For five years I have been heading up the alumni program at Focus Leadership Institute. I think I can safely say that—besides my family—it has the most potential of anything I have ever had the chance to invest myself in.
In our 15-year history, we have graduated just over 3000 students. My very first semester on staff, God gave me a vision of what it might look like if each of those students simply went where He called them and used the gifts He gave them to the best of their ability. The possibilities are truly astounding. I mean, if that were to happen, changing our culture for good could be a reality and not just a good idea. I really believe that.
So, after spending my summer absorbed in event planning for our big alumni reunion, I was excited to use my time this fall working on big-picture projects on the alumni front. First order of business was to get some better communication tools. I’m convinced that the best way to help our alumni make a difference in their world is to create synergy—to help them generate ideas together and act on those ideas, to enable them to hire and mentor one another, to help them build community together across classes. But to do that most effectively, we need a serious upgrade in our online communications. To make a very long story short: I am working on those things, but God also had other plans for my fall.
Unfortunately, those plans came about through a reduction in force on our staff. It’s no secret that in this kind of economy, nonprofits suffer. And in higher education, schools have a hard time filling seats. Being part non-profit and part higher ed, FLI kind of got slammed in both ways. So we lost our Director of Professional Practicums. And three other staffers. Which was heartbreaking. The fallout was that, suddenly, I was responsible for coordinating all of our student internships. Talk about the last thing I expected...
But, holy cow, do I love it! First, it gets me closer to the classroom than I have been since student teaching 12 years ago. (I even like grading papers again.) And it completely thrills me to see students figuring out what they’re gifted at and how they can best put their gifts to work.
And through site visits, I get to build relationships with some great local organizations. Plus, I just love learning new things about areas which fascinate me, even though I will never work in them. For example...
Last week, I visited Pikes Peak Therapeutic Riding Center, where I met some of the staff and learned about their operations. (And I got to hang out in a barn in the cold, which totally felt like home.) I was amazed that all of their horses are donated. The stories of how the horses got there are so cool, especially since horses used in therapy sessions must be perfectly “sound,” i.e. their gait has to be totally even and stable, so no injured or deformed horses can be used. And why is that? Because riding a horse with a healthy walking rhythm helps a child who can't walk to internalize the feeling of walking normally. Which can eventually help the child to actually walk normally. I had no idea!
Beka is the intern assigned there, and I got to watch her assist with two different therapy sessions. She had told me before that she doesn’t often get details on the conditions of the riders, because it would violate their medical privacy. However, during the second session, the rider’s name was Tyra, and I got to stand next to her mom while I watched, and mom was totally happy to fill me in on the details.
Tyra is 8 years old. She has two different syndromes which both result in very low muscle tone. She has been doing therapeutic riding for about 18 months total, over the course of 3 or 4 years. When she started riding, she could barely stand on her own and definitely couldn’t walk. Within months, she could walk on her own. Now her therapists are working on core strength in hopes that she will eventually be able to form words (she is currently vocal, but not verbal). I was enlightened again. Who knew that core muscle strength had anything to do with the ability to speak? Tyra’s mom says hippatherapy has helped her more than any other kind of therapy she has been in, because she loves the horses, so she’s very motivated to work at her therapy.
Sorry for the poor pics—all I had was my phone.
Beka is the one in the white hat and black jacket.
And that's Tyra on the horse.
Then, yesterday, I got to visit Pine Creek High School, where Whitney is interning in Sports Medicine. She works with student athletes during games and in preparation for practice. And she gets to teach the students in the Athletic Training class. This week’s topic was spineboarding:
Whitney is at the head of the "injured" player, leading the team of future trainers in stabilizing him and securing him on the spine board.
Whitney has told me from the beginning of the semester that she loves medicine and she wants to use her position as an athletic trainer to minister to high school and college athletes. It was fun to watch her assume leadership in the classroom so naturally and walk this group of students through a pretty complex procedure. And along the way, I heard her interact with the students about not only their sports, but also about troubles they were having with their families, etc. Yep, I’d say she’s doing what she set out to do.
I should also mention that both of these students are in my small group that meets at our house on Wednesday nights. We're studying community in the early church. I can't explain how much I love it. Eating, laughing, praying and studying Scripture together with my students makes the classroom and internship stuff even more meaningful to me and to them.
So, while I’m a little overwhelmed by the combination of my new responsibilites and my old ones, it helps an awful lot that I love both. And I can’t wait to see how networking with great organizations and networking with alumni ends up creating even more opportunities than I ever had before.