Open Mic Speech For UnChained Fundraiser June 24, 2012
They say a good salesperson can sell anything - I am not a good salesperson. Not one of those people who could sell ice-cubes to an Eskimo, probably couldn’t even sell hot tea in the freezing cold. But there are some people who seem to think I am good at selling – some of them are here tonight. They think that I can get donated venues, boats, & office space for any program or organization. They think this because they don’t know the whole story. I don’t often tell the whole story – but since this is an open mic event – I have decided to be open.
Once upon a time I was in love with an extraordinary person I had met in college. He was a talented musician who could rock any guitar and then sweep you away playing classical piano. He had a photographic memory, he had learned to dive on the same team with Olympic diver Greg Louganis, he shared my satirical punny sense of humor, and he held center stage in any crowd he was in.
I am not saying all of this because he died tragically at the age of 27. All those who knew him – knew this at the time. We also knew that he could be argumentative and stubborn – but his heart was always in the right place. He was always in your corner. Didn’t matter who you were – he was a humanitarian in the truest sense.
In February of 1986 he was killed by a former high school classmate, who forced the two of us at gunpoint to drive him out of town and onto a two-lane somewhat deserted road, very late at night. I barely escaped with my life. The scar from having my head pounded with a sawed-off shotgun has faded over the years – but the internal scars are still there - PTSD or post-traumatic stress disorder is a mighty curse. The one local newspaper reporter I trusted interviewed me once the trial was over. Her last question has stayed with me to this day. She asked if there was anything that could have been done to change what happened that night. I told her, not at the time, but perhaps some flag could have gone up and intervention taken place when he beat up his first classmate in kindergarten.
That question led me on a journey to try to make this world a better place. To try to make some difference in the lives of kids who might not feel they have options or might not have the tools to communicate constructively – who might not understand anything but violence. It has been a very long journey. I have my teaching credential at long last and masters in education. I have taught conflict resolution, worked in the classroom and with kids dealing with grief, but I never dreamed that there was any chance of changing the life of a violent teenager. My studies in and out of college have taught me that once a child turns 5, the foundation has been set for life.
And then my friend of 21 years quits her long, successful career, takes a couple of years and a giant leap of faith to try to figure out what else she wants to do with her life. Something with animals – Animal rights advocate? Too confrontational. Animal rescue? Already a foster parent for many years. Then she gets this brilliant idea and UnChained is born. Matching at-risk youth with at-risk dogs. Rival gang members working cooperatively together training dogs. Many of the kids we have been working with have been raised in high risk environments. Many have made some seriously bad choices in their lives and are at charter schools or youth camps being given one last chance to turn their lives around – to stay out of jail, graduate high school, and get a job.
You are hearing testimonials this evening about kids whose lives have been touched and hopefully changed by UnChained – I am here to give a testimonial on behalf of those who will hopefully never have to deal with the aftermath of an experience like mine all those years ago. Perhaps one kid will be forever changed and a whole chain of tragic events that might have otherwise unfolded will be prevented. If just one kid is changed – UnChained will have been a huge success!
I can’t sell – I can only speak from the heart. I can’t stop speaking about this organization. Many of us have ideas but you, my dear friend, Melissa, made your brilliant idea a brilliant reality – you have changed my reality, and for that I am eternally grateful.