There are a crazy amount of tears that are shed when you run a nonprofit organization. Double that for when you run two. This is hard to admit for a person who does not like to show emotion in public. I have always been a person who can practice the strictest amount of self-control, and I am the person who can keep it together no matter how painful the situation is. It can drive me crazy when the tears begin to fall, and I almost always feel the need to analyze my feelings.
So that's what happened this morning, as I fully realized the fact that Sarah and I, two very small people with not much to offer the world and a lot of strikes against them, lead two amazing nonprofit organizations and are supported by a HUGE number of supporters. I feel so utterly blessed; it makes me cry. There are several things about The Torch and 180 that never, ever, cease to amaze me - and one of them touches me so deeply it makes me weep.
I was looking at the list of people who stepped up and donated to our $30,000 campaign. It is a very, very long list, because the people who support us give what they can and it isn't always a lot of money. That proves to me over and over again how powerful we are when we all work together. The Torch and 180 are growing and thriving because of people just like Sarah and me who give what they can when they can. If it's $1.80, or $5.00 or $10.00 or $2,000 or more - we are always blessed and encouraged!
I was recently talking with a friend who had a lot of questions about what we do. She began to list funding sources as suggestions for us to pursue. The thing is, all the funding sources she suggested to me follow the accepted pattern established by our society for helping others - the requirements for documenting each individual we help. And that goes against everything Sarah and I believe and the reasons we founded The Torch.
We have been told many times that many doors for funding and partnerships would open if we would only partner with larger organizations. The problem is, they don't operate by our moral code, vision and values, so we pass on those opportunities. If we thought that model was the way to do things, we wouldn't have started the Torch. There's no reason to re-invent the wheel.
So, what we do can often be more difficult for us than it is for others who have large institutional support behind them. We work very hard to raise the money we need to keep moving forward. We depend on lots and lots of other people who believe the way we do and operate with limited personal resources, much like us. In many ways, that's what sets us apart. It's also why we cry over donations, kind words of encouragement, and when people try hard to help spread the word about what we are doing. It's really just us and all of you out there working together.
We have no statewide or national organization behind us, although there is some talk of something like that happening. One thing we know for sure, no matter what opportunities lie ahead - we will never move on them if they require us to abandon our dream of what The Torch is and what we stand for.
We always want to be the light in the darkness for those who need hope and encouragement. We never want anyone to hesitate to approach our truck. We want people to know they are loved in spite of their mistakes or circumstances. We've been told so many times that model just won't work, yet it does again and again.
And, once again, I am crying in gratitude to all of you who think like we do and are willing to sacrifice what you can to help us keep moving forward.
I was just listening to the song "Grown Up Christmas List", and, of course, it got me thinking about the things people wish for and want. It's interesting how the list changes as people age. I was recently in a mall, sitting near Santa - and I listened as child after child told him what they wanted for Christmas. It was quite a variety of toys and gifts.
I started thinking about what I want. My kids ask me every year, and I struggle to come up with something material or tangible for them to give me. We live in a country where our material needs and wants are pretty easily gratified. When I take inventory of my possessions, I realize my needs are covered. I don't need more THINGS.
So, what do I want? What do I need? What do people want and need?
I made a list of what I think:
1. People want to be seen. They want their presence to be acknowledged and to receive a respectful nod when they encounter others. They need eye contact and smiles, affirming appreciation for their presence.
2. People want to be cared about. They need to know that their existence in this world matters, and that somebody will miss them when they are gone.
3. People want to do something that matters. They need to feel like they are contributing to the world in some way. They want to know that somebody's life is different, and better, because of them.
4. People want their pain to be acknowledged. The holiday season is not joyful all the time for everyone.
The "first" everything after a significantly painful loss can feel devestating. I remember when my sister died right before Thanksgiving, I didn't think I would ever smile or laugh again. I was enveloped in a cloud of pain. Everyone around me seemed happy and as if they expected me to just drink in their joy.
I remember one evening I was sitting in a church pew, my heart aching, and a gentleman approached me and said, "I am so sorry about the loss of your sister. It must hurt a lot right now." I needed that, because it did, and it helped to know I wasn't alone.
5. People need awareness. In order to truly meet the needs of others - people need to be fully present with the human beings around them. Purchasing the perfect gift is not as important as expressing concern and love and acceptance. Serving a meal is important, but serving it in love is what truly impacts the world.
Those are the things people want and need. If we really want to give gifts that have a lasting impact, we will practice meeting those needs - not just at the holidays, but all the time.
By Sarah Ruddle
I am currently sitting in the Orlando airport staring and trying to make sense of what I just saw, smelled and experienced. I am looking at an airport terminal with an ice cream shop, BK, a pizza shop, a coney restaurant, Outback steakhouse, a shoe shiner, countless kiosks and a massage parlor. I have showered once in the past week and it was by dumping a bucket of dirty water over my head, so now I am turning heads with my ripe stench. I don't care. In fact I welcome the stares and wish I could explain what is taking place in my heart and how I earned this smell.
Haiti is the poorest country in our part of the world and with a population of about 10 million people it does not even have a single trained pediatric neurosurgeon. The past week I stood in awe of surgeons who worked round the clock to treat people who otherwise would die from illnesses, injuries and diseases easily treated in America. I treated the "mild conditions" and saw infections that were so bad it was making legs and feet swell to the point of cracking open in order to relieve the pressure the puss was causing. There were countless times I had to excuse myself, walk outside to vomit,and come back inside to continue treating the never ending line of people waiting in the 90 degree heat in hopes of finding help. The smell....that will be described later,as my limited vocabulary and tired mind cannot adequately describe that.
I had been to Haiti prior to this trip, but knew going into this it would be powerful and like nothing I have ever experienced due to the recent hurricane. The trip itself has brought so many emotions—anxiety, joy, heartbreak and immense gratitude, and my journey has been etched in pen and, or course, written on napkins (the torch was a dream written on a napkin, so my notes now go on napkins). Over the course of the next few days I know people will ask about the trip, and honestly, I dread having to try and explain this to the 180 students tomorrow knowing I will fail and am too emotionally raw to begin to try. I hope to share with you,at least some small part of this incredible experience and through my words and pictures you will be able to travel to Haiti and that we can begin to work more eagerly, earnestly and selflessly help those around us. We don't need to go to Haiti to help others, we just need to actually see others, value them and make it a priority to help.
Please know - you have the power to change, inspire and serve others. We live in a world where people try to get you to focus on the darkness and we forget the power of the light. Let's be bolder than darkness.