At the 2013 United Way Campaign Ambassador Recognition Breakfast, Lisa Schmitt was elected by her fellow ambassadors to give a speech on their behalf. Below is Lisa’s story of how serving as a Campaign Ambassador opened her eyes to community need and made her life one of volunteering.
Campaign Ambassador Speech
by Lisa Schmitt on behalf of her fellowUnited Way Campaign Ambassadors
Nov. 12, 2013
Good morning everyone, I would like to thank you all for coming. I know that I speak for all of us when I say that if it were not for the support of our loved ones, our families, our employers, we would not be here today to celebrate our journey. My name is Lisa Schmitt and I represented the Kansas Department of Health and Environment with the State of Kansas. November 1st I started a new chapter in my life and began working with Communities in Schools. I am humbled and honored to have been chosen to speak to you today; I guess my fellow campaign ambassadors thought I might be able to share a bit with you about our journey… maybe more specifically how our journey affected me. I don’t believe that I am long winded… really more of a straight to the point kind of person, so I will try not to take up too much of your time here this morning.
This past year my second grade teacher passed away. A never ending ball of energy and service to others she continued to give of herself and her time to anyone and everyone, any way she could, through her cancer diagnosis, treatment and up until just a few hours before her death. At her funeral I looked around and was taken aback by the enormous amount of people there to honor her… family and friends, teachers and students, church members and fellow cancer patients. As I looked at what I am sure was just a handful of people whose lives she touched I thought to myself, “Now this is a legacy.” That thought led me to wonder… what kind of legacy will I leave behind?
As we started our United Way adventure, I, being born and raised in Topeka, thought myself pretty knowledgeable about the needs in our community… and never being allowed to just sit at home for a summer when I was younger, I considered myself pretty giving with my time. Well… for two weeks, United Way doesn’t just encourage us to drink the Kool-Aid, as Abel [Frederic] would say, they hook up an IV and power inject that Kool-Aid. We were immersed in the needs of our neighbors and inundated with the programs there to help. We were educated and then we were groomed. Our mission was now to go out and get others to drink the Kool-Aid.
Now, I am sure if you ask, those who know me well will agree… I am not always one to slip my toes in and test the waters… I more often than not am running toward the water screaming while assuming my best cannonball position. I am in… I am all in. After our United Way schooling I had signed up for Meals on Wheels… I was mentoring at Pine Ridge Prep … and I signed up to volunteer at Communities in Schools Reality U. This is good. I am feeling good.
Then that rare moment in my life hits where there is quiet and I am still, and then I start to think… I think about the kids at Tecumseh North [Elementary] who give every penny they have to their name to help someone else they don’t even know. Or I think about the kind, soft spoken gentleman at Let’s Help who buses tables during lunch to pay back the lunch that he himself will eat. As I get dressed, I look at the plethora of shoes on the floor and think about the brother out there that won’t go to school today because he didn’t get to the single pair of shoes he and his sibling share, first. Or on the evenings I am trying to decide where we will go out to eat on a Friday night, I think about 18,000 kids in Shawnee County that wonder if they will eat that weekend.
I was wrong… I am not doing enough.
As a society we have become so fast paced and so busy… and not necessarily in a good way. We are doing things just to be doing things not always doing the things that really matter. We are so busy that we are not seeing the needs in our community, in our own backyards or maybe the need of someone sitting right next to us; and when we finally do see those in need we try to justify it by saying they did it to themselves or if they really wanted to, they could get themselves out of that circumstance ̶ they just aren’t trying hard enough. I know there are a few of us Campaign Ambassadors who have been there, and I am sure some of you may have been there as well. Sometimes life’s plans don’t always coincide with what we have in mind; and no matter how much we don’t want help, we need help.
Through my work as a Campaign Ambassador for United Way I was offered an opportunity to be a Site Coordinator for Communities In Schools at Ross Elementary School. It is one of many United Way Partners. One of many partners who have done the due diligence to show they can definitively make a difference in the lives of those who need it.
Now, let me just say this was not an easy decision… I prayed about it. Okay, I stewed and literally made myself sick about it. I had conversations with my husband, my mom, and my mentors. Finally, being a person of great faith I just laid it down in front of my Lord and asked, “Where can I best serve You?” Now, I don’t know about the rest of you, but sometimes I just wish He would write me a little letter, send it in the mail, I would open it up and there would be my instructions. Then I realize He did just that, for Matthew 25: 35 -40 says:
35 For I was hungry and you gave Me something to eat; I was thirsty and you gave Me something to drink; I was a stranger and you took Me in; 36 I was naked and you clothed Me; I was sick and you took care of Me; I was in prison and you visited Me.’ 37 “Then the righteous will answer Him, ‘Lord, when did we see You hungry and feed You, or thirsty and give You something to drink? 38 When did we see You a stranger and take You in, or without clothes and clothe You? 39 When did we see You sick, or in prison, and visit You?’ 40 “And the King will answer them, ‘I assure you: Whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers of Mine, you did for Me.’
My answer was right in front of me and I knew what I needed to do. My fellow ambassadors will attest I dreaded giving my Director that news… it just isn’t fun to tell someone who thought enough of you to nominate you for an opportunity of this magnitude, that the opportunity has given birth to yet another opportunity, one that includes a different employer. And, though my resignation from the state was tearful at best, I received nothing but support from both my Director and my manager. For that, I thank you. I thank you both for always being there to push a little on those rare times I wasn’t already running that way. This, will now be part of your legacy.
So, I am forging a new path, and although the journey is still fresh and much of it has yet to be written, I receive confirmation daily in the decision I have made. So far, in 7 days of employment with Communities in Schools, I have received that confirmation in the coats I have put on three children who had none as the temperature was dropping… I have received that confirmation in the 10 pairs of shoes I have put on the feet of those kids whose current shoes have seen better days… I have received that confirmation in the meals that I sent home with 65 kiddos on Friday so when I ate last weekend, I could rest easier knowing that they were eating too… and I received that confirmation in the smiles I see every lunch period as the students see their Bigs walk in the door for their weekly mentor lunch and I listen to that child explain to his Big why Monday is his favorite day of the week, because that is the day he sees his BIG.
Fellow Ambassadors, don’t think of this as a journey coming to an end, rather that of a journey just beginning. United Way of Greater Topeka has armed us all well… they have given us all of the tools that we need… now it is up to us to continue to advocate and to lead by example by giving of our own time. So, I ask all of you, no, I challenge you, just as I did to all those that I have spoken to these last couple of months; to carefully evaluate what you are filling your lives with and what kind of return you are getting for that investment. Are you doing enough? Are you investing in things that are worthwhile or are you busy just for the sake of being busy? Do you have a day of the month that you can give in service to others, or maybe a couple? Do you have just 30 minutes that you can give to another person?
Communities In Schools founder Bill Milliken once said, “Programs don’t change people – relationships do!” It is not United Way that impacts every life it touches; it is the people that represent United Way and people in the programs United Way supports. So I challenge you to continue this journey we have begun, keep giving of yourselves, and keep building your legacy… a legacy that will continue to live on in the lives you have touched long after we have gone.