew members on EMS calls to two. We’re sending two people and one person is making patient contact, and it reduces the amount of PPE (personal protective equipment) that needs to be consumed on these runs and also reduces opportunities for exposure. All of our firefighters get a health screening. They are asked how they’re feeling, if they’ve been around anyone with COVID-19 and they get their temperature taken before and after each shift. Masks, gloves and gowns are worn on medical calls. We maintain distance from one another in the firehouse. Now the 6-foot rule is in effect. We wear masks all the time and keep our distance.”

“Most fire calls to the department are to seek help with small fires,” John continued. “Food has been overcooked and is burning, or there is a small fire in the garage, or an alarm is on and can’t be turned off.  Three months ago, we would send four to eight firefighters to burst on the scene. Now, we send one-person in, to diagnose and attempt to fix the situation, before bringing in others, if necessary. That keeps our firefighters safe from unnecessary exposure.”

After the murder of George Floyd on Memorial Day, May 25, protests began in Minneapolis the following day and quickly spread to St. Paul. A small percentage of the protesters began rioting, looting and burning buildings, homes and businesses.

John described, “Rioters are completely different. It got crazy early Thursday evening on the 28th. We were out all night fighting one fire after another.  There were four fires our crew fought during the last twelve hours of our shift.  Our chief told us there were between 50 – 60 fires in St. Paul that night. We were jumping from one emergency to the next. We received some reinforcements from the suburbs to different locations which is very rare. We worked a 26-hour shift fighting fires.”

To respond to the fires set by arsonists, the city beefed up the staffing of firefighters by 50%.  The chiefs set up roving strike teams, deploying all the crews and equipment in the hot spots, so they could respond fast, rather than waiting for a call in the firehouse and then responding.

While John believes his wife and family are most important in his life, he says his purpose as a fire captain is, “Mitigating emergencies and returning things to a safe state.” He and his team rescue people from dangerous situations, from fire emergencies and medical emergencies.

(Note: John’s wife, Tiffany Wolfsberger, is an ICU nurse and her story was shared on May 12, 2020 http://theboltongroup.com/frontline-icu-nurse-in-the-covid-battle-says-my-purpose-is-to-help-my-patients-feel-better/ )

Since the COVID crisis began, John believes, “The perspective towards firefighters from the greater community has changed. The role the SPFD plays hasn’t changed, but the people we serve have become more vulnerable. Between COVID and the response and outrage resulting from the Floyd murder, there is a heightened awareness that we keep people safe and there’s an appreciation, too, of first responders.”

When asked how he manages fear, John responded, “Preparedness. You are trained to do the job. Emergencies fall into a finite set of problems. Someone’s sick, there’s a fire, or there is a different type of emergency. Preparedness is the biggest and best tool to overcome fear. You don’t hear the word ‘scary’ in the firehouse. We are confident and trained. We have the training and knowledge to keep us safe.”

 

When asked what he’s learned during the COVID crisis, John said, “Other than knowing that cabin fever is not fatal, and not being sure we could handle so much isolation time and so little everything else, I’ve learned that we can handle a little bit of cabin fever and it’s not the end of the world.”

He also added, “I do think people are more aware. Essential services – hospital, fire, police – people are more mindful. Everyone sees us wearing our masks. As we interact with others, we’re wearing our masks.  We are a model on how to stay safe.  We’re required to follow these guidelines and we’re motivated to follow the guidelines as we’ve seen how people get sick. We remind others how to stay safe.”

Firefighters have had to reinvent how they respond during the COVID crisis and how they respond to fires set by arsonists during the George Floyd and police brutality protests.  And firefighters and fire captains like John Wolfsberger continue to create great impact in their service to mitigate emergencies and keeping us safe. Now, in a period of a pandemic, of an economic calamity and of social unrest, when we’re more vulnerable than ever, it’s time to appreciate the firefighters who keep us all safe.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Frustrated Mom’s Startup Company to Create Home-Administered Diagnostic Test for COVID-19 


It was a Friday afternoon in 2018 and Hopkins, MN resident Patty Post found herself at the clinic, for the third time that week, waiting for her daughter to be tested for strep throat.  On Monday it was her younger son who needed a strep test, on Wednesday it was older son, and on Friday, her daughter had a sore throat, needed a test and likely a prescription.

When Patty called her children’s pediatrician Friday morning to explain her daughter’s symptoms and request a prescription, it fell on deaf ears. “Bring her in the office and we’ll test her here,” she was told. Faced with burning yet another afternoon at the doctor’s office for a simple test, Patty asked herself, “Why can’t a strep test be administered at home? It’s a simple immunoassay. Why isn’t there a home test available for parents to administer to their children who are susceptible to strep? And if the test is positive, why shouldn’t you be able to get a treatment plan virtually and a prescription?”

A self-described “problem solver”, Patty says she caught the entrepreneurial bug when she was only ten years old, when she began marketing her babysitting services to families who vacationed near her family’s lake cottage, where she lived during the summers with her parents.

Frustrated by the status quo of going to the clinic to get checked for a simple infection, motivated Patty to start up a company of healthcare and technology experts to find a better solution to this problem. She founded Checkable Medical and became its chief executive officer.

Checkable Medical’s mission is to empower individuals to make clinical, evidence-based decisions from the comfort of their homes. They are focused on delivering innovative at-home diagnostic testing to employers and individuals.

Without having to go to the doctor, Checkable Medical’s diagnostic tests paired with a digital platform allows individuals and caregivers to administer their own tests for infectious diseases thus reducing the burden on our healthcare system and minimizing exposure to the population. Checkable Medical focused their energy and resources on developing an in-home, over-the-counter in vitro diagnostic and digital platform for the rapid identification of Group A Streptococcal bacteria

In March of 2020, as the COVID-19 crisis spread across America like wildfire, Patty and her team explored whether their technology could help in the fight against the coronavirus.  They became a distributor of a COVID serology antibody test and are now creating a platform for individuals and employers to detect antibodies of COVID from home. For individuals who test positive, they should seek the assistance of a healthcare provider. For individuals who test negative, that finding may help them in getting back to a new way of normal.

Their rapid-result antibody serology test, administered at home or at the office, will determine if the individual has the antibodies to fight COVID-19.  It is anticipated the test will detect the presence of both an acute IgM and chronic IgG immune response to infection of the COVID virus with a 95% accuracy. Patty Post’s hope is the serology antibody test will be a vital tool in reopening the economy.

Post said, “We believe the test will help identify if you’ve been exposed to the virus or have developed antibodies against the virus. We believe it can be helpful in identifying asymptomatic carriers and in identifying bigger groups of individuals who have been infected – potentially helping us get back to a more normal pace faster.”

“We’re in the early stages of a clinical trial, we will have data in late summer to submit to the FDA. Our hope is for a quick approval and we can offer the test and digital platform directly to consumers and employers.

Patty is a woman of faith and says her purpose is to serve others. She believes God has given her the gifts and nudge to create and provide diagnostic tests that can be administered around the world.

She described the heartbreaking problem of young women in parts of Africa and India who die during childbirth due to undiagnosed heart conditions caused by damage from strep infections.  She sees a day when diagnostics can be brought into rural villages of third-world countries to diagnose diseases like strep, influenza and COVID and pair positive diagnoses with antibiotics.

When asked if the COVID crisis has made her purpose more profound, she said, “Absolutely, I’ve been more purposeful since the crisis. We all have felt helpless, watching the virus coming down the pike. As a family member, you can’t visit your loved one at a hospital. We all feel a great deal of uncertainty. I’m an entrepreneur and I’m very driven to make a difference.  At Checkable Medical, we have tools and we are developing new tools. It’s our place – and it’s my place – to use my gifts and our company’s tools to make a difference.”

While Checkable Medical has regulatory hurdles yet to clear, the diagnostic tools and digital platform they offer will help consumers and companies make evidence-based healthcare decisions from home and work. Their success could make for an important tool that could boost the economy by allowing employers to safely bring their people back to work.

Patty Post is a leader who is driven by her purpose.  Through her focus, energy and leadership, she and her team are making a great impact during the pandemic.

A Reminder to Say ‘THANK U’ to the Heroes of the COVID-19 Pandemic

It’s late March, 2020 and Heather Lane’s mind is racing.  The COVID-19 crisis has her locked into her Edina, MN home with her husband and two young children.  As she horribilizes about the unknowns – fears that she and her husband could lose their jobs, fears they could lose their home, fears the people she cares about lose their lives – she knows she needs to divert her attention to something more productive, so she engages her kids in a project. 

Heather says, “While I don’t have a defined life purpose, I’ve always been guided by kindness, gratitude and inclusiveness. I support all people and am recognized for my heart. I felt like I had to do something to give thanks to all of those who are serving us.” 

Heather created  a plan. In the front yard of her home, just before the sidewalk, there is a wooden timber retaining wall made from railroad ties.  She decided to draw six identical circles with her sidewalk chalk. 

 

In each circle, Heather and her family created a unique way to colorfully recognize the many heroes of the COVID-19 pandemic. A circle represents a “COVID-19 hero group”. There is a dedicated circle for doctors, nurses, truckers, grocery workers, police, and firefighters. Now, their idea has exploded into a large effort stretching across thousands of yards in more than thirty-five states.

It all started as a colorful way to say thank you on the wall in front of the Lane family home.  

“People stop and honk all the time,” says Heather Lane. Lane says, “The artwork and thank you is meant for the heroes within the community, from first responders to those keeping the food supply chain intact.”

After the sidewalk chalk faded with recent rain, the Lanes made the tribute permanent with paint. 

Heather says, “Heroes today drive trucks, sweep the floors at the hospital, ring up groceries, deliver packages or mail, run into burning houses and navigate arguments. And many will need to treat the sick, face-to-face with coughing patients who are gasping for air while afraid and alone. All will show up regardless of their fears. If you are showing up and interacting with people for a paycheck, I see and honor you.” 

Now, Heather and her husband have made the artwork into yard signs, t-shirts and a fundraising effort, plus a way to support a local business. They’ve added two circles to the new design, honoring maintenance workers and teachers, too, as hero groups. 

“It’s really bringing everyone together too, and keeps us busy,” says Kristi Johnson from FastSigns, who helps Heather print the signs and fulfill the orders. 

Signs sell for $30 dollars each with $10 dollars from each sale going towards those facing food insecurities.

“We just wanted to give a small donation and to spread happiness and how grateful we are for them,” says Heather.

Heather also includes a letter with each sign, encouraging people to support local arts, nonprofits and small businesses. Her goal is to help as many people as possible, adding all of this is proof a sign of thanks goes a long way. In May, over 4000 signs have been sold.

“I was getting thank yous from people before we did the signs, doctors reaching out saying it meant a lot,” says Lane, “If you are out and going to work and interacting with people for a paycheck, that’s what the sign is for. We didn’t create the sign to be thanked.  We created it to thank all of these great workers. The sign is colorful, beautiful and bright. It grabs the heart.”

Heather continues, “This blew up in a big way. It reminds me there are a lot of amazing people in the world. When they see the bright colors and beauty, it makes them joyful.  We are all looking for what to do in this crisis.  The best ideas are ones to share. Planting the sign at the home of a “COVID 19 hero” is something that anyone can do. It’s taking a positive action. It has enabled us to cast aside fear.”

“Gratitude, generosity and vulnerability are good things,” Heather commented.  “I don’t think we say enough, ‘I’m proud of you,’ or give the ‘atta-boys’, we should in this world. We were willing to say ‘thank you’ and now others want to say it, too. It’s simple, it honors others and it feels nice.” 

Heather closes, “COVID-19 is one part deadly virus, and one part epic emotional roller coaster for the entire world. It is not something we are reading about in a textbook, rather living and experiencing in real time. There is no handbook on how to process this much emotion. And just when I was about to give up, when it all felt like too much, a bucket of chalk changed my perspective, changed my life.

As I stood there, looking at my house, feeling the love of strangers, I was given a divine reminder of where I get to isolate and likely shelter in place. I am HOME.  

That little house in the background – my little house, the one I’m afraid we will lose if normal people are left out of the equation – was built in 1908. It has seen its inhabitants through the 1918 Spanish flu, the sinking of the Titanic, the Great Depression, two World Wars and the rations that went along with that, the Holocaust and countless other tragedies, local and all around the globe, that made the front pages of the newspapers delivered to the front porch. 

It’s hard for me to imagine what all of the souls who lived here before me would think about this virus, or life in 2020 versus the lives they led in 1908, or 1945… But I can almost hear them whispering, “You will be OK.” So with that, I will now believe it to be true. I will be OK. My family will be OK. We will all be OK.”

Heather and her family are leading us. To say, ‘thank u’, to stay grateful and hopeful, to remember that bright colors and beauty helps us be joyful and optimistic, even during an uncertain time.  By showing us the way, by encouraging those on the frontline and recruiting others to recognize them, Heather is creating quite the impact. 

To get your own sign, visit https://thethankustore.com

Mary Bolton

Bringing Joy to Young and Old By Sharing Songs That Inspire

 

Mary BoltonHow can an elementary school music teacher make an impact on thousands of others during the COVID-19 stay-at-home crisis?  After all, teaching music at school is about active participation. Now, there is no dedicated music room, few if any musical instruments available, and physical separation and technology limitations make teaching music by Zoom a challenge.  What is a music teacher to do?

Mary Bolton’s purpose is, “I know how powerful music can be in someone’s life and how much joy and positive energy it can add. My purpose is to bring that joy to young and old by sharing songs that inspire.” She lives her purpose each day as an elementary school music teacher and a musical performer. Mary’s challenge during the COVID-19 period, like so many others, is how to stay true to her purpose while we are sheltered-in-place?

Every year, Mary’s approach on day one of school has always been to make her learning environment welcoming, exciting and fun.  She says, “I greet my students, show them love, encouragement and support in class. I’m interested in and kind to them. I’ve found that approach works well. If they feel safe and my love for them, they’ll generally return that love, and it makes it more likely they will learn and love music, which is my goal. If they love music as children, they’ll love music the rest of their lives.”

When Minnesota Governor Tim Walz shut down schools and ordered stay-at-home in mid-March, schools began distant learning shortly afterwards. Mary and her colleagues, using a new technology platform called Quaver, are now able to reach children at home so they can continue to learn music. Quaver provides songs, allows students to play a range of virtual instruments and learning games on their devices. She supplements Quaver with her own videos, music challenges and messages to stay connected with her students and keep them inspired with music. She looks forward to the day when all can be reunited at school.

In addition to her daily teaching, Mary felt there was more impact that could be made to help others through music. As a lover of live music, and with live music venues now closed indefinitely, Mary took matters in her own hands. She decided to lift the hearts and spirits of those who are missing live music. She decided to give them hope and inspiration.  And for an hour or so, she decided to help them forget their worries.

Starting Friday, March 20 at 8 pm, Mary began to broadcast live performances from her Orono home using the Facebook Live function from her page @MaryBoltonMusic.  Mary said, “People miss going out and hearing live music. We’re all stuck at home for the foreseeable future. But people can still enjoy live music.  We just have to be a little more creative.”

Performing on keyboard, Mary described her style of music. “My inspiration is to create my own version of songs that I’ve loved for years and songs that I’ve just discovered. I love all musical genres including, rock, country, folk and jazz. Some of the artists and groups who have inspired me are: Sheryl Crow, Alison Krauss, The Beatles, Bob Dylan, Tom Petty, Norah Jones, John Prine, Sade, Pat Benetar, Lady Gaga and Journey.”

 

Since her first livecast – which Mary calls her #VirtualMusicParty – Mary has sung and performed seven consecutive Fridays at 8 pm, typically performing 12 to 15 songs.  Her 23-year old son, Nick, who has returned home from southern California for the stay-at-home duration, solos two songs and joins Mary for one or two duets.

Singing and performing songs from over fifty artists, Mary’s fan, Alex Divizio of Virginia, comments, “I love your style, Mary. You can sing everything from Andy Williams to Amy Winehouse.”

Each hour-long #VirtualMusicParty is full of audience participation and engagement. Mary’s husband, Chuck, serves as the behind-the-scenes emcee.  He describes his role as, “Roadie, soundman, videographer, photographer, social media specialist, carnival barker, chef, bartender and dishwasher.”  Chuck asks people to post where they are watching from, what they are drinking and gives folks shout outs throughout the show. He interjects humor, banters back-and-forth with Mary and teases the audience to click “hearts for Mary” in order to hear more songs. Each week he shares some fun facts about Mary, a segment he calls Something About Mary.  Mary’s biggest fans “share” her broadcast to their Facebook pages, so family and friends can view, resulting in each week’s #VirtualMusicParty being seen by over 5000 people.

Mary’s fans hail from across the US, with international viewers from Canada, Japan and Taiwan, also joining the fun. Here’s what her fans say about Mary’s weekly performances:

Ellen Townsend of Hayward, WI says, “I really enjoy Mary’s Facebook Live music performances every Friday night. It’s something fun and enjoyable to look forward to after a long week working outside the home during the current situation. Mary is so talented and a joy to listen to. Her events are very well scripted and done so professionally with the help of her husband Chuck. The songs she performs are familiar and easy listening, with a different theme every week which adds to the fun.” Ellen’s husband Roy chimes in, “Every Friday morning my wife reminds me, ‘We’ve got a concert tonight!’ We look forward to them every week. Mary is a great singer and musician.”

Barb Piper of Northfield, MN says, “I like the whole family affair. Her husband and son supporting her. I enjoy the connecting of people from all over the country. I like that she is on the ‘big stage’ along with all the greats like Gaga, whomever is doing FB Live.”

A young couple in Frankfort, KY, Will Bolton and Haley Hardin, describe their views of the #VirtualMusicParty, “I have really missed family and friends during the COVID outbreak. On Friday nights, when Mary and Nick sing, I feel like I’m with them. Thank you,” writes Will. Haley adds, “I love watching Mary’s Friday night performances. She sings beautifully and needs to keep doing them. Also, I enjoy watching Nick perform.”

From Taipei, Taiwan, Apo Hsu writes, “Bravo, bravo, bravi tutti! Thank you! What a joy this is. Encore and more, Mary!”

Orono, MN residents George and Jacki and Jones tune in weekly, too. Jacki says, “We look forward to the #VirtualMusicParty every week. Your voice brings us much happiness, Mary. Beautiful!” George comments, “Mary brings great joy to all her listeners. In these times, music is the best medicine.”

Mary’s passionate about music and she is creating quite the impact, for both her students and her loyal fans of @MaryBoltonMusic. She says, “My passion for music began as a child listening to music on our big stereo with my dad, listening to my mom play the piano and playing the French horn with my sister. Since then, I was part of the school band, choir and musical theatre. In college, I decided to pursue music education and I turned my passion into my profession. I’ve been living my passion of sharing my love of music through teaching and performing for over 25 years.”

During the COVID-19 crisis, with many suffering from fear, loneliness and grief, Mary Bolton is lifting hearts. She’s living with purpose, passion and having a great impact on others during a time of need.  At a time when we could all use a little more inspiration, she’s bringing joy to young and old by sharing songs that inspire.