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Bringing Your Company’s Purpose To Life: 4 Steps to a Purpose-Driven Client Experience

In our recent post, you discovered that purpose is the secret ingredient of extraordinary companies. If you’ve done the work, you reflected on the questions to unlock that noble purpose statement for your company. You’ve committed to a higher purpose and you and your team members are genuinely passionate about making a difference in the marketplace. You believe in the good work your firm does. Your company’s products and services make people’s lives and the planet better.

With this noble and honorable purpose statement now in place, here’s the big question for you:

How do you bring your purpose to life?

With great care and on-going commitment, you design both a purpose-driven client experience and a purpose-driven team member (employee) experience.

Let’s focus today on the purpose-driven client experience. Why? As iconic leadership expert Peter Drucker stated, “The purpose of business is to create and keep a customer.”  When you operate with purpose when serving your clients, something remarkable can happen.

Here are the four keys for creating a purpose-driven client experience.

  1. Define your brand position

Step one is to create a concise statement that details how your firm differs from and is better in meeting your client’s needs than your competitors. The following are reflection questions to create your brand position statement:

  • What do we do better than anyone else in the world?
  • What difference has our product or service made in the lives of our clients?
  • When would and wouldn’t they use our brand vs the competition?
  • What is the emotional benefit we provide our clients?
  • How do we make them feel?
  • What would they lose if we ceased to exist?
  • As we serve our clients, what makes our hearts sing?

Example: The Bolton Group LLC is the #1 resource to guide medical technology, life sciences and healthcare CEOs in creating massive value so their stakeholders thrive.

Make sure all team members know, understand and can articulate your brand position statement with clients, so clients know your firm is unique.

  1. Create a one-liner making your client the hero

Step two is to make your client the hero of the story. Your role, and that of your brand is not to be the hero, but the guide.  Your client doesn’t want another hero. They want to be the hero of their story.

What is success to your client? How do your clients wish to feel and what do they want? Your job is to help your client solve their biggest problem and/or capitalize on their biggest opportunity. What role will you play in your client’s journey? Create a one-liner of how you and your brand will make the client a hero.

Example: I’m Chuck Bolton, the guide who helps medtech, life sciences and healthcare CEOs thrive. Making you the hero of your magnificent story.

  1. Use the clock model to strengthen client touch points

Now is the time to do a brand audit  – an assessment of the positive and negatives – of every point where your firm connects with the client. Each component influences your client’s perception of your firm and each component must be supportive of your company purpose.  This is where you adjust and clean up any problems.

A useful model to conduct this exercise is to think of a clock.  To what extent is each component reflective of your company’s purpose? Which needs to be adjusted in order to be consistent with purpose? Which component is doing well and is consistent with purpose?

Pre-purchase. A client enters your brand world at the pre-purchase stage, think 12 to 4.  Pre-purchase components include advertising, tradeshows, social media, public relations, events and sponsorships.

Purchase is 4 to 8 on the clock. The components include distribution, packaging, store design, user reviews, financing, user generated reviews.

Post-purchase is 8 to 12. The components include customer service, loyalty programs and warranty programs.

How to strengthen your client touch points?

First, put your client in the center. What is most important to them?

Secondly, look at the client experience holistically around the brand. Does your purpose get reflected like you intend?

Thirdly, look at your competitors. What can you learn from them?

Fourth, Where is your firm’s opportunity to stand out? Where is the world headed? Where’s the greatest variance? With your limited capital, where can you be world-class in your sector? Where can you gain the greatest return on investment with shifts you make to your client touch points?

When Apple launched Apple Stores in 2001, many were skeptical of these expensive and airy retail stores that just displayed a few products. Experienced consumer electronic chains like Gateway, CompUSA and others were in decline.  But the customer experience Steve Jobs and team wanted was not to have metal boxes thrust at their customers. They believed there was power in focusing on the pre-purchase touch points, allowing customers to try out and learn about the products. When customers experimented and learned, they could see the potential the products had in empowering their lives in the future. They would develop an emotional connection, and sales would follow. Apple took a decidedly different approach than their competitors. As they prepared for the launch of Apple Stores, they asked a more empowering question: How do we enrich lives?

As they visualized the experience of their clients, they developed the following statements to guide their efforts in the creation of the stores:

  • A store that enriches lives has a non-commission sales floor. Instead of clerks or sales people, it would hire geniuses and concierges.
  • A store that enriches lives hires for empathy and passion.
  • A store that enriches lives greets you as you step foot inside.
  • A store that enriches lives let you play with the products.
  • A store that enriches lives is located where people live their lives.

Better questions led to better innovations. The vision to enrich lives served as the Apple Stores’ True North. Enriching lives still remains at the heart of the company’s mission.  The more technologically advanced our society becomes, the more we need to go back to the basic fundamentals of human connection. Empathy is one of the greatest creators of positive energy.

Once you’ve completed your clock model to identify and strengthen client touch points, defining your brand identity, you can create an explicit purpose-driven client story to serve as a narrative for how you’ll treat your clients moving forward. Just like Apple did with their stores. Now it’s your turn to create that purpose-driven client story.

  1. Construct your purpose-driven client story

Create a story of how you and your brand make your client a hero.

“We see our customers as invited guests to a party, and we are the hosts. It’s our job every day to make every important aspect of the customer experience a little bit better.” Jeff Bezos, Amazon

There are eight steps to the purpose-driven client story:

  1. Who is your client and what do they want? What is their definition of success? How can you enrich their lives?
  2. What’s your client’s biggest problem? What price do they pay when they suffer from the problem? What is the benefit when that problem gets fixed? What are the stakes? How are their lives enriched?
  3. Your client meets a guide – you armed with your brand, products and/or service – who brings both empathy and the authority to fix the client’s problem.
  4. You give them a plan. As your client’s guide, you have a proven process (a product or service) that when your client implements, will fix their problem and make their life better.
  5. You call them to action. Clients are people and people are often reluctant to try new approaches. You remind them of the price they pay when the problem is prolonged. You describe the future benefit from accepting the call to action. You invite them to take action, on what will become a transformational journey for them.
  6. That ends in a success. With your client, you create a vivid picture of what success will look like when the work is completed. The desired future state.
  7. That helps them avoid failure. You remind the client they will not face the downside of their problem when they are guided by you and use your proven process.
  8. That helps them transform. When they follow you and implement their plan, change happens. They become better at their work, their company gets better, their stakeholders benefit and they transform, becoming a better person, too.

As a firm that has a noble purpose and a commitment to improving the lives of people, there is no doubt you have knowledge of compelling client stories, even if you haven’t organized it exactly in this purpose-driven client story format. As a next step, write out your “customer as hero” stories, using this eight-step framework. If you have sub-brands or different product offerings, you will want to create a hero story for each brand, division or product.

These stories should be widely shared within in your firm, so everyone understands how the company’s purpose is brought to life as you serve your clients.

As you engage your clients today and in the future, share your client stories and use the client story framework directly with them, engaging them in the questions and in creating the story of their success and transformation.  Your clients will feel your commitment to making them the hero of their stories. The effect will be a magnetic pull toward you and your company and will set you apart from your competition.  As the guide, you make the client the hero of the story – every time.

Four powerful keys for bringing your purpose to life as you serve your clients

  1. Define your brand position
  2. Create a one-liner making your client the hero
  3. Use the clock model to strengthen client touch points
  4. Construct your purpose-driven client story

Implementing these four ideas is an impactful approach in making certain your clients experience your firm’s unique, noble purpose. These ideas bring your purpose to life for your clients – the most critical external stakeholder to sustaining your company’s long-term success.

Using Your Purpose Story to Pivot

When you read her bio and then meet her, you can’t help but being impressed with Rachel.

In her early 50s, she’s Ivy-League educated, has an MBA from one of the top business schools in the world, speaks multiple languages and holds a senior level global role for a leading healthcare company. With her educational and career background, it’s no surprise that she’s smart and strategic. But a high IQ doesn’t always transfer to high emotional intelligence, or EQ. Rachel is both self-aware and socially aware. Polite, well-spoken and empathetic, she brings the right combination of heart and head, the right ingredients to one day become the CEO of her $2 billion global company.

But Rachel had a problem.

After three years, she had doubts her company was right for her.  As we got to know one another, she confided she wasn’t feeling good about the company, she’d lost her passion and wanted to get her juice back.  When she experienced the nagging feelings her company may not be the right fit, she’d stuff them away, and immerse herself deeply in her work.

She described her boss, the CEO, as “old school, low energy and fear-based, who didn’t like open debate.” His presence created, in her words, a “certain toxicity.” She rationalized that she had a big role and was expected to get results, that she was paid well, and that every company and every boss brings both positives and negatives. She wondered, “Is it me? Can I thrive in a place where I can’t communicate with my boss and the team with complete candor and openness?”

She worked hard and felt a little cheated that she could not find more joy in her work, particularly given the effort she invested. She sensed the CEO may not have had complete confidence in her and she was concerned she might fail in his eyes and be asked to leave.

I asked Rachel if she had defined her purpose. Purpose is the overarching principle that gives your life meaning. It’s the forward-pointing arrow, that gives you clarity and helps you get out of bed in the morning. She said she hadn’t given much thought to purpose of late. I provided Rachel some materials on discovering her purpose and that’s where her story begins. Rachel describes below in her own words, in her purpose story, how she uncovered her purpose and how it led her to make some important changes in her life.

“When I was 23 years old, I wanted to see the world and do something physically challenging. Many of my classmates who I had studied abroad with in China traveled to Tibet and raved about it. So a year after graduating from college, and after doing some research, I signed up with an Australian expedition company to do a thirty-day hike in the Himalayas. Traveling on my own, I signed up to join a group of ten other individuals, all strangers to me, ranging in age from twenty-somethings to couples in their thirties and forties. There was one couple in their late forties. I was the only American among this group of Aussies. We had one guide, a bunch of mules who did the heavy lifting, and a handful of sherpas.

“The first few days I was filled with energy and excitement and we trekked an average of thirteen miles each day. As each day went by, my energy and excitement started to wane. The poor sleep, severe altitude sickness, the lack of a warm shower or bath, and eating the same food (mutton, nonetheless) slowly, but surely, chipped away my energy. Little had I appreciated the luxury of standing under a shower with hot water pouring down on me. Little had I appreciated the feeling of being clean, head-to-toe. Little had I appreciated biting into a juicy watermelon or a hot New York-style pizza. Thirty days later, after having summited five mountains ranging from ten to fifteen thousand feet, each time with altitude-induced head-bursting migraines, and only sponge-bathing in a pure, frigid glacial stream, I not only appreciated all of these life luxuries but actually couldn’t stop thinking of them. It didn’t help that at day twenty, a kerosene tank leaked on the food, resulting in much of the food being discarded. At that point, I learned to appreciate the mutton that I was so tired of as we had to settle with only dahl, rice, and potatoes for the last ten days. By the time we stumbled into the city of Leh, more than three hundred miles away, I was simultaneously thoroughly worn out and fatigued, and deeply proud of my accomplishment, having discovered a deep well of tenacity and potential.

“I dug deep into my reserve and courageously faced each day when I had no choice but to tackle the day’s trek. I found that I had resilience to keep going. Our group was out in the middle of nowhere, among nature’s majestic mountains, lush and fertile landscape, and stark and barren scenery, sometimes not seeing another soul outside of our expedition group for nearly a week. I experienced the forces and beauty of nature and was humbled and awed by its power. I learned that it’s when we are pushed to the limits of discomfort, sometimes on the brink of feeling broken, that we have the opportunity to open ourselves up and tap into our reserve to unleash our strength. These lessons from my expedition have stayed with me and carried me into day-to-day life, helping me to navigate through life’s twists and turns. It has taught me that power and strength come through vulnerability and openness to move toward the unknown. And this experience confirmed that by embracing discomfort, changes, and new experiences, I am able to surprise myself in discovering the potential that exists within me.

“This experience helped clarify my purpose statement: To courageously dig deep to unleash potential as powerful as Nature. Today I live that purpose in all aspects of my life. I have the confidence to shape my future—and whatever circumstances are thrown my way—when I reflect on my trek in the Himalayas and my purpose.

“The process of clarifying my purpose and identifying my passions caused me to reflect deeply on my career. I’ve been fortunate to have led companies in the healthcare products sector. About three years ago, I joined a new company to oversee its North American business. After a successful two year run in my first assignment, I was asked to take on even bigger role at the company. On paper, it was an impressive role. I had great responsibility with many people reporting into me, I was compensated well, and served as a valuable member of our company’s executive team.

“But I felt something was missing. I wasn’t passionate about the company or its culture. The company was very different from the company where I had thrived. It was hierarchical, traditional, and low energy, run by a CEO who verbally encouraged the opinions of others but his actions didn’t support the verbal encouragement. People operated within an environment of fear, and therefore they aspired to “fly under the radar.” The climate could be described as collegial at the surface level, but honest, open debate where the best ideas win wasn’t truly welcomed or encouraged.

“While there were many positive aspects of the company, I knew this was not the environment or culture for me to thrive long term. I had known this for some time deep inside my soul, but I ignored those feelings, and had grown numb to the situation by throwing myself into my work. My team and I delivered results and put points on the board, while I overlooked the uneasiness of not really fitting in. I was unable to fully commit myself to this company.

“As I embarked on the journey to define my purpose, and reflected on my experience in the Himalayas and how I had lived my life, I strove to operate by courageously digging deep to tap into my potential and live powerfully. That was the true me. And being honest with myself—while I had the big job and the trappings that went along with it—I wasn’t living true to my purpose and values. It was at that time that I knew I needed to find a different environment so I could flourish and then help others flourish, too.

“Being clear about my purpose and my passions allowed me to take the courageous next step of resigning. I transitioned with honesty and integrity, leaving the people and position in a good place. This departure gave me an unexpected sense of relief. As I embarked on my search, I felt a sense of great optimism about what the future held. While I was a bit uncertain as I began the journey, and I didn’t know my exact destination, I had a strong sense of where I was headed. I believed I would know the destination when I saw it. I was confident I’d find the place where I could dig deep courageously to unleash potential as powerful as nature, and where I could create impact and value for myself and others. I was confident I’d be able to help others be successful and grow in an open and transparent environment. I had great faith the best was yet to come.”

Now, six months later, after writing her purpose story, Rachel found her dream job. She accepted the chief executive officer role of a smaller, privately-held company in the women’s health industry. She’s passionate about the space, the company, and culture, and she is confident she will make a meaningful difference in growing and shaping the future of this company. She states, “Had I not clarified my purpose and my plan to create impact, there is no way I would be in this role today.”

When you’re clear about your purpose, it serves as your north star. When you write and share your purpose story, it’s healing and liberating. Sharing your purpose story is the most generous thing you can do.  Sharing your purpose statement and story will inspire others to write and share theirs, too. Live by your purpose and purpose story, that’s the recipe for living a life of great impact. Just like Rachel.

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 George Floyd Protests Have Already Changed Society – And it’s Just the Beginning!

My wife, Mary, and I visited the makeshift memorial honoring George Floyd last Saturday in south Minneapolis.

We viewed the memorials and the signs in front of the now famous Cup Foods at the intersection of E. 38th Street and Chicago Ave. A church youth group arrived on the scene and the youth pastor led us all in an 8:46 countdown, the time ex-Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin’s knee was on the neck of George Floyd during his murder.

We wondered what it must have been like to suffer as George Floyd did, while he narrated his own death? We wondered about the fear he must have felt as he suffered and had his very life breath suffocated out of him? We wondered what type of monster Derek Chauvin must be, to do what he cruelly did, torturing and taking another human’s life? We wondered why the three other police officers did not intervene, even physically pulling Chauvin off of the handcuffed Floyd, while he continued kneeling on George’s neck?  We wondered how people who were sworn to uphold the law, to protect the citizens of Minneapolis, could have participated in a brutal murder?

Our time at the memorial was deeply moving.  As we slowly and silently walked to our parked car, Mary looked at me, with tears in her eyes, and behind her facemask, she uttered one word. “Enough!”

Enough!

We’ve had enough.

Americans have had enough.

People of color have experienced racial injustice and systemic inequities across the US for four hundred years. Enough. Enough of seeing black Americans suffering at the hands of the criminal justice system and of hundreds of years of systemic racism. Enough of the police brutality. Enough of the injustice. Enough of the hazardous environmental risks black Americans face in their communities. Enough of lousy education and healthcare in inner cities. Enough of the discrimination in employment. Enough of the discrimination in housing and lending. Enough of the other systemic laws, policies, practices, biases and behaviors that prevent people of color from participating in the America that middle-class white people enjoy.

While the country experiences the pandemic of COVID-19, it also suffers from a pandemic of racial injustice. For one, we’ll hopefully have a vaccine for the cure. For the other, there will never be a vaccine, but that doesn’t mean we should not pursue a cure.

If the murder of George Floyd is not the tipping point for changing the racial oppression that exists, what could possibly be?  The time is now. This is America’s wake up call.

The good news: the death of George Floyd and the ensuing protests have already started changing our society – and it’s just beginning.

When George Floyd was eulogized by the Rev. Al Sharpton at his funeral on Tuesday, June 9, 2020, he described George as “an ordinary brother from Houston’s housing projects who nobody thought much about”, which makes his central role in a generational movement that much more powerful.

“God took the rejected stone and made him the cornerstone of a movement that’s going to change the whole wide world,” Sharpton said.

“Your family is going to miss you George, but your nation is going to always remember your name. Because your neck was one that represents all of us, and how you suffered is how we all suffer,” he added.

Truer words have never been spoken, Reverend Sharpton.

Younger brother Rodney Floyd said, “If he was told he would have to sacrifice his life to bring the world together, and knowing him, I know he would’ve did it.” Source 1: CNN, The Rev. Al Sharpton remembers George Floyd as an ‘ordinary brother’ who changed the world, Eric Levenson, Gregory Lemos and Amir Vera, June 9, 2020

George Floyd’s 6-year-old daughter Gianna, sitting on the shoulders of George’s boyhood friend, ex-NBA player Stephen Jackson, smiled in a video that has now gone viral and said, “Daddy changed the world.”

After two weeks of largely peaceful protests in response to the murder of George Floyd, it is becoming clearer that the Black Lives Matter movement is upending the way many white Americans view policing in this country.

“Ladies and gentlemen, we’ve got to deal with the denial of the promise of this nation to so many people for so long,” Joe Biden, the Democratic presidential candidate said. “It’s about who we are, what we believe, and maybe most importantly, who we want to be.”

Biden called on Americans to look through Gianna’s eyes and question why racial injustice exists.

“Looking through your eyes, we should also be asking ourselves why the answer is so often too cruel and painful,” he said. “Why, in this nation, do too many black Americans wake up knowing that they could lose their life in the course of just living their life? Why does justice not roll like a river or righteousness like a mighty stream? Why?”

“Ladies and gentlemen, we can’t turn away. We must not turn away. We cannot leave this moment thinking, we can once again turn away from racism,” said Biden.

It looks like attitudes are changing in America.

Rev. Al Sharpton said, “When I looked this time and saw marches where, in some cases, young whites outnumbered the blacks marching, I know that it’s a different time and a different season.”

On Monday, CNN released a poll showing that 84 percent of respondents – including 88 percent of white respondents – viewed the peaceful protests as justified.” In contrast, 67 percent of respondents overall and 67 percent of white respondents answered the question similarly during a 2016 Black Lives Matter protest.

Politico’s Tim Alberta noted on Sunday, there has been an enormous jump in the number of poll respondents – and particularly white poll respondents – who believe that black people are more likely to be victims of excessive police force in this country, from 33 percent overall and 26 percent among white respondents in 2014 to 57 percent overall and 49 percent among white Americans in a survey taken the week of June 1.

“In my 35 years of polling, I’ve never seen opinion shift this fast or deeply,” wrote conservative pollster Frank Luntz in response to the numbers. “We are a different country today than just 30 days ago.” Source 2: Slate.com/news-and-politics/2020/06/George-floyd-protests-achieve-change.html

On June 7, a veto-proof majority of Minneapolis city council pledged to disband and defund the city’s police department.  Across the country, there are calls to cut police budgets, reinvent the role of the police and to disempower police unions.

The past two weeks has also witnessed the prosecution of police in Minneapolis for the officers who took part in the Floyd killing and in Buffalo, NY for the assault of an elderly man who was protesting peacefully.

The past two weeks have resulted in some massive changes. All good. But there is so much action required to fix the systemic wrongs. It can be overwhelming.

Let’s start the change by changing ourselves. I wish I had the magical formula for changing racial injustice. Unfortunately, I don’t. I’m no expert in what it must be like being black in America. But I am willing to invest time and effort to learn.

I want to see change. Here are four practices I’m committing to. Perhaps they could be useful to you, too.

  1.  Reflect. Check your heart. Be mindful. Calm yourself. Breathe. Pray. Reflect on your unconscious prejudices and attitudes. Know your implicit biases and commit to changing them. For more on identifying your implicit biases: https://www.aafp.org/journals/fpm/blogs/inpractice/entry/implicit_bias.html
  2. Listen. Connect with your African American colleagues and friends and listen. Seek first to understand. Put yourself in their shoes. Ask for their views about what is happening in our country? What it’s like to be black in America? Ask what you can do to be a better friend or colleague for them?  Ask if they could make one wish of white Americans, what would it be? Remember you’re not there to talk, but to listen. Here are useful tips in initiating what can be an intimidating discussion about race and racial injustice: https://www.opportunityagenda.org/explore/resources-publications/lessons-talking-about-race-racism-and-racial-justice
  3. Learn. Read and listen to works from black writers, bloggers and podcasters. Listen to podcasts at blacklivesmatter.com, and from other news sources where those who have experienced systemic racism discuss their experiences and the America they know. Do this to learn more and be better advocates and allies for black Americans.
  4.  Act. Take one action to make an impact. Do it frequently. Make a call. Write an email. Watch a video. Read an article. Attend a protest. Talk with your friends. Pray. Mentor youth. Serve others. Look for ways – small and large – to contribute your time, talent and treasure. To repair what has been physically broken. To repair bonds broken between people.

We’re facing two pandemics in America that have now become inextricably intertwined. One pandemic arrived 90 days ago and requires us to be cautious about where we go, with whom we come in physical contact and how we move about. Many of us find ourselves with more time on our hands.

The other pandemic has been around 400 years, but our awareness of it has been heightened in the past three weeks. We now have a rich opportunity to reflect, listen, learn, act and grow. Let’s take advantage of the silver linings of both pandemics so we can each – individually and collectively – make an impact.

When each of us changes ourselves, we create ripples that change society for the better. When we change ourselves, and we create virtuous ripples, those daunting systemic laws, practices, policies, biases and behaviors won’t be so entrenched. Together, we’ll change society for the better. It won’t be easy. It won’t be fast. But it can be done. It must be done. So, everyone, regardless of the color of their skin, experiences liberty and justice for all.

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. 

 

Be a Beacon of Light When Others are Hopeless: How Pierre Paul Led Others to Clean Up the Epicenter of the Minneapolis Riots

As Pierre Paul watched the video of the gruesome torture, suffocation and murder of George Floyd by the knee of the Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin, his heart ached.  When the peaceful protests deteriorated into a riot, with looting, fires and destruction, he saw a community hurting and trying to come to grips with what was happening.

Pierre said, “I was pulled toward the hurt I saw in Minneapolis. I was hurting and needed to heal. I saw a community that was hurting and needed some glue to help it heal. I knew I needed to get involved, to try to help.”

Pierre texted his friend, Emma Hoyhtya, asked if she would help him and she agreed. On Saturday morning, May 30, they left her home in Shoreview for Lake Street in Minneapolis to volunteer in the cleanup.

As Emma described it, “We saw all of the people with brooms. People were cleaning in full force. The shattered glass was being swept up. People showed up for Lake Street. We found a school for disabled adults that had graffiti on the exterior walls. People were handing out supplies and we scrubbed off the graffiti with a product called “Goof Off!” which cleans it off walls. Then we swept out a Total Wireless storefront.  From there, we rolled up to Target.”

At Target on Lake Street, they found the prime spot for the looting and destruction. People had taken shopping carts and smashed the windows. Electronics and other high value items had been stolen. Together they went through the side door of the Target building, where water was flowing out.

Emma described the scene, “A buildup of water sludge rose up past your ankles. There was a broken pipe spewing water.  Looters had squirted condiments, opened up cereal boxes and dogfood bags and spread it. It was nasty and smelled foul.”

She continued, “Pierre got himself propped on a shelf. He is contemplative. He surveyed the area and thought about what to do. Then he said, ‘Emma, one person needs to start the cleanup.’ He picked up a shelf to push the sludge out of the door. I followed him.  Then three people asked if they could help out and joined in. Others picked up larger items like large bottles of pop, put them back on the shelves so we could push out the water sludge. More people joined, bringing shovels and brooms. Volunteers began sweeping the debris into trash bags and more people joined the effort. We went deeper into the store. All the time pushing water out the doors. An assembly line was created to fill the bags with debris. We really cleaned up the store.”

Emma said, “You could tell Pierre was the leader. He stood on a bucket and used his powerful bass voice to invite others to join us and shared what they could do to help. There was no social media outreach. It was all grassroots, on the ground volunteers. There was a curfew and major roads in the metro were closing by 7 pm Saturday night, so Pierre got everyone wrapped up, invited them back on Sunday and we headed back to my home.”

Emma continued, “On Sunday morning, people met up at Target again to finish the cleanup. Pierre asked, ‘Could we salvage any of the food?  Other than the food damaged by water, could we save the canned and packaged food and get it to those in need?’ He then called Target’s corporate office and they gave us permission to give away the food that was salvageable. He organized a group of volunteers who began packing bags of food for pick up by those in need and for distribution to local food banks.”

She added, “One of the volunteers called a waste management company they had a connection to that brought in trucks to haul away the garbage. it was really beautiful with so many people coming together. By that time, Target corporate had arrived and arranged for the store to be boarded up.”

Pierre commented, “What’s really important is you see people out here with hijabs, you see people out here who are wearing Black Lives Matter shirts, people who are wearing Cops Lives Matter shirts, but none of that matters because we’re all coming together for one common good and that’s to bring justice to what’s happening. Hopefully, we can bring back justice to African Americans who feel that has been taken away from them – because it has been. We can bring justice back for Target and other businesses that have been damaged, too, by helping cleanup. This started with just a few people and then over a thousand joined us. It’s exactly what we need to do. We should come together like this on every issue. It’s sad it took this (death of George Floyd) for us to come together.”

Emma says about Pierre, “I admire Pierre’s ability to take an idea and then go implement it, inviting others to join him. He jumps in and leads with his heart. His energy is contagious, and others want to follow him. He’s such an amazing leader.”

When asked about his purpose, Pierre commented, “My goal in life, my driving force, is to be a beacon of light when people are hopeless.”

Pierre Paul is a 21-year old graduate student from Bradley University in Peoria, IL where he’s pursuing a master’s degree in non-profit/public management.

On Thursday May 28, Pierre saw the hurt and hopelessness in Minneapolis on tv and decided to do something about it.  Pierre had never been to Minnesota, but as the speaker of the assembly at Bradley University, he met Emma, who is now president of the student senate, and knew she lived near Minneapolis, the only person he knew in Minnesota.  They exchanged text messages, Emma told Pierre he’d have a place to stay and Pierre hopped in his car, driving the eight hours to Shoreview from Peoria.

Pierre says, “In Minneapolis, I was bringing hope to others and they were giving hope to me, too.  That hope gives me drive and life. We’re fighting for justice. Justice that’s been missing for 400+ years in the US. We need to keep pushing. There’s a systemic problem. The criminal justice system is biased, it hasn’t adapted, and the flood gates open with officers who are bad and create racial injustice.  George Floyd is the fire we needed lit. Justice shouldn’t have to be served, but it needs to be served. Peacefully.”

When asked about his passions, Pierre described, “I’m most passionate about change. Creating an optimistic society where dreams really come true for youth. Where we live together in a world with no limitations or boundaries due to the pigment of our skin, our sexual preferences and gender. I’d like to see us create change that is lasting. One raindrop in the oceans creates ripples, and those create more ripples. And those ripples cause generational growth. A future that is better for all races of people.”

He added, “I felt this weekend in Minneapolis, people were brought together who needed hope. We shined a light that protesting isn’t destruction. We protested together for equality and there are many facets of the movement. Many need justice and justice doesn’t come in just one size. This weekend, in a small way, we cleaned up that Target store together. We came together. Imagine if we came together to tackle all of our big problems?”

Living his purpose of “Being a beacon of light when others are hopeless”, Pierre, a 21-year old graduate student who’d never been to Minnesota before May 29, led and lifted others up who needed it, creating quite an impact.

Pierre Paul’s future appears to be very bright indeed. Keep living by your purpose and creating an impact, Pierre!

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.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Making A Critical Connection: New Non-Profit Matches Seniors in Need with Volunteers

As a man who has a deep desire to be kind to all people, Plymouth, MN resident Jeff Johnson described his purpose: “To make life better for others.  We’re all put here for a reason, to serve others as best we can.”

It was late March and Jeff had been speaking with a few friends from his church about the COVID-19 crisis. Everyone was in shock about how drastically life as we knew it changed in just a few short days. Together, they discussed their concerns and the unknown consequences from the virus. People were worried about the health of their families and friends. People were out of work and some were in dire financial straits. Some suffered from depression and now self-quarantined, many felt isolated.  Together, they agreed that something had to be done.

In his job as Hennepin County Commissioner for District 7, Jeff was receiving calls from his county constituents, too, who felt the need to do something.  Many now had extra time on their hands and sought to volunteer.

Johnson recalled, “I was receiving a lot of calls from people who wanted to help. There just is not a mechanism in government for absorbing a huge influx of volunteers. We needed something to help connect the volunteers with those who were in need of help.”

A few days after his discussion with his church friends, Jeff learned of a new organization in Kentucky called the Louisville COVID-19 Match program. The purpose of this non-profit was simple.  Connect older people at-risk with a younger volunteer who was not at high risk so errands can be run, check-in calls can be made, and people can be helped.  Jeff contacted the coordinator of the Louisville program to learn about the details.

Immediately following that call, Jeff dialed in a few of his close friends from church to continue their discussion about doing something to assist those in need. During that call, the idea of Northstar Neighbor was conceived. They believed for every person in need, there’s another person ready and willing to help. The few volunteers got to work building a website, developing a launch plan and getting the word out.

The purpose of Northstar Neighbor is to spread a message of hope and compassion by serving neighbors in Minnesota who are at higher risk of COVID-19 complications.  One-on-one connections are made between a healthy volunteer who has low COVID-19 risk factors with a senior or other high-risk person in the same community for remote friendship, conversation and help with delivery of groceries or prescriptions.  Northstar Neighbor is not supported or sponsored by any governmental entity.

Johnson described Northstar Neighbor, “First and foremost, it’s about conversation and companionship and not being alone. We just match a volunteer who has time to help somebody who needs some extra help right now.  It’s nothing complex here at all, just a lot of people who need a lot of help and there’s people who want to help. We’re just connecting them.”

In the first three days of the program, with the help of media interviews and social media, over 100 volunteers were received and a couple dozen matches were made. By Memorial Day weekend, over 400 volunteers had been received and nearly 100 matches have been made.

The founding volunteers put together the matches, make an introduction and let the volunteer and the senior take it from there.  The nonprofit asks volunteers to call their senior every few days to check in on them and to pick up groceries or prescriptions for them if needed.  Once confirmed the volunteer has made the call, Northstar Neighbor moves out of the picture. Hopefully, a friendship is developed.

Johnson adds, “We now have volunteers who are calling nursing homes and assisted living centers to let them know what we’re up to. There are so many people with no one to talk to, or no family. They are so isolated and there is such a need for companionship.  The challenge is to identify those individuals who aren’t supported by religious communities or other nonprofits, the people who aren’t being looked out for and are isolated.

Johnson continued, “We have had two separate recent requests from wives who have husbands – one in his 70s and the other in his 80s – where the wives have said their husbands have no friends who are still alive. They’ve asked if we could find another man, closer in age, who can call and check in with them? So, a few seniors have volunteered to make calls, too.”

Thinking back to mid-March, when the world changed due to the COVID crisis, Johnson said, “I’ve been struck by how eager and willing people are to sacrifice and help. It’s bringing out the best in a lot of people.”

“This is a two-way street. The people volunteering are really providing a gift to people who need some help, but the people who are asking for help are providing a gift to people who desperately want to help someone right now and maybe don’t have any other avenues for it,” Johnson said.

Reflecting on the creation of Northstar Neighbor less than two months ago, Johnson said, “This initiative has also been a gift for me. I’ve experienced a different sense of purpose than I would have otherwise.”

Anyone in Minnesota wanting to volunteer or needing a volunteer should click this link: https://northstarneighbor.com

Jeff Johnson and the volunteers of Northstar Neighbor are operating purposefully, fulfilling a dire unmet need and creating quite an impact – one volunteer and one senior at a time.

How about you? Are you living purposefully and creating an impact during this uncertain time? If not, what’s the missed opportunity for you and others?

 

“When I was a boy and I would see scary things in the news, my mother would say to me,

‘Look for the helpers. You will always find people who are helping.’ “Fred Rogers

 

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.