Wednesday, January 29, 2014

Making an impact

Whether it's as an employee or a parent, do you ever wonder, "Am I really making an impact?  Is the effort I'm giving returning anything?"  I know when my children were younger and I was home with them, some of those days seemed awfully long.  I'd change my shirt for the third time that day because it smelled like the more unpleasant of baby scents and recall with longing the kudos of a client who appreciated a job well done.  I began to wonder what my life would be like once my children were in school full-time and I could return to "work".  Those thoughts came when I wasn't paying attention to what mattered, because I most certainly was making an impact -- in the lives of my family.

Fast-forward a dozen years and I'm seeing another kind of impact.  I'm seeing the impact a foundation has on a nonprofit organization like Good Friend, Inc., when it sends a grant check.  I wish the board directors from the Janice & Raymond Perry Community Fund, Pieper Electric, Inc./Ideal Mechanical, the Green Bay Packers Foundation, the Tracy Family Foundation, the Dorothy Inbusch Foundation, and Potawatomi's Miracle on Canal Street were in the room when I opened the envelopes from them with our grants over the last two months!  Each time, I was so grateful for their support, knowing what an impact we'll be able to make in the lives of students because of these gifts.

Here are some examples from recent weeks:
The mom of a 10-year-old boy with autism sent in this picture.
Her son explained, "After seeing that video, I kinda decided, well, that was pretty interesting. So I decided to make a slogan out of something. So I settled on ZOOBs. At first, it was all reds and greens, but then when I needed something for the dot on the exclamation point, the only thing I could find was two yellows. And then I realized that to make the point stronger, I should use every color in the sentence. So I made an underline out of all of the pieces, but then I decided to change some of the parts of the letters that could be swapped. The end result is the picture. I really hope you enjoyed it as I enjoyed the video."

Here's how the video impacted Nicole: "As a mother of a 10-year-old autistic boy who has often had difficulties with the puzzle piece image, I was pleasantly surprised to watch your video We ALL Fit. I really like that it uses the puzzle metaphor to reference ALL of us in the world, not just autistic people, and how important it is for us to connect. After I showed the video to my son, he said was inspired to make this creation after watching the video. Thank you for spreading the world that we are all connected and we do all fit."

A woman was driving three children -- her son and two young friends, one of whom has autism and likes talking about her brain-based difference.  The 5-year-old friend didn't really understand what she was talking about, and asked what autism was.  The 6-year-old son started quoting the second verse of "We ALL Fit" to explain. "Autism isn't something that you catch ..." As mom listened, she recognized the lyrics.  She says, "When I called him out on it, he laughed and asked to listen to the song. So we did."

Last fall, a mother had contacted me by email with a sad story about her daughter with autism being misunderstood and bullied at her school.  She was hopeful about this school year, since a new administrator and classroom teacher were happy to welcome us to conduct a Peer Sensitivity Workshop for all sections of her grade.  Following the third grade student training earlier this month, mom wrote, "I just wanted to share with you all that when I picked A up yesterday, she said that she had kids actually coming up to her and asking to play with her. This is the very first time she has ever experienced this. She said it made her so happy.  She spent the rest of the day on cloud nine and telling everyone she loved them."

Thank you for helping us make an impact!  Keep sharing your uplifting stories with us!

Thursday, January 16, 2014

A week to remember

Before we even heard the song, we couldn't wait to share it.  And while we finally got that chance last Thursday, most people don't know that presentation was the culmination of two years of collaboration.  Good Friend, Inc. co-founder Denise Schamens met Greg Marshall of The Figureheads "by chance" at an area promotion.  That conversation lead to a meeting near The Figureheads' Milwaukee studio, and an exchange of ideas began.
We were so grateful that Dave Olson and Greg Marshall (back row, left) and
Miss Wisconsin Teen USA Patience Vallier (back row, center) were able to join us
at Cushing Elementary in Delafield, Wis., on Thursday, Jan. 9, for the world premiere!

To get a better feel for Good Friend's mission and impetus for our new elementary school film project, Greg attended our May, 2012, Community Conversation: Meaningful Inclusion in Elementary School, sacrificing time with his family to be with us.  While we continued to spread the word about our vision, busyness with our research study postponed forward motion on the film and music until the spring of 2013.  Last summer, the script was written, the funds were raised, the cast was chosen, and the filming completed.  We had shared progress with Jeremy Bryan and Greg, who in turn shared it with Dave Olson.  The Figureheads' musical component was our missing puzzle piece.  Until it wasn't.

It was on Sept. 17 that we heard the song for the first time -- and we were in love.  Though it wasn't what Denise and I were expecting, it was exactly what it needed to be.  And as it turned out, the song's title was the same as the short film's -- "We ALL Fit".
Get a shirt to commemorate the song and film --
just like the cast and crew wore at the premiere!

Most of the student cast of the short film returned to be the ensemble cast of the music video, which Denise directed and Scott Dahm filmed with assistance from Michael Foucault.  Tim Miller worked with Denise on the video editing after Dave recorded additional singers Noelle Budde (my daughter), Evelyn Barta, and Regan Carter at his studio, mixing it all into the magical anthem it has become.  The single is available for download on iTunes and Amazon MP3, and is streaming on Spotify, to name a few outlets.

So, yes -- it's incredible that the news story our local FOX affiliate aired has been shared more than 1,000 times in the last week.  And, yes -- we're thrilled that our song promoting autism acceptance and bullying prevention has been viewed more than 6,000 times on YouTube.  But what makes our hearts soar is hearing from you.  What does this song mean to you?  How have you shared it?  How do you plan to use this song to make a difference at your school and/or in your community?