Impact Maker Interviews
We have a lot to learn from others that are trying to build their communities and their woodpiles. This is the beginning of a new, regular feature that will hear from people who are making an impact in their communities, families and work. Several people have already contributed their interviews, and we’re excited to start sharing them with you. It’s going to be an adventure with stories from all over the state, country, and possibly even world!
Today’s interview is all about being fair to future interviewees – I’m going first! Not that I like talking about myself or consider myself to be an impact maker of any stature, but I hope to allay some questions about where I’m coming from with this blog.
If you know someone you would like to nominate for an interview, please drop me a note with a brief story about why that person should be featured.
My questions are in bold italics, with responses in plain text.
Today’s Interview: Joe C.
Tell us about yourself, where you live, and your family.
My wife and I have lived in northern Minnesota for over 21 years, married for 22. While we don’t have kids, we do have a couple of friendly dogs and a cat. Or rather, the cat has us, as it goes. We happen to live in a semi-rural neighborhood just outside of our city, and have been very blessed to be a part of this community.
What makes your community special?
Our town is really a mixed bag. There’s a fair amount of economic success, great schools, a University, great hospital system, and so many awesome people doing neat things it’s almost unbelievable. On the other hand, there is still just way too much poverty and crime, economic segregation, a history of racism (which still rears its ugly head), and people and families that need a hand up.
Thankfully, I’ve seen improvement in all those areas in the 20+ years we’ve been here. It’s still not perfect, but we’ve learned how to confront a lot of the issues head on by talking about them and changing things. Facing issues head-on can throw you for a loop, and it can get pretty awkward, but real progress comes of it.
In fact, about the only time I see things not going well is when we don’t take the time to talk through an issue and get everyone on board. What a way to keep everyone honest! Well, mostly. Out of all the things that I think make our community special, I think this is the difference that is going to keep making us better.
What do you do to make your community better (volunteer, donate, etc.)?
I have a pretty well defined approach to my community involvement, which I will detail in later posts. For now, let’s just run through the highlights of some of the things I currently do to make my community better:
- Bemidji Rotary Club member, including sitting on the Board of Directors
- Board of Directors for the Northwoods Battered Women’s Shelter
- Board of Directors for Face It Together Bemidji, an organization dedicated to healing people with substance abuse issues
- All kinds of crazy activities in my church’s Knights of Columbus Council – I get to just be a worker bee for all kinds of events, fundraising meals, meetings, you name it.
- I’m also on the leadership committee for the Knights of Columbus Walleye Classic – Northern Minnesota’s premier charitable walleye fishing tournament. We raise a little money for a bunch of charities.
- Students First success coach
- Mass Lector (reader) at my church, St. Philip’s
I’m also a big advocate of giving back out of the financial blessings we’ve been given. We’ll talk about this philosophy in future posts, because it is a part of building your woodpile. My wife and I make thoughtful, hopefully impactful contributions where needed to a variety of charities every year. Our main, most consistent giving, however, goes to the church and the local United Way.
How do you impact others with your work/vocation?
For over 20 years, I’ve been fortunate to work in a variety of positions that allow me to make a difference in my community. I’ve been a fundraising/development officer, event manager, youth advisor/mentor, and community development planner. Every step along the way, coupled with a wide variety of volunteer activities, has built up my experience and connections toward being able to make an impact on our community.
Which led, somehow, to what I do now – consulting non-profits and public agencies. Get this – for a living, I get to work with agencies in towns all across our state on their biggest issues, helping with strategic planning, evaluation, training, development, and so on. While I can only hope I’m making a difference, the joy for me is in the connections I make, the things I learn from those agencies, and the people I meet and learn from. I hope to introduce you to a few of those folks through this interview feature!
Tell us about how you build your family up for success?
This is a tough one for me. With just the two of us, it can sometimes be easy to take the day to day for granted. Luckily, my wife is fairly amenable to putting up with all my extra curriculars, and will even participate if it suits her motives. Getting to volunteer, participate, attend, or donate to events or organizations with my wife is definitely a highlight for me. Even just spending time with her doing simple activities or talking about hopes, dreams, and philosophies can be energizing to me. And I’m not just saying that in case she reads this. Maybe I don’t say it enough!
Luckily, I come from a large, complex, beautiful family. Two wonderful parents, a great brother and sister each with their own growing families…while I don’t get enough time with them, what I do get is pretty important to me. Not to mention that both my mom’s and dad’s extended families, well… Let’s just say close relationships with 2nd and 3rd cousins isn’t unusual. Thanks to those connections (and the Internet), I’m learning something from family mentors around the country every day. Talk about a woodpile!
What have the results been?
I don’t know. It’s clear from community events I’ve been involved with that giving money to charities and causes makes a difference in what they accomplish. There have been many blessings in watching a number of young people I’ve helped advise/mentor grow up and do awesome things. Seeing non-profit directors and board members grow and improve their work is absolutely rewarding. Whether I make any difference in nudging them along, I can’t really say.
What I do know is that doing these things is important to me. If I want to be a better person, the measure is always whether I’m giving of my time, skills, and attitude to build up the people, organizations and communities around me. Am I a perfect example? Absolutely not – just ask anyone who’s had to live with me! But as long as I wake up every day, anxious to do my best and make that impact, I’m making progress, both for my community and myself.
I do have a kind of unique framework or strategy for the activities I get involved in. I look forward to writing a future post about that.
Talk about the event or activity you’ve been involved in that made the biggest impact?
After 20+ years, that’s a lot of activity to try and remember! Really, this is easy. I spent 10 years mentoring some fantastic young people in the City of Bemidji’s Youth Advisory Commission. The youth members came from all walks of life, although almost all were there because they wanted to make a difference in their community.
The program really is a great platform to nurture youth on the path to community involvement. Thanks to the capability of social media, I’m still communicating with many of them, even grabbing lunch or coffee when the opportunity presents itself. I’m proud of each one of them, finding their own path toward building their families, vocations and communities. Not that they are all taking the same approach or stances on issues I would, but they are thinking, involved and actively making a difference. I really couldn’t ask for more.
Who or what inspired you to give back of yourself?
I’ve been blessed with a great family full of role models. Taking a little bit from all of them has given me the opportunity to figure out my own path to community impact. I’m very thankful for the huge woodpile they left me!
Specifically, the one who set the high bar for me is my father. I’ll have to write more some day, but I’ll just say here that he has been a significant influence in the community. It’s quite the thing to try and live up to, and I think my siblings would agree, but I wouldn’t have it any other way. He truly modeled someone who actively drove toward living the right life with his family, vocation and community. Not perfect, but always moving toward a bigger woodpile wherever it was needed.
What has been the biggest obstacle for you personally in trying to be a community builder, and how did you or do you hope to overcome it?
This has had a funny way of changing over the years. I think a lot of people, as young adults especially, get the fear that they don’t know what they are doing and are going to be found out as a fraud and banished to the hinterland (I think they call it Imposter Syndrome). I’m no different. Having to overcome an introvert nature hasn’t helped. But eventually, by learning from some great mentors and more than a few risky endeavors, I’m at least less afraid to make mistakes. And perfectly comfortable admitting when I have – yesterday, today, and tomorrow!
What legacy do you hope to leave?
Clearly, to leave the woodpile a little higher in my family, community and vocation.
What advice to you want to give someone trying to build their woodpile?
Don’t be afraid to start. And after that, don’t be afraid to try the next thing, if it doesn’t work out. Not everything needs to be a world-changer. Sometimes the tiniest of things, a smile to someone you meet on the street, can mean just as much as a big event or years of work on a project. Go!
Any questions you would like to ask our Woodpile community?
What areas of personal and community impact are most important to you? How do you decide what activities to take on?