Communication

I have worked with many groups of people during my career, however the group of people that were the most successful was the Brehm Preparatory School advisory committee. Brehm is a college preparatory school for children who have severe learning disabilities and have been bullied by their classmates and often kicked out of their schools.

These are bright and capable kids who learn differently than the “normal” children in regular school settings and the federal funding through IDEA, Individuals with Disabilities Education Act, provides assistance for these kids. This funding is in severe risk of being eliminated by putting the entire responsibility on the individual states, rather than through the Federal government.

My step-son Jason eventually received the funding for two years at Brehm, but only after spending all of my life’s savings to fight with the local school district who wouldn’t have had to pay a penny of the funding. The federal government eventually provided the funding, but the school district lost $20,000 in legal fees and it cost me the same. This was a stupid game of playing hardball that cost the taxpayers a lot more than the $20,000 since it took hours of their staff to attend these senseless hearings. Jason had the law supporting his rights, but it took the school district two years to “do the right thing” and agree to the federal funding.

My youngest son received funding for his education through the age of 22, because his school district knew the importance of providing an equal and fair approach to education. Although he was profoundly mentally retarded and did not advance as a result of the funding, other children like him have benefitted greatly from it. I would ask that you tell your congressman that you support the funding of IDEA and reject Betsy DeVos’s idea about assigning the responsibility to the individual states, some of which would not think this was a worthy project to fund.

The school is in Carbondale, Illinois, also home of Southern Illinois University and is getting ready to face the onslaught of visitors coming to view the much-anticipated lunar eclipse on August 21. The director is such a visionary that he is selling 10×10 squares of land to visitors to help raise funds for scholarships for the school. This is addition to the hazelnut trees he just planted to hopefully create a cash crop of Omega-3 rich nuts that have become the craze.

Back in 1993, I had been hired to help develop a plan for building out the campus of the college preparatory school that could only serve about 30 boarding students per year. I listened to Dr. Richard Collins, the passionate director who assumed they could borrow millions of dollars or that people would throw money at them just because he asked them to. I patiently explained that people gave to “winners” and we needed to make Brehm into one. I also explained that we would need to develop a business plan that showed Brehm was profitable and could repay all the loans necessary to complete the project.

The word “profit” seemed like a nasty one to Rich, since they were a non-for-profit entity. Over the course of the next few months, I developed a 10-year plan and set up a meeting with the local bank. Brehm was loaned $300,000 to build one 15-student dorm for the coming school year. The additional $450,000 of revenue that was paid a few months later from the thankful parents of the new students, allowed Brehm to repay the bank loan within months and still had additional resources left.

This process was repeated each summer, alternating between creating revenue-producing dorms and then building classrooms and hiring teachers to work with the new students. Eventually we decided that it was time to attend fund-raising seminars held in Delaware. Both myself, the director and another visionary who was a strategic visioning coach attended the three-day seminar and we realized we were missing an import piece of the puzzle to accomplishing the lofty dreams of the leader of the school. We needed the full involvement of the staff and parents to meet the future goals of this wonderful visionary who had no idea about how to pay for his dream.

What followed was a dream come true for all of us; Rich is still working hard to create a legacy for the school that he retired from years ago, and for all of the staff including his wife Donna that diligently found the students that would eventually graduate from college and not fail back in the home school districts. Thousands of parents would celebrate these victories over the years and it changed the course of my life.

Bill Purdon, the strategic visioning coach who was my wonderful mentor and friend has since passed away, but his guidance and coaching lives on in me, now I am also a strategic visioning coach with the added benefit of vast financial knowledge on how to obtain funding through bank loans and/or donations.

The advisory committee met quarterly to update everyone on the progress and then the parents of the entire school joined us once a year for a huge celebration of what had been accomplished. We all had something different to contribute and had completely different backgrounds, and yet this collaboration of people who all had the same goal in mind, worked tirelessly together, accomplishing far than any other project I have ever tackled. This group had “heart” in the project, not just whether it made money or not, which of course was critical to the overall success of the school.

I believe that an individual, company, school or church can accomplish anything they desire if the goal or “Vision” is easily broken down into achievable steps, with everyone having their respective responsibilities and with constant communication between everyone. Phone calls, emails and texts are important ways to communicate, but the most effective method was meeting with the parents at the 200+ event held each year to celebrate the victories along with the stumbling blocks.

Communication is always best when it is personal and up close even though there are many ways to communicate between people. Do not depend on texts and tweets to form your relationships.

A perfect example of irresponsible communication is how our president is using Twitter to communicate with the most unstable leader in the world. I pray that someone will counsel my President and discourage him from tweeting senseless messages. If that doesn’t work, will someone please take away his phone and computer?

That is what I would do if my grandchildren were tweeting dangerous comments to a crazy man. Oh, if it were only that easy.

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