The Greatest Lunch Ever!

While it’s been years ago, I want to share about a friend who during our relatively short time of knowing one another, had a significant influence on my personal and professional life.  Preston McMurry, Jr., is the Chairman/Corporate Values Sheppard of McMurry. At that time his firm was one of the top ten marketing firms in the United States.

I first met Preston at an alumni event in 2011 at The Ohio State University, being seated at his table with the Dean of the College of Social Work, Tom Gregoire. After dinner, I was asked by one of the Coordinators if I was available for lunch with Preston the following day, and suddenly my schedule became “open”. The impact of meeting Preston for lunch that next day has been in and of itself “life and Agape enhancing”.

During lunch we talked about Preston’s history as an OSU football player under Woody Hayes, and how it felt to be a member of team that won the 1957 National Championship. As our conversation moved to his profession I learned more about him, and of his business model. I asked Preston the question of what he perceived as the “core value” to the success of McMurry. Without hesitation, his direct, and yet simple response was “loyalty”!

“Loyalty”!!  You’ve got to be kidding me!!  Simple in theory, vital in practice……yet, how does one establish a unified foundation of loyalty? Preston shared that he believed that he was 100% loyal to those he worked with, and expected them to be loyal not only to him, but also to the mission of McMurry.  His tone indicated that at no time was the wavering from this core value to be tolerated.

I was then confronted with the fact that I may had been searching for answers related to building a “positive, professional, and progressive” culture in virtually all the wrong places. Truthfully, I had become increasingly discouraged by the actions of others, and began thinking that maybe it was time to move on. Further, I had continually beaten myself up when the result of what I had strived to happen, did not.  Much like the definition of “insanity”, I kept doing some of the same things over and over, expecting different results?!

After lunch with Preston, and with the help of a “coach”, I re-defined the personal and professional expectations of me as a leader, the expectations of my co-workers, and especially the expectations of the Leadership here at Agape related to a core value of “loyalty”.  As I’ve come to see, loyalty cannot be a “kind of, maybe, would be appreciated” consideration in my personal life, and here at Agape!

The result has been amazing!  I believe strongly, and have communicated almost daily that we must affirm and demonstrate this core value of “loyalty” to one another as Co-workers, to our Professional Care Providers, Referring Agencies, the community, and the youth we are entrusted to serve.

The vision here at Agape is foundational upon “serving families, youth and each other with excellence”. Agape has, and will remain dedicated to loyalty and “slamming the doors wide open” to anyone who desires this type of serving environment, and welcome you as we serve together all who are entrusted to our care.

In closing, I cannot thank Preston, and my “coach” enough for their time and continued encouragement and guidance. Is “loyalty” the answer to the challenges that are before us? Not entirely, however “loyalty” has been, and will continue to be foundational at Agape where each day we will continue our journey of “serving with excellence”!

Be safe,

Steve

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Frozen by Fear

Have you ever heard this reference in describing a response to a major event in one’s life………

I have come to find that there are times in our lives where a single moments exchange with another person forever solidifies a path from our past that ultimately drives us in a positive direction in our future.

My father was a part of one of those exchanges in the beginning months of Agape, and this brief exchange has continually influenced me during our 28-year history as a family serving Agency.

In the weeks before we launched Agape, he asked me a direct, and yet thought-provoking question…. “are you scared?” His question literally stopped me in my tracks, and I immediately responded “are you kidding, I don’t have time to be scared”! Being persistent, he again asked me the question……”are you  scared?” Having a little time to gather my thoughts, I responded “yeah, I guess I am”.

My “Pop” paused for a minute, and then said something I will never forget. “Interesting thing about fear, it can either motivate you, or it can freeze you”.  “I want you to remember the choice you have in front of you as to how you deal with this “life” event may forever change your life journey”.

Not knowing how else to respond to his “fear” sharing, I changed the subject saying it was time for me to go.

As I was leaving my “Pop” looked up from the table and said, “I want to encourage you to always remember what I said, that fear can motivate you, or fear can freeze you”.  He then smiled in only the way he did, and said “stay warm Steve, stay warm”.

My wish for all of you is that when you experience times like these you remember to “Stay Warm”!

Agape Strong,

Steve

 

Celebrating 28 Years of Serving

Today as an organization we celebrate 28 years of serving families and children in southwest Ohio.

We are honored and humbled by the trust that you, our friends, family and our community have placed in us.

We are thankful for the staff who work diligently to make a  positive difference in the lives of families and children.  We are thankful to our Board of Directors who donate their time, talents and resources in support of our mission and vision.

We are thankful for the hundreds of families who have opened their hearts and home to children in need during the years.  Your dedication to children who are  in need of love and care is inspiring.

We have watched children come into care at Agape and experience success, graduate high school and go on the advance their education.  We have been a part of children being matched with their forever family and witnessed countless adoptions over the years.  We have been there as families have worked diligently to better their lives for the opportunity to be reunited with their children.  We have been faced challenges together, addressed those challenges and celebrated the successes, small and large….because we believe in celebration!

Thank you for your support of our mission, your prayers for decision making and your serving alongside us.

We have been and continue to be blessed and we are “Agape Strong”!

Defeating Odds

In 2011, my middle son was diagnosed with Autism Spectrum Disorder.  It was just as the DSM-V was eliminating “Asperger’s Syndrome”.  He was 9 at the time and struggling socially.  Just getting through a single day at school was a challenge.  He didn’t have any friends and teachers were unable to reach him.  However, he was gifted in Language Arts and surpassed his peers.  I made the difficult decision to home-school him while we learned to navigate the new waters that we were in.

Those days were some of the most painful, as a parent.  Meltdowns were sometimes hourly.  Nothing seemed to calm or soothe him.  His education suffered and I was genuinely concerned for his future.  His grades were straight “F’s”.  We were able to meet with a therapist, Kasi, who would help to dramatically change our lives for the better.  Initial appointments were quiet as they worked to build a trust and bond.   As the communication strengthened, he started to feel understood.  The more that he felt understood, the more he started to connect social dots.  Meltdowns were coming less and less.  Confidence started to flow.  He was able to return to regular school within a matter of a year.  His amazing therapist gave him the tools that he needed to self-advocate.

Here we are 6 years later and he is a shadow of his former self.  Meltdowns have been completely eradicated.  Honestly, I can’t even remember the last time he even came close.  The work he did with Kasi paid off.  Her gentle guidance helped him re-discover his voice.  Today, he is on the honor roll, accepted into advanced classes for high school next year, discharged from his therapies, in some after school social clubs, working as a teacher’s aide, and thriving in ways that we didn’t think were possible.  We didn’t try to shelter him from his fears, we just showed him how to overcome them.  In turn, he didn’t just defeat the odds, he has shattered them and left them in his dust.

I wish that I could take some credit for that but I’m grateful that I can’t.  He worked hard for where he is.  He fought for all of his accomplishments.  He struggled and learned from those struggles.  We cannot always overcome every obstacle but that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t  try.  He did not let anything define him – he defined himself.  He didn’t know where all of his hard work would get him until he did it.   He just knew that giving up was not an option.

Nicole

*Nicole Mann is an Administrative Assistant at Agape for Youth, Inc.

 

 

 

 

The “Other” Category

 

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A little over four months ago I was given the opportunity to join the Agape team as the Licensing and Training Coordinator. As I sat in the office with Bruce and Rodger hearing about all the aspects of the job that I would be required to do, they finished with saying, but it is not an inclusive list of your duties and there is a “other” category that is open ended. Coming from a 9am-5pm office job where I wore a headset to be on the phone with clients 8 hours per day, I was excited for the adventures that would come with joining the Agape family.  On the other hand, I was nervous. I had been with my previous employer for 4 years and I had just finished becoming a licensed foster parent. Who knew where that journey in life was going to lead.  However the more I reflected on the possibilities and happiness that would come from switching career paths, the more excited I became. So, I took the leap and joined the Agape Family.  What I didn’t fully realize was those “other” duties would become my favorite part of my job.

What makes Agape so great is the things we do with our foster parents and families.  I joined the team a little before Halloween when the fun of the holidays was just beginning. Being in the office when donations would arrive and sorting through books, clothes and gifts always made for fun afternoons full of laughter and comradery between coworkers. When the time came for our family night and Christmas Carnival, it made for what I call “controlled ciaos”- kids running around having fun, not really knowing which kid is where but enough volunteers to make sure everyone is safe. Everyday there is always something that has landed in the “other duties” category.  This past week however took my “other duties” to the next level. I got the opportunity to deliver and build a crib for a teenage mother coming into one of our foster homes. I took a couple hours out of my day to go to one of our foster homes and had an amazing afternoon. I was able to talk with the foster mother and learn about her journey and her life while we worked together building a crib and rearranging her spare room for a youth who was in route to her house.  It was one of those afternoons that remind you what Agape is all about.

You never know what hand you are going to be dealt sometimes. Changing career paths was scary and made me extremely nervous, but it was one of the best moves I could have done. I am so happy to be a part of the Agape team and even more excited when those “other duties” present themselves.  So I challenge you, when those “other duties” in life pop up, try and make the most of it because sometimes the most fulfilling part of your day comes during those times when you do some things in that “other” category.

Jamie

*Jamie Fisher is the Licensing & Training Coordinator at Agape for Youth, Inc.  and has her own blog at Fishers Foster Tree

 

…..And the Adventures Continue!

In the past, I used to share a lot, I mean A LOT!!!…. Personally, I shared about me, my family and our lives. So much at times, I believe my daughter would call me out about my ‘oversharing’. I had convinced myself that this was me… “Mr. Transparent”, “Mr. Open Book”, with a “what you see is what you get” mentality in relating to those in my circle of “friends”.

As my wife Sandie has said….just when we think all is good…” life happens” and it gets even better, and when we think life can’t get any worse…” life happens” and what we thought was the absolute worst of times, somehow definitely looks better than what we experienced next.

In my walk through the extremes of the pendulums of “life happens” experiences, one piece of knowledge I acquired is that of discerning between “friends” and acquaintances, and that I needed to respond differently to each in my relationship with them. I believe there are times we experience such a desire for “friends”, we create a relationship we believe to be one with ‘depth’ when it truly was a relationship of ‘surface’. Have you ever experienced someone close to you be nearly destroyed emotionally, and even spiritually as a result of them sharing personally with an another (they believed was a “friend”), only to have this person share this personal information with others with the sole motive to injure that person. I believe the devastation experienced is without question one of the worst things I could imagine going through.

There are certainly a number of attributes and behaviors that define friendship yet one of the best was shared years ago by Charlie McMahon, Lead Catalyst at SouthBrook Christian Church. Charlie shared a great message about what defines friendships and relationships. His reference was for us to consider who those “friends” closest to us and whether or not that have ‘refrigerator rights’ in our home…..you know those “friends” who are always welcome in our homes and yes….can open our ‘frig’ anytime they desire. It’s one of his messages I remember to this day!

What is your definition of true a “friend”, or friends and how have you built upon and strengthened your relationships and your commitment to them?

A little over two years ago, my best friend, and yes I ‘am referring to my wife Sandie, and I made an ‘adventure’ commitment that has forever changed our lives.

As part of this pact we made, each month, we ‘committed’, sometimes individually, or collectively to plan a getaway for the two of us. It could be anything from a day to a weekend trip, with the only rule being we could not stay at the same place twice during a given year. This has led to both memory building opportunities and life changing experiences. We have had times of being hopelessly lost, to how the heck did we luck out and we get here” times in our travels. We have also expanded upon these monthly adventures inviting “friends” to share them with us which has built some of the greatest relationships of “depth” either of us could have imagined.

My wish for each you the building of, and the keeping of “deep friendships, amazing journeys, and oh yes, a good number of ‘refrigerator’ rights”!

Steve's Signature

Memory Recall Day

Today is what I refer to as a ‘memory recall day”. Years ago one of my co-workers who was not only a really good person, she was also a ‘rock’ when it came to her work. Seldom was she ‘rattled’ by the ongoing challenges experienced by the youth and families she served.  This particular week seemed to be one of ‘those’ weeks where every crisis took on a life of it’s own and each was supercharged in both emotion and intensity.  Literally, she was like an old time phone operator with the receiver constantly at her ear, switching from one caller to another.

Then came Friday…..and here was her post to begin the day…..

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It was what happened when a call came in and her voice mail message began with “hello, this is Alisa, if you’re calling regarding a potential, or pending crisis please know my schedule today is already full.  I encourage you to get together with those you’re dealing with, and share with them that any and all crisis will have to wait until Monday to be addressed”.

Then came the message response on the other end of the phone which was priceless……”uh oh, okay, talk to you Monday”.

To clarify, she did call back the parent who had called in and told her that her voice message was just a light hearted way of reflecting on her week……..

As Kid President says take time in life to….”Pause, Breathe, Love”

Be safe,

Steve's Signature

 

A Personal MOU

Over the years I have, on occasion entered into MOU’s and during this time it provided guidance and clarity to the direction each of the parties involved were traveling together. In the busy lives which we are all involved I find myself continually stretched beyond measure….how about you?

Then I came up with this ‘crazy good’ idea!!  I have been known to have a few…such as the ‘creation of the perfect chocolate cookie’….but, not to worry I’ll share about that and some other ‘great ideas’ another time.

For now, let’s think about developing a personal or even family MOU. The idea here is to acknowledge and understand the values and goals that I, or we as a family will hold to as we go through the journey we call “life”.

As I thought about this conceptually it makes more sense than nonsense.   Think about it…I don’t know about you; however until recent years I know I have spent more time going through life than living it! We have all kinds of plans; plans to build things, plans to destroy things, performance  plans, employment plans…..plans, plans, and more plans, yet for many of us if we were asked what our ‘living-life’ plan was, we would have a problem remembering what we might be doing this weekend.

Please don’t hear me wrong……I’m challenging us (including me), to put time into having a personal understanding our lives beyond

just one’s work, and beyond the “I owe, I owe, it’s off to work I go” attitude many of us have come to have.

While this MOU may include our workplace, again I encourage us to establish this on a foundation of thought and consideration of most importantly you, and your family. When have you put yourself or your family in the position of being on the top of a list such as this?  The idea behind this special type of MOU is that you, your family and those close to you recognize it serves a reminder that an understanding of this nature actually exists within me, and with us!

Not too many years ago Coach Urban Meyer of THE Ohio State Buckeye’s life was temporarily derailed by what was thought to be a heart attack.  His life had become his work, and this was all consuming to say the least.  His success led to even greater expectations for him to succeed.

While there was no apparent end to his success, his body had another idea.  Sometime after this and after having retired from coaching, Coach Meyer was contemplating re-entering the sport that once nearly took his life.

A ‘family’ meeting occurred and while his family supported him in returning to coaching, it was with the stipulation he entered into a contract, a MOU to say, with his family. It is as follows:

1.My family always comes first

2.I will take care of myself and

maintain good health

3.I will go on a trip once a year with Nicki (at minimum)

4.I will not go more than 9 hours a day at the office

5.I will sleep with my cell phone on silent

6.I will continue to communicate daily with my kids

7.I will trust God’s plan and not be overanxious

8.I will keep the lake house

9.I will find a way to watch Nicki and Gigi play volleyball

10.I will eat three meals a day

You get the idea…life is to be lived…we plan for everything else….lets plan to live and to love the life we have been given!

Memorandum of Understanding…..take a few moments to draw yours up today and let it be a constant reminder to live everyday this amazing, awesome opportunity we call ‘life’!

Be safe,

Steve's Signature

Giving in….Making one’s life matter

Over the years, I’ve been continually challenged by the opportunities we are given to serve those who have for some reason or another come into our lives.

Years ago I remember stopping at a gas station one morning and being approached by a guy who said his wife and son were stuck on the highway and he was trying to get enough money to buy gas needed to get them on their way.  In putting on my ‘good Samaritan cape’ I quickly went into action, both going to the ATM withdrawing money and then further soliciting money from other gas station patrons to help this family in need!!  He thanked me over and over with continued “God bless You’s”, and “you’re and angel sent from heaven” to which I thanked him.

I headed off to my meeting feeling a definite sense of ‘I could actually go home now; my day is complete for I have served those in need’……this was followed of course by a choir of angels singing hallelujah lifting their arms to heaven and exclaiming “well done good and faithful servant”!!!….what a great person am I!!!!

Coming out of my meeting some hours later, and still on this “serving high” as I was driving back to my office I noticed this person that I, let me again emphasize that “I”, “me” had personally and solely  helped hours earlier standing out in front of the same gas station.  Stopping to inquire as to his family and the present situation he told me he was now waiting for a tow truck and needed more money in order for this to happen.  Donning my ‘cape’, I again headed to the ATM to help this desperate soul in need!!!  As I began to withdraw money the attendant who must have recognized me from earlier, “hey buddy, please don’t tell me you’re helping that guy?”.  Not saying anything initially my thought was “of course I am, can’t you see my ‘good Samaritan cape’? Do you know who I am?” He began to explain to me that this same guy frequently stood in front of the station using a similar story to gain monies from us suspecting patrons. Feeling completely taken, it was now time to confront this imposter, and to bring light to his indiscretions. Possibly I could lead him to repentance, and renew a soul! Upon engaging with him, he simply laughed, and said: “its unsuspecting jerks like you that fund my day….thanks, idiot!!!”

This was definitely a reality check moment…..no more hallelujah choir, and my “good Samaritan cape” was now shredded. Feeling extremely sorry for myself, my emotions damaged I vowed to never, I mean NNNNEEEVVVVEEEEEERRRRRR let this happen again.  No one gets help….…NOOOO ONEEEEE!!!!  Now who’s the jerk?….now who’s the idiot? Not me brother, not me!!

Soon after this experience and after proudly turning away a number of ‘seekers of money’ I found myself again confronted with a person in need, a mom with kids and no gas only, this time, she was not asking for money….just asking for gas enough to get home….that’s all. My internal guard system clicked on as if to say “another person scrounging off others…..send them on their way!!

This is earth to Steve…..have you completely lost your mind”? Is this really you thinking and acting in this way???, why exactly do you serve???…to bring accolades to YOU!?!?!!?!?…..so you can wear your ‘good Samaritan cape’!?!?!? Open your eyes!!!

I must say that this eye-opening experience brought me to the place that while knowing why I did what I did that day, I really must say a word of thanks to this mom for renewing the belief within me that we are not called to critically evaluate the motives of those in need, we are called to open our hearts to them.  I have come to believe that in life there are times we need to discern “are we the doctor or the pusher”.  Are we helping a situation to be better, or are we creating a dependency that neither they nor we will ever end?”

For me, it brought me back to that place of seeing and believing “the more we serve the more opportunities we will be given to serve”…….I hope to always be aware of, and open to these opportunities.

Be safe,

Steve

 

A Good Day

To begin, the feedback from my first blog has been wonderful…thanks for your kind words and encouragement!!

The amazing things that have happened since moving to our new ‘home’ have been beyond measure. We have had visitors almost daily, and they have unanimously ‘loved’ the changes, and updates we have made.This would not have been possible without great Co-workers, a guiding and supportive Board of Directors, and our Foster and Adoptive Families who are second to none.

Imagine coming to work every day “serving families, youth, and one another with excellence”, and working alongside one another believing and experiencing “the more we serve the more opportunities we will be given to serve”….wow!

I continue to be asked…just how did we do this?

Sometimes I think I know exactly the answer, however, my conclusion is that there are so many things that have influenced this journey we have taken together.

Many things have changed here at Agape; most significantly the coming together of Agape Co-workers creating an extremely positive shift in ‘culture’ like no other time in our history. With this unified commitment we continue to build upon the ‘strength-based’ initiative we began nearly four years ago. Together we are focused and driven…supporting and uplifting one another and those we are dedicated to serve.

This gathering of Agape co-workers is the best in my history as Agape’s Executive Director and Founder. As a ‘team’ I remain thankful that we are centered on the mission and vision we have dedicated ourselves too, and model this philosophy throughout the agency. Our foster and adoptive families continue their unbending commitment to serve the youth entrusted to their care, loving them beyond their behaviors, and their challenges.

‘Agape Strong’….”we dont have ‘problems’, only ‘challenges’, that with our collective strengths, we will address and overcome”!

The journey we share required for us to come together, being genuine, and transparent in our unified support of the mission and vision of Agape.

Passion ‘embraced’, commitment ‘driven’, successful ‘results’…….we will settle for nothing less!

It’s an amazing time here at Agape!

Be safe,

Steve's Signature