Angels Among Us

“I have seen so many van fundraisers crash and burn…”

Julie wrote to me October 4th, 2014.

“The reason they failed is they didn’t have your friends,” I confidently stated.  Sometimes my words get ahead of me.  A twinge of fear splintered down my spine after I sent the email.  “I am not going to let you think about this too long.  We have to get on this soon.”  In my heart I asked if I couldn’t make it happen, could the failure dissolve the friendship.  I elected to take the chance because the stakes were too high not to act.

“How much work could it take to raise a few thousand dollars?  We’ll find some dealership willing to get rid of some cargo van and have the accessibility ramp strapped on for a few hundred,” I thought to myself.

I wrote an email, got it approved by Julie, and sent it out to almost eighty Facebook friends.

Dear FVHS Friends,

I am writing this on behalf of our friend Julie Jones. Julie is a staple (maybe a glue) of our FVHS Theater/Choir “experience. While I became aware of Julie outside of theater when she ran over my foot as she shifted from fifth to sixth gear, we have all grown to love her for so many reasons. Julie is a talented writer, advocate, and cheerleader for anyone who needs a boost.

I am asking you to give a little of your time to accomplish something that needs to get taken care of by us. Julie has Spinal Muscular Atrophy. I am no expert or even a novice at describing what SMA is, I can tell you that the experience is devastating to the person and the loved ones.

SMA can cause numerous critical health conditions, which we have learned from being around Julie, are not her defining characteristics. Some days are worse than others and even the “good” days are exhausting. These “limitations” only bolster Julie’s loyalty as a friend, a contributor to positivity, and a fierce sense of humor.

Each of you have talents – specializations- gifts….we need you!

The twenty-five year old van converted to transfer her wheelchair is the only method to get her around. Well, it was the only realistic way. The van has finally broken beyond repair.

Julie is Not one to live the lavish life, the van’s air conditioning had gone out years ago. Mechanically, Julie’s mother & father had to strategize the best routes to Specialist appointments to bear the least burden on the van and keep Julie from becoming physically overwhelmed.

Julie is articulate, dynamic, powerful, strong, hilarious, thoughtful, spiritual, and worthy of our attention.

We need a group of people willing to coordinate, collaborate, innovate, and a bunch of other words I had to look up on Thesaurus.com Julie is not a charity case and certainly does not wish to be pitied. Honestly, in the time I’ve known her, she has conducted herself with honor, pride, and eloquence.  

We need some dedicated folks willing to create a campaign to replace “Old Smokey” (as Julie fondly referred to it). Internet research is being worked on to find a used van with wheelchair accommodations. We have estimated a dollar amount and a GoFundMe page is in the works.

THE REASON we need a group of people, is Julie cannot do this endeavor on her own. This is a serious need that has a time urgency.

We need your particular talent & creative resources. Whatever it is that you know how to do, we need it. We need someone to organize, create a campaign, reach out to people, search the InterWebs, UpLoad YouTube videos or the little tricks you’ve learned over the years. Maybe you know someone in FV or the area who can film & put together a simple YouTube video and/or channel. Maybe you are an artist or you are good on the phone…we need you!

Maybe you are a Spoke’s Model (Barela),, know someone at a dealership who is willing to donate a van, you can write & sing a song (yeah, I just said that), or know someone who knows someone who is willing to help. 

Please respond to the group, to Julie, or me (DuncanLMSW@gmail.com) The plan is to meet up via phone calls, texts, emails, Facebook, and any other way that is good for you. 

The goal is reachable, the results are tangible, and the choice is yours.    

From that original email, an old friend who is an experienced crooner responded with floating the idea of rewriting the Paul McCartney song, “Band On The Run” to “Van Doesn’t Run.”  The campaign came to life.  Michael lived on the East Coast.  Julie lived on the West Coast.  I lived somewhere in between.

Several other friends stepped forward with ideas and the willingness to help.  Barela, a graphic artist and maven, offered his services.Although he had one full time and two part time jobs, he volunteered to take a huge lead.

I started to call organizations, leagues, associations, collectives, schools, and any other institution I could Google.  I knew I would hear “no” but I did not give up.  I had no feet on the ground near Julie.

Fredricka, retired and lived around the corner from Julie, began an old fashion, reliable ground campaign.  She contacted all the groups she knew and blanketed the area with flyers Chris designed.  I am not exactly certain how many hours she spent but she was definitely a Godsend.

A good friend, Rudd, offered studio time if I could find a singer to record “Van Doesn’t Run”.  A local singer offered and then cancelled.  Later the singer scheduled and then cancelled, again.

Thoughtful of the resources, it was suggested that a novella Julie wrote be an incentive and a publishing company did the layout for free.

The team launched the IndieGoGo fundraiser.  Right off the top, we got a $1000 donation from a Fountain Valley High School alumni.  Steve, the alum, offered the proceeds from his Taco Bell profits on a Saturday.  Lots of angels descended on that Taco Bell to show their support.

Barela’s wife, a talented driven writer/producer/publisher, offered incentives for any donation.

People donated $5 to $500 from across the globe.  Someone we never met nor connected to in anyway donated from an island somewhere in the South Pacific.  We checked the total daily and were astounded by the generosity of friends and strangers.  Two classmates who worked to become a Hollywood actor and writer/director/producer, donated large sums.  They asked their Social Media friends to help out, too.

A caring reporter, employed by the LA Times, began to write an article when the guy who came up with the Van Doesn’t Run idea sent a video clip that was a game changer.

The clip was of him driving and he sang an acappella version of “Van Doesn’t Run” in one take.   It was incredible.  The energy and buzz was intoxicating and contagious.  The donations poured in.  Along with the Likes on our Facebook page, other friends stepped forward to write letters and share Julie’s situation.

People, who wanted to be a part of this movement, joined in.

Rudd, the studio engineer, worked behind the scenes to find a singer to do a studio version of “Van Doesn’t Run” and sent it to me out of the blue.  Rick Urias gave up a few hours to sing the song all for a family he had never met but he could help in his own way.

As we neared twenty thousand dollars, Julie and her father were introduced to an organization that equipped vans with wheelchair accessible hardware.  There was a used one that would meet Julie’s needs and would last but it was over forty thousand dollars.

A whopping $10,000 donation came in from an anonymous donor.  We were speechless.  We called each other, laughed, and cried.  The random acts of kindness of friends and strangers dumbfounded all of us.  Just under our thirty thousand dollar goal, we shot passed our goal by one of the team members.  Fredricka, who had done so much already, decided to bring “it” home.  I can say that for the first time, I knew the feeling of being “overjoyed”.

We clawed and scrapped to meet our new goal of forty thousand dollars.  It is a lofty goal that can take some organizations a whole year to meet these benchmarks.  IndieGoGo gave us sixty days.

Only several grand away, a Texas TV station did a piece about the friendship between Julie and me.   FVHS alumni, Elizabeth & Brian, donated a large sum that was matched by a couple in Texas.

The goal was met in sixty days with a lot of hard work, frustration, gratitude, wonderment, kindness, and a desire to help a family out.

Individuals stepped up who didn’t have to but they showed they cared.  Everyone who gave money, Liked our statuses, shared our page, and gave of themselves will always be angels in my eyes.

We can look at the goal as the miracle but that’s only one aspect.  We were part of something special.  However we could, we brought the thunder to make a difference.

I am most certainly a different giver.  While I used to give to large charities, too often the goal was to see how much the goal can be surpassed than last year’s goal.  It seems like a bottomless pit.  Giving to an individual can change a person’s life.  Several angels kept the team encouraged to continue onward and upward.

I was so blessed to be a part of the campaign.  I got to witness the angels in all of their forms add to the miracle.  I am glad that I could be a part of such a purpose.  Consider the last part of  my original email where I asked if they could write or sing a song.  Imagine if I limited the language.  One idea springboard’d to another.  We all have special talents and gifts.  When we use those gifts for a higher purpose, I think we earn our wings.  You have something to contribute.  All of us have a particular quality that adds value.  You will never know just how you can help until you get involved.

I hope to inspire you to be a part of something that touches your heart.    We need more individuals to join the collective of agents of change.  Taking the time to offer what I have only makes me stronger.

 

 

The Untold Legacy of Edgar

Hamlin, Texas is a world away from “city life”.  The high school mascot is the Pied Pipers.  It is the type of town that had one stop light and a Dairy Queen; farms in every direction with large grain silos next to the railroad tracks.  Edgar was raised without a mother as she passed away in his early childhood.  Cultivated by the ethics of long days and elbow grease, he knew he had to earn his wages in sweat.  Designated to be on the front lines of the Normandy Invasion, Edgar was sent home three days before D Day because his only son had become gravely ill.  It was thought his son would not make it and Edgar was granted a pass to see his son before he passed away. 
His heir recovered and Edgar was sent back to fight the Nazis.  Upon his return, Edgar worked at a grocery store and worked his way up.  As Edgar earned more promotions, he learned how to run a business.  Not from college or a seminar, his lessons were taught by tedious duties, common sense, and long days working with customers. 
 
Edgar took a chance and found a business partner. The partner would put up half the money and Edgar would run the Piggly Wiggly.  Every new employee went through Edgar’s unique orientation on the first day. After sweeping the store and straightening the items.  Edgar would send the new employee on an errand.  They would be instructed to go to the Chrysler House and ask for Mr. Buford.  “He borrowed my shelf stretcher and I need it back.”  The employee would walk to the car lot only to be told that Mr. Buford had loaned it to Mr. Fowler at the bank.  Mr. Fowler would send the employee to the town’s mechanic and then to the feed store.   Each place would send the kid all over until the employee realized that there was no such thing as a shelf stretcher.  Edgar paid the employee for the full day of work, and though, they were part of the “joke,” the employee also earned knowledge of the town’s business owners.    Edgar was known for being quite a character in the town of Hamlin.
 
Not only dedicated to practical jokes, he was committed to his Faith in God.  Edgar purchased an audio recorder.  This machine used a magnetized, metal wire to record sound.  Edgar would set up this 1950s state of the art device at the front of the church to capture the sermon for the week.  Edgar would take the recording to the hospital and play it for the patients who wanted to be at the service but lacked the health to be there.  Edgar was Hamlin’s first podcaster!
 
Being a small town where everyone knew each other, certain businesses allowed customers to charge the items on a tab.  Sometimes, the local farmers would run low on cash and had to wait to be paid.  Edgar had a business to run and a family of five at home.  Extending credit was risky but something Edgar was willing to do.  At the end of the year, Edgar would examine the accounts passed due.  Without fanfare or any public awareness, Edgar would call in three or four of the individuals with outstanding debt.  Edgar sat them down privately, listened to their stories, showed them their tab, and ripped it up.  He gave them a fresh start.  He knew the people’s situation and wanted to show them some compassion.  No matter the amount, the customer could begin the year without the burden of debt.
 
Edgar’s business acumen is not a part of trendy coursework.   Focused on lowering cost and maximizing profits strategies tend to be the foundation of every company’s mantra.  His approach brought his family success as he retired earlier than most folks his age.  Edgar didn’t do it for publicity or a tax write-off. He allowed his heart to guide his ethics.  People used to live by honor, a handshake, and their word.  Edgar lived by his Faith and never pushed his thoughts on others.  Edgar led by example even if no one was watching.
 
In popular culture, people long for days passed and seek a common code of conduct.  What is stopping you if you feel that way?  Don’t wait for others approval, blaze your own path.  Find that inner voice and serve others in a way that feeds your soul.
 
Edgar did not find the key to life by a personal growth book or seminar.  He behaved in a manner he wanted others to follow.  For him, the Good Book and family filled his cup.  I never heard anyone publicly acknowledge or carry on the generosity Edgar showed to the community.  I would hope anyone touched by Edgar’s practice and, now, the act of passing on of this story would consider helping someone in need.  What distinguished Edgar’s approach is he didn’t wait for the person to ask for help.  Edgar followed his heart.  Edgar was not trying to change the world.  He sought to change the world for each individual.
 
Edgar had three children but, honestly, he was a father to the community.  With a little courage, all of us could take the time to acknowledge an individual’s humanity & frailty.  With Edgar as my grandfather, I feel like I can pass on his legacy in my own way.  Connecting with my family’s roots only makes me stronger.