Let's Join J.T. in Prison: Indy "Give Back" Program Touches 18 Nonprofit Leaders

One of the observations I often make at the end of a Leadership Challenge® Workshop is that The Leadership Challenge helps build communities. Sometimes that means it builds a work community out of an intact team of folks, or a community out of people from various departments within an organization. And sometimes, it means that a community is built from like-minded leaders within a city who’ve never met. This is what happened in the Masters Give Back program Certified Master Renee Harness and I co-led in Indianapolis recently. 

Thanks to support provided by Wiley, publisher of the complete library of Leadership Challenge resources, we offered a free Leadership Challenge® Workshop that engaged 18 leaders from various Indianapolis area non-for-profit organizations. The purpose was to provide access to "corporate quality" leadership training to those who could not afford it on their own.  And we were able to welcome leaders from School on Wheels, Pathway to Recovery, Hendricks Regional Health Foundation, Purdue Student Union Board, Animalia, The Carmel Public Library and No Exit Performance (Theater Group) for a  one-day program—plus we provided one hour of personalized coaching on their LPI results. 

A few of the attendees knew of each other. For the most part, however, the group consisted of 18 strangers who were united primarily by their passion to give back to their own communities.

As the group began sharing experiences, several stories stood out for the ways in which participants truly put The Five Practices into action. One particular story, for example, gave rise to a unifying sense of how these 18 strangers could come together to create a community of their own. It all began when James ‘J.T.’ Taylor, who counsels inmates at the Peace Learning Center, shared a story on Model the Way. 

J.T., who is 70, talked of how he helped a group of young male inmates buy into practicing yoga by doing it with them! Said JT, “Of course, I didn’t simply have them follow the instructor. I did yoga, too, to demonstrate that I was in it with them.” After hearing about JT’s willingness to Model the Way, even with his “weary old bones”, many of the other nonprofit leaders were interested in partnering with him in his work at the Peace Learning Center. “Let’s go to the prison (and do yoga – and art, and theater!) with J.T.” became the smile of the day for the class.

J.T. Taylor from the Peace Learning Center meets Bishop Desmond Tutu at the dedication of The Desmond Tutu Center, a partnership with Butler University and the Christian Theological Seminary in Indianapolis.

Another great story came from Justin Felton, President of the Purdue Student Union Board.  Felton, a Purdue senior, talked about how they Challenged the Process with a recent 18-hour Dance Marathon. 

“The previous year, we raised about $600,000 for Children’s Hospital with 1,000 students participating. So this past year, we thought we could raise $1,000,000 if we could just increase the number of volunteers to 2,000. Unfortunately, the administration didn’t want to publicize the goal because they thought it was impossible, and didn’t want the bad press if we missed it. But we knew differently and just went for it.

With just one hour to go before the end of the marathon, we were about $70,000 short of our goal.  So in spite of how tired people were after 17 hours on their feet, everyone in the room was asked to reach out to their ‘communities’ one final time asking for donations. And we did it! We got 2,000 volunteers and we raised $1,000,000.”

Nicely done, Justin – That’s how you Challenge the Process!

At the end of the program, Kate Hussey, Chief Operating Officer at School on Wheels, summed up her experience in two words: Inspiring and Enabling.  “I loved this workshop,” she said.  “This is the kind of training that will help me do a better job, starting today—and coupled with the LPI coaching will help me lead my team much more effectively.  It’s all so powerful. We just don’t have funds for this kind of training and these types of materials –very kind of Wiley… Now I just need to find a way for my boss to attend!” And in the end, Sally Bindley, Founder and CEO of School on Wheels, was indeed able to attend The Leadership Challenge Workshop in January, 2014.

This important Give Back Program not only provided nonprofit leaders a chance to devote time to their own leadership; it also provided them with the opportunity to build community. Rene and I are happy and grateful that we were able to contribute to the Indianapolis community, and to engage with such inspiring leaders.

Tom Pearce, a Certified Master-in-Training working toward certification in both facilitation and coaching, has been teaching and consulting with clients using The Leadership Challenge for more than 10 years. He can be reached at ileadusa@aol.com Renee Harness, Certified Master and principal at Harness Leadership, is also the author of support tools and a long-time contributor to The Leadership Challenge. She can be reached at 317-489-3335.  Together they partnered to develop and facilitate this one-day Give Back Program. 

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