I'm sharing this experience with you because in the face of an unexpected setback towards the realization of a dream, it's important that you hold firm to the dream that you have in your heart. Success is rarely a straight path. More often than not, you will have to overcome obstacles to realize your dreams. Nevertheless, if you're willing to do what it takes to make your dream a reality, you increase the odds in your favor that what you've envisioned becomes your reality.
My Dream of Paying It Forward
On February 10, 2014, I signed a contract with a local community center in Columbia, SC to use specific rooms in the facility for a five day summer camp I was planning to host for youth, young adults and single parents on August 4th-8th, 2014. The cost of the facility is FREE to the public, Monday thru Friday. This year the camp would be FREE to all attendees. The day that I signed this contract served as a confirmation for me that the vision I had for paying it forward in the lives of those experiencing many of the challenges that I'd face and was able to overcome was going to become a reality.
I contacted the Columbia Housing Authority and met with the Assistant Director of its Self-Sufficiency program and community case managers to share information about the mission and vision of the Elevate Dreamers Mentoring Initiative and how the camp was the first of several programs of the organization that would support their Self-Sufficiency program. They became supportive of my efforts, encouraging me to attend monthly community meetings to speak to residents about the camp.
The Formation of Team Elevate
After signing the contract for the use of the facility, I started to ask for help on social networking sites for individuals interested in helping me plan the event. I reached out to corporate leaders and entrepreneurs that I knew and hoped would agree to present at the camp, free of charge. Several presenters signed up because they knew others that were a part of Team Elevate. In a month, there were several people interested in being members of the planning committee and we had 30+presenters who were willing to conduct 30 to 45 minute presentations. I was able to secure four back up speakers. The planning committee members and me then directed our attention towards getting sponsors for the lunches.
Support from the Community
I contacted a few community service agencies informing them of the camp and inquiring if any of their clients would be interested in attending. Two of the agencies contacted me letting me know that they indeed had clients interested in attending.
The estimated number of people attending the camp went from 40 to 75-80 people after contacting the community service agencies. I had signed a contract for the multipurpose room of the facility, which could seat approximately 150 people, so I wasn't concerned about not having enough space. With the help of Team Elevate planning committee members, we were able get all of the lunches sponsored for the camp.
Although I had four speakers who were unable to present because of schedule conflicts as the year progressed, and found it difficult to secure sponsors for the t-shirts, workbooks and scholarships to fee-based after-school enrichment programs for eligible youth attending the camp, I continued to use the skills I developed when I worked as a telemarketer to schedule time to make cold calls and follow-up calls to businesses about sponsoring items for the camp. I started a GoFund Me account for the purpose of getting funds for items that I was having a difficult time getting sponsored.
Despite the numerous challenges we faced and had to overcome, we kept our focus on the empowering experience we were creating together. My hope and anticipation for creating an amazing experience for attendees and everyone involved continued to increase as months passed.
An Unexpected Setback
Managers of several of the Columbia Housing Authority communities and contacts at the community service agencies were expecting me to drop off the flyer and applications for the camp on the 1st of July. I stopped by the community center to make sure that all their ducks were in a row for the camp taking place there in a month.
POW! I was informed by my contact, the person who had approved my reservation for the multipurpose room in the facility, that the room had been reserved by a government agency for several days during the same week I had reserved it for the camp. She informed me that she would contact the agency about the situation and call me the following day. She never apologized for the mix up. Right after she realized the over-booked situation, she asked me, “Do you know the agency?” I replied, “Yes, I do.” In that moment, it didn't matter to me which government agency had been booked in the multipurpose room. All I could think about was the lack of professionalism being demonstrated towards my camp and how many people it was going to effect.
Making a Hard Decision
I didn't drop off the applications. Instead, I started on a writing assignment and pondered for the rest of the evening about the situation. I knew that several speakers scheduled on the days in which the multipurpose room was double-booked would need to use the audio/visual equipment in the room to conduct their presentations. I had scheduled several interactive activities which would be a bit noisy. I didn't want to be concerned about curbing the enthusiasm of attendees because of a professional group meeting in the facility. I wasn't about to cram people into smaller rooms in the facility to make do because of this situation. I didn't have the funds to rent out a similar space for five days. Considering these facts, I phoned the center the next morning and informed my contact that I was going to reschedule the camp.
I was very upset about the situation. Several friends and my daughter felt that after all the hours spent organizing this project, we should not have been the ones to reschedule, instead the government agency should have had to reschedule. Many of the folks involved in the project felt the same way. So, did I.
Rescheduling means that this year we missed opportunities to share life and success skills that would help prepare attendees to believe in their dreams and with the strategies shared by the numerous presenters how to go about achieving their dreams. Rescheduling means that attendees won't have the opportunity to meet the many entrepreneurs that were going to present to them how they were able to rise above their circumstances, some similar to their own, to create a life and business they love.
They would miss out on the opportunity to hear from corporate presenters about the benefits of a college education to positioning yourself to be hired and promoted in the workplace. The entertainment presenters were going to share spiritual dance, African drumming, spoken word and as a surprise to the youth on the last day of the camp, a special media bus with video games.
I truly believe we were going to establish the standard of excellence from the start that would serve as the foundation for the success of future camps. As I considered all that had been planned, I shed some tears over what was not to be this year and then wrote the Email letter to all of the stakeholders informing them of the situation and my decision to reschedule the camp for 2015.
I Could Have Pressed the Issue, but...
If I believed that we would have been welcomed at the center after demanding that the government agency reschedule, I would have pressed the issue. Because no one else was present during the conversation I had with my contact, they weren't on the receiving end of the apathy I felt from my contact about the situation.
I was not about to, nor ,will I ever knowingly subject individuals who take part in any of the programs hosted by the Elevate Dreamers Mentoring Initiative to people or environments that don't exhibit the standard of excellence I will expect participants of our programs to model. Having worked over thirty years in jobs where I had to serve the public, I know when someone is demonstrating service excellence and when they are not. And I'm especially attuned to how any business or organization handles their mistakes. It says a lot about its values.
After informing everyone involved about the rescheduling of the camp, I took some days to think about the actions that I must take moving forward to ensure the success of the annual Elevate Dreamers Academy Empowerment Camp. I share this experience and these actions with the hope that this information will help decrease your learning curve as you pursue your dreams.
Before identifying what I must do to move forward, I needed to identify the missteps I made to ensure that moving forward they are not repeated.
The three critical missteps I made:
- Failure to consider the worst-case scenario and having a contingency plan in place in the event the worst-case scenario occurs.
- Failure to develop a strategy for acquiring sponsors in the first quarter of the year versus in the second quarter of the year.
- Launching two big projects in the same year. Between the camp and organizing my book tour for the fall of 2014, I should have set aside monies for a PT event planner, or bartered services which would have allowed me more time to pursue sponsors for the camp in person.
Key Steps to Take When Your Dream is Delayed:
As a result of identifying my critical missteps, I've identified the following steps that anyone can apply in a situation in which their dream has been delayed:
- Seek and secure a mentor. Regardless of one's experience, there are pitfalls that can be avoided when embarking into new territory if you have the support and assistance from someone who has traveled the path successfully. I have business mentors but none of them have non-profit experience, so it is crucial to the success of the organization that I have a mentor within the non-profit sector.
- Your idea and organization need evangelists. It may be your dream, but if you don't have others talking about you, your idea or dream on a consistent basis, then your good idea may never gain the traction to build the necessary momentum to succeed. Recently, I attended a networking event where one of the founders of the organization spoke about the importance of building relationships with people who will share your contact information with others needing the services or products that you provide. We need to develop relationships with people in such a way that they are willing to share the good news of what we've done and what we're doing. I left this meeting with an understanding that I needed to grow my network by developing relationships, and hopefully friendships, with like minded folks with intention and not by happenstance.
- Discretionary cash is essential to the life of a dream. Consider the worst-case scenario in your situation, do you have the funds or access to funds that would allow you to weather it? If not, consider how you can create an additional stream of income that would enable you to build up your emergency savings, just in case the worst-case scenario happens. It never occurred to me that there would be a problem with the facility once I signed the contract. Of all the challenges I faced towards making the dream of this camp a reality, this one ignited a burning fire in my soul to build a self-sufficient non-profit. Not that we won't apply for grants when I receive non-profit status from the state and conduct fund raising events, but, after this experience, it is my duty and responsibility to this assignment that this organization create a funnel of products and services that provide it with multiple streams of income.
- Count the Cost. Be clear about the sacrifices and investment of time, energy and resources that you'll need to expend towards realizing your dreams. I don't think that there are “perfect” times for pursuing a dream, however, I do believe some moments are better than others when considering the investment of your time, energy and resources. Next year will be the organization’s first year of fund raising which will involve a considerable amount of administrative work. I'll be searching for Virtual Assistants who have worked with established non -profit agencies, so, as the board and I develop a budget for the organization, we will look to include this expense as a line item.
- Sharpen Your Skill set. In his book, 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, Stephen Covey tells the story of a man who was walking through a forest when he came across a frustrated lumberjack. The lumberjack was trying to cut down a tree , swearing and cursing as he labored in vain. The man asked, “What's the problem?” The lumberjack answered,. “My saw's blunt and won't cut the tree properly.” The man asked, “Why don't you just sharpen it?” The lumberjack responded, “Because I would have to stop sawing!” The man replied, “But if you sharpened your saw, you could cut more efficiently and effectively than before.” The lumberjack, getting more frustrated retorted, “But I don't have time to stop!” The man shook his head and kept on walking, leaving the lumberjack to his pointless frustration.So often, once many people complete a certain level of education and develop their professional skills to their level of comfort, they place their personal and professional development on the back burner. It's the commitment to a continuous personal improvement plan that enables us to be prepared to seize and create new opportunities in our lives. I have no experience in the non-profit sector outside of volunteering and leading a few community projects while living in Wilmington, NC. In order for me to be an effective leader of a successful non-profit, I must pursue courses and relationships that will help me develop the leadership and organizational management skills essential for leading a successful non-profit organization. I'm convinced that coupled with my 20-year for-profit business leadership experience, sharpening my skill-set will equip me to build a successful non-profit organization.
It's taken me almost a week to move beyond the disappointment I felt about this situation. I immediately closed the GoFundMe account. The funds that were raised have been used to create a logo, website banner and Facebook page banners created. Once the website have been designed to my specifications, in honor of the individuals who were willing to be involved in the 2014 camp, I plan to honor them on the website. There information will remain on the website until the 2015 Team Elevate is selected.
In eight months, I will be hosting the first annual Elevate Dreamers 5k Walk/Run fundraiser. In the following month, we will be hosting the Elevate Dreamers Community Service Awards Luncheon, the second of the three annual fundraisers we will conduct for the non-profit. I am taking full responsibility for making sure that I do whatever it takes to secure the funds for these events. I will not depend on funds from outside sources, nor, will I ever be in a position of not having the funds to secure the space I need regarding events hosted by the Elevate Dreamers Mentoring Initiative.
Perhaps you started out this year with a high level of motivation towards the achievement of your dreams and goals. Maybe as the months have passed, you feel as if you've lost your Mojo and Moxy. Reconnect to the compelling why that ignited your desire towards the dream and goal in the first place. Start connecting with people on a weekly basis that are ambitious. There energy will help you reconnect to your inner-drive. Don't give up on a dream that you truly want to realize because of mistakes, missteps or setbacks. Don't get down on yourself. It serves no productive purpose. Because you have imagined a new possibility in the form of the dream you want to realize, you have within you what's needed to make it happen. Just like me, you're going to have to stretch and grow yourself to tap into a greater measure of the seeds of greatness in your potential.
You are smarter than you think. You are stronger than you give yourself credit. Now isn't the time to give up, it's time to dig deeper so that what you build stands on a firm foundation that isn't easily moved by the ups and downs of life.
Be Better than Your Best!
Founder, Grow Forward & Flourish