Heroes Aren’t Hard to Find
The tragic events in Connecticut last week reminded us that evil exists in our world. Gun violence and untreated mental health issues merged and resulted in one of our nation’s darkest hours.
There are sadly, a host of social ills in modern society that have not been solved and we must address.
Homelessness. Poverty. Hunger.
We know these issues persist not only in faraway places but right here in Charlotte, too.
Rather than trot out a new thousand point plan for government intervention or deliver a lengthy treatise on how government is the cause of social decay, there is a fascinating new book, Everyday Heroes: 50 Americans Changing the World One Nonprofit at a Time, about social entrepreneurs and how they take a risk to make a difference. These special “change makers” bring passion, creativity, persistence, and a deep desire and commitment to solve a social problem.
Most of these folks do not have monuments erected in their name. You have not seen their faces on Wheaties boxes or on reality housewife television shows.
And yet these people are what make America great. They are from all walks life and from all over the country. They are young, mid-career, and mature seniors. They are inspired by God and they are agnostic. They come from many different racial backgrounds. They hail from our largest cities and most remote areas.
One of the greatest takeaways for me from Katrina Field and Paul Mobley’s powerful new book about social entrepreneurs in America is that every person has the power within to make a positive difference in our community.
Featuring Paul Mobley’s honest and authentic photographic portraits, and guided through Katrina Field’s understated yet vivid narrative, in Everyday Heroes the reader discovers the lives and motivations of fifty of America’s most successful social entrepreneurs and their powerful, personal stories.
Consider thirty-two year old Anne Mahlum, Founder and CEO of Back on My Feet. Five years ago Anne left a promising corporate job offer to establish a nonprofit that uses the discipline of running to inspire self-sufficiency and confidence in the homeless. Her Washington, D.C. based nonprofit has already helped hundreds find employment, obtain housing, and enroll in job-training and education.
Enid Borden has lead Meals on Wheels for two decades. Today America’s largest hunger relief organization, Enid has committed her organization to ending senior hunger by the year 2020.
Susan Burton, founder and executive director of A New Way of Life Reentry Project in Los Angeles, has created an organization offering housing and support to women being released from prison. Less than 20 percent of formerly incarcerated women in Susan’s organization return to prison.
After reading their stories and seeing their photos, I realized that these kinds of servant leaders – folks who take a risk to create a better world for others -- are mushrooming across the Charlotte region.
Dennis Reed founded “Inspire the Fire” in Charlotte a few years ago to use the power of arts and performance to help young people from disadvantaged communities realize their greatest potential.
Robin Emmons, moved by her own family experience with homelessness, created “Sow Much Good” to eliminate social, racial, and ethnic health disparities that result from a lack of access to healthy food in marginalized communities.
Manny Ohonme, a Charlottean and founder of Samaritan’s Feet, years ago started with a vision of a world where millions of impoverished children in some of the globe’s most disadvantaged places could have their feet washed, receive a new pair of shoes, and hear a message of hope and love. In less than a decade Manny and Samaritan’s Feet have attracted more than 70,000 volunteers who have served millions in 60 countries around the world.
Dennis, Robin, and Manny represent just a few of Charlotte’s “Everyday Heroes.” After recognizing a gap and a need, rather than run to the government or run away from a problem, they rolled up their sleeves and created new solutions. Built on hard work and fueled through a deep sense of doing what is right and a desire for a better future, these local change makers are finding that their passion to do good in Charlotte is being extended into communities far beyond Charlotte.
In recent years new organizations and new sources of funding have taken root in Charlotte to support today’s leaders and to help drive the next wave of social entrepreneurs.
Under the leadership of Charles Thomas, Queen City Forward launched last year to incubate and advance social entrepreneurship. Operating out of Packard Place in uptown Charlotte, QCF has quickly established itself as the hub for social entrepreneurs across our region. QCF provides both the spark and ongoing support that our community heroes will need to take their ideas to scale.
And a giving society for wealthy individuals, Social Venture Partners-Charlotte, last year hatched one of the hottest philanthropic competitions in Charlotte. Year Two of “SEED 20” aims to discover, spotlight, support and provide funding to support leaders who are improving social conditions across the region.
There are many heroes in our midst. Our teachers, firefighters, police, and military personnel personify heroism on a daily basis.
But as you will discover in Everyday Heroes, there are also remarkable folks leading and serving in nonprofit organizations across the country who have realized their true purpose and are using their incredible talents to improve the lives of others.