A big happy birthday goes back out to my cousin Carter ... hope you were able to find some new arm hairs as you venture into manhood:) Also, another hello out there to the sister in England. She did indeed venture to Big Ben and Piccadilly Circus where I stayed 3 years ago ... awesome.
Aflac has been a whirlwind the last couple of weeks as we put together plans for improvement and the various initiatives of 2009. We had our first Online Services Executive Steering Committee which consisted of five 2nd Vice Presidents and other VIPs at Aflac. I decided it'd be fun to see if I could make a fool out of myself, and I did by telling everyone one thing ... which I later sent an email to correct my brain flatulence. Other than that, they loved the information I put together including all of the positive analysis of the project ... I will consider it a success! I also brought the PIC team together for our collaborative brainstorm session that I facilitated with our manager. We've put together some great ideas on paper, but we will see how they go over with our VP and the various execution plans to coincide. I had another great meeting with my mentor Joe, whom happens to be a wonderful guy to bounce ideas off of. Also, I was able to help get a promotion for one of the analyst on my team, which was well-deserved. I had another great leadership learning experience when I sat down and laid out the opportunity for advancement for the other analysts on the team, which went over 59% better than I thought it would ... phew!
It was a great Toastmasters week as well since we had our International Speech contest. I finalized my speech Tuesday morning, "Moral Opportunity." The judges thought I had done well enough to be given 1st place with a ticket to compete at the area contest in February ... should be a great experience! I had a couple great YP meetings and I think we've decided to have our YP Gala at the beautimus Rivermill in Columbus. Now, all we need to do is raise about $10,000 and get 400 people to pay money to go ... no big deal right ... wow! The Literacy Alliance quarterly board meeting was also today and I was elected the Treasurer and Program Chair (still need to learn to say no:)! It should be an exciting year for the YPs and the literacy within the community, just hope I don't spread myself too thin to make a difference.
The best part of the last week though was having the opportunity to be the change I want to see in the world! I put together a service trip down to New Orleans to help with the ongoing Hurricane Relief efforts. We had 7 Aflac folks (all SIFE alum) and one spouse make up our party of 8 as we traveled down on Thursday eve to the Hands on New Orleans Volunteer House. I could write all night about the adventures, but the pictures and captions will speak volumes:
So we stayed in a 15'x15' room with 5 bunk beds and 8 people with one heater, that kind of worked ... amazingness! Friday you will see us posted on a set of stairs of the OC Haley Blvd. rennovation project. We helped Stephan clean up the backyard of his homes so kids could have a place to play without having to worry about stepping on glass and debris.
Friday night we ventured down to Bourbon Street for some Mardi Gras good times, 80's cover bands and some real southern blues with a wind/brass band.
Saturday we headed over to Ms. Evelyn's house for another great project. She visited and told us the story of how her and her late husband moved into this house more than 30 years ago and she has yet to live in it since Katrina. So, we were tasked with making it beautiful by sanding off the old paint job, putting up three stories worth of scaffolding and repainting the front side of her home. It was one of those projects that we could step back at the end of the day and feel/see a true sense of accomplishment. I just wish we could see the look on Ms. Evelyn's face when she moves in three months from now!
Sunday was our day off, so we ventured around New Orleans. Patrick and I started off the day at the oldest Catholic Cathedral in the US, St. Louis in New Orleans. The Archbishop led the mass, which was absolutely gorgeous and full of music! We then visited the rest of the French Quarter, after our late night on the town, and saw some amazing street artists and performers. Then it was off to see the remaining devastation of the 9th ward which still looks like a 3rd world country compared to the rest of the US. It was sad to see that even three years after the tragedy, people either didn't have the resources to fix what was left, or didn't even come back to what they had. We ended the night though on a much lighter note by traveling over to Mississippi to visit a couple of old friends. Billy Ray and Connie were the two of my pals I met on my first service trip to Biloxi back in January of 2006. They had us over for a full spread and great times catching up. They don't have many volunteers in the ol' Dedeaux School, but we did get to visit the bunks where I stayed. Billy Ray just happens to be the 4th grade teacher of my favorite football player of all time ... Brett Favre. He must've remembered that I was a big fan, so he gave me an absolutely amazing gift ... an autographed Brett Favre football:) Thank you so much Billy Ray and Connie for your hospitality and gifts, you will truly be friends forever. That night we also ventured out to Beau Rivage for some gambling action at the casino. I am happy to say that I was the big winner of the night at the Roulette table ... lucky #6 won me $72:)
Monday was our last day at the house (pictured above) and we had to say farewell to our Hands on New Orleans volunteer crew. Those folks pretty much gave up their life to volunteer for the cause and were some of the greatest people you'll ever meet. We also hung out with various other volunteers, including some AmeriCorps folks ... one of which was from Iowa and ventured many times back to help out after the flood. That day we headed over for the MLK Jr. service day project at Albert Wicker Elementary where I met up with some Mount Mercy Mustangs ... what a treat. They were there for a J-term class, so I coordinated with their advisor to be at the same worksite yesterday where I met some great folks from my alma mater.
On Monday, besides just "hangin' out,' we had the opportunity to build benches from scratch. Our 8 man crew built 3 normal benches, 3 planter benches and stained them all in the matter of a day. We were able to meet the principal of the school and learn of the great things the community is helping them do as a literacy partner. We also helped sketch out murals and paint hop scotch. It was a great way to end the service portion of our trip so we could say we cleaned, revitalize and built all in one trip!
On our way back there was a special request to drive down scenic 90 through Biloxi to see what the storm damage had done right along the coast. I must say, I was elated to see the amount of sweat and tears that must've gone into the rebuilding along the highway. When I was there three years ago, only a Walmart, Home Depot and one casino were open at the time. Now, the scenic route is booming with condos, casinos and Waffle Houses:) We even made a special trip to Saint Michael's Catholic Church where I worked three years ago. It almost brought tears to my eyes to see that the HOPE we had created there, was still alive and well. The Saint Michael's Catholic Church sign and granite creation of the word HOPE were still in tact after three years. Travis Peters and I spent hours putting together a rememberance for the perisheners and it looks like they're still holding on to that sense of hope.
The people you meet and the things you do for others will change your life forever, no matter how big or small the effort it makes a difference.
So here is my thought of the day, "Most of the important things in the world have been accomplished by people who have kept on trying when there seemed to be no hope at all" (Dale Carnegie). Keep giving back and livin' it up!