Sunday, October 11, 2015

Service Project Yields 396 Blankets - #AWSL2015

Coach Jamie, the chairmen of #AWSL2015 and results of their service project
On Saturday, Gregg and I traveled to Puyallup (in case you're not local, that's pronounced pyew-all-up) High School, through a driving rainstorm the likes of which we rarely see, even here in Western Washington. I had been invited, through a message sent to Katie's Comforters Guild's Facebook page, to address the 2015 Fall Leadership Conference of the Association of Washington Student Leaders. This wonderful group of high school students and advisors from all around the state gathers annually to learn and grow, and then take what they have gained back to enrich their local school communities through their skills and passion for student leadership.

The theme of the conference this year was "We Over ME," modeled on some of the motivational concepts of the Seattle Seahawks (#WhyNotUs, #AllIn, #MakeThemNotice). They asked me to speak to them on Day Two of the three-day conference (theme: "Why Not You?"), before they began their annual service project. The service project they chose was making blankets for Katie's Comforters Guild at Seattle Children's Hospital! Each school represented had collected fleece for the project, and sent it along with its delegates to the conference. Coach Jamie, advisor to the conference's hosting team, wanted to help all of the students really connect with, and understand, the power and purpose of what they were about to do (which is why she asked me to speak).

As the name AWSL suggests, their programs include a huge emphasis on developing leadership skills; what may not be apparent (until you attend the conference) is the joy, fun, energy and freedom-within-structure that is part of the organization. I felt it as soon as the students began to gather in the gymnasium; it was like a pep rally for human potential.

I had prepared a short speech and sent photographs of the Guild's work to Coach Jamie. I packed two of Katie's own comforters to bring along with me. I prayed and listened, wrote what came naturally, and felt that everything was ready to go when I went to bed the night before the event.

I awoke early Saturday morning with an inner knowing that I needed to re-write the speech.

In the wake of recent school shootings, I felt moved to speak to the group about the power of simple presence, of helping others to know that they are not alone, of knowing that we are not helpless in the face of tragedy. I sat down at my laptop and the words poured out of me, just as they needed to do, by Grace.

When we arrived in Puyallup, we were warmly welcomed. The "Varsity Team" (conference chairs Kelty, Nicholas and Kenton) introduced me to the crowd: hundreds of energetic students who were sitting on bleachers in the gym. Then the lights were turned down and a spotlight focused on me, so I could see only my notes. After sharing my message, there was a huge outpouring of love and gratitude from the students. They stood and clapped, lined up to hug me and offer their personal "thanks," briefly told me their stories of connection to Seattle Children's Hospital or to someone with cancer, and then they departed to make blankets in teams.

Gregg and I were taken on a tour of the school by the conference chairs, meeting and taking photographs with some of the teams as they worked. Classrooms, hallways, cafeteria tables - there were students cutting and tying fleece everywhere we went. It was a thrill to see.
This is what love-made-visible looks like
After an hour had passed, we were called back into the gym so that the results could be reviewed and tallied. Again, the bleachers filled with student-energy. Imagine our surprise when the total came in at  
396 blankets!

It was hard to hold back the tears as the students admired the immediate results of their teamwork: nearly 400 blankets of all shapes, sizes, and colors of the rainbow. They asked me to sit for photos and continued to thank me, with applause and chanting, but I want to thank them, because they made this idea of a miracle become a reality. {If you are a user of Instagram, go to #AWSL2015 to see the student delegates' postings.}

To Jamie, Kelty, Kenton and Nicholas, 
to every student member and advisor of AWSL, 
to every school which sent delegates,  
Thank you! 
I am overwhelmed by your generosity of spirit, and inspired by each one of you! 
Our schools, state and country will be in good hands under your leadership.

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