As an honorary member of the Foundation team, I was fortunate enough to get to kick off the Giving Tour with Alex, Jeanne, Josh, Jake, and Mel, and join them on their first leg of the trip from Chicago to Minneapolis. We left New York on Sunday, giddy with anticipation and adrenaline for our upcoming trip, excited for what the next few days would bring us. It wasn’t until we boarded the bus at 6:00am on Monday morning and saw the living situation – cozy, yes, but not the roomiest space I’ve ever seen – that we realized the enormity of what we had agreed to do.
I spent the first 15 minutes of our trip wondering if the team would survive the week-long journey. It’s one thing to love your coworkers. It’s quite another to spend six days in a row driving across the country with them on a bus with one shower and lots of turkey jerky. But after a quick bus trip across Chicago, we arrived at Marillac St Vincent Family Services, and everything changed.
At Marillac we met with students and teachers who had faced adversity and challenges that would rock even the strongest, most secure person. Young men and women from the community told us stories of family members dying in gang violence at the hands of their friends and even their family members. They recalled childhoods marred by drug-addicted parents and siblings, and spoke honestly and bravely about a fire that destroyed the home where one girl had lived with her eleven siblings and grandmother. While their stories were devastating, what shocked us the most was how determined they were not to let their circumstances dictate their reality, how poignantly they spoke, and how hopeful they were for the future; how grateful they were for the opportunities Marillac had given them.
Teary eyed but full of hope, we boarded the bus to Minneapolis. I sat pretty silently (well, at least for me) for the next couple of hours, trying to take in everything I had just heard. Emotionally exhausted, I made my way up to my bed, careful not to kick any of my fellow napping coworkers as I climbed to the top-top bunk, and I realized something.
The journey we had just embarked on was supposed to be hard. The purpose of the Giving Tour was to get us out of our comfort zones and away from the routines of our daily lives so that we could really connect with the places we were going and the people we were meeting. We were supposed to feel vulnerable and a little off guard, because that vulnerability is the basis for true connection with others.
We hadn’t decided to drive across the country, stopping to do volunteer work and acts of kindness along the way, because it was easy or comfortable. We had decided to do it because it would challenge us to think differently, to see differently, and to GIVE differently. We could have easily sat in the Foundation headquarters in Connecticut and donated money to all of the places the Giving Tour visited without ever leaving the office. But that wasn’t the point. It wasn’t what Alex had in mind.
The Giving Tour was about getting involved; about connecting to the places we often talk about but rarely (if ever) have the chance to see. It was difficult because it was supposed to be difficult, because that’s how life is for so many people.
I stepped off the bus in Minneapolis with an entirely different energy and sense of purpose than I had boarded with only nine hours before. While I had to cut my journey short and head back to New York, I felt as though I could live vicariously through my coworkers that were continuing on, aware of the change that they were endeavoring to make. I have no doubt that the experiences I had and the memories I made will sustain me for a long time.