Thursday, November 26, 2009

One man makes a difference

Don’t ask what the world needs. Ask what makes you come alive, and go do it. Because what the world needs is people who have come alive. Howard Thurman
Last night was graduation night for Project Forward, the 12-week financial planning and life skills course I participate in at the shelter where I work. Ten men who have applied themselves over the past three months received their Project Forward graduation certificates and celebrated their excellence.

We were about thirty people in the Multi-purpose room on the sixth floor of the shelter. We had come together to celebrate the accomplishments of these ten individuals and to pay tribute to Ram Banga of Infinity Capital Management, the man who created Project Forward and who, for the past three years, has attended every Wednesday evening to share his knowledge and his passion for living a financially healthy life.

When Ram and I first started working together three years ago, there was little idea that this project would survive -- or just how much value it would add to everyone's life, including Ram's.

"I'm a much better financial advisor since starting Project Forward," he told me one night after class. "I used to just think it was about giving people the information on how to manage their money wisely. And sometimes, I judged my clients. Now, I know it's so much more. Now, I realize there is a story behind every bad debt, a human being struggling to come alive behind every mis-spent penny. I am definitely more compassionate and caring than I was three years ago."

At the end of the ceremony, several of the students came up to me and asked, "What's next? Can we keep coming back?"

"Absolutely," I replied. "We'll be covering different topics next time too."

"What if we became mentors to the new guys," suggested one of the students. "You know, share our knowledge to encourage them to do what we've done."

What several of these individuals has done is -- save up enough money to get out of the shelter into their own apartment. They're working full-time. They've worked on their addiction issues if they had one, and they've created a financial plan to ensure they have what it takes to maintain their independence.

It's been an amazing success.

Ram is just your 'ordinary banker' kind of guy. He's been in the finance sector for thirteen years. He's got a wife. A house. No kids (yet), but he's mapped out his financial path and is walking his talk.

"I never park in the downtown core," he told the class one night. "I always park in the beltline where it's fifty-percent cheaper and walk the rest of the way to client appointments. I save money and I get good exercise."

It's just one of many practical suggestions Ram shares on how to create wealth. Practical suggestions such as, use coupons. Did you know the AMA (Alberta Motor Association) sells $8.00 movie tickets which you can purchase in advance and use at any theatre? Or, buy a coupon book for restaurants and treat yourself and your wife (or girlfriend or whomever) to a great dinner at a fine restaurant at half the price. Or, watch for sales at the grocery store. Stock up on those Delizio's pizzas and enjoy them whenever you want at dollars off.

He also had great ideas on how the guys could cut down their expenses such as cigarettes. If you smoke a pack a day, he told them, smoke one less every day. Keep cutting down gradually until you're only smoking a handful a day -- you could even think about quitting. One of the students actually did quit and he's very proud of himself for doing it.

When Ram first started coming to the shelter, he'd appear in his silk suit and tie, eager to get the class underway. Quickly, he realized the silk suit was a barrier. The suit kept him apart. He started wearing jeans.

In one of his first presentations he gave an example of the value of savings by talking about what it would take to save-up for a $5,000 flat screen TV. After the class I suggested he might want to use something more real for his audience. Like saving up for a first month/last month rent deposit. It was the first time I saw him 'get-it'. These are real lives, real people with real issues limiting them from moving out of the shelter system. A flat screen TV is far off in the distance of their goal-setting, it's a big dream off on the horizon. What they needed was the encouragement to set goals that would create the very real possibility of creating independent living beyond a homeless shelter.

It was the last time he mentioned $5,000 TV sets.

I have been blessed with spending the past three years of Wednesday nights in the training room with Ram. I have been blessed with spending the time with a group of men, and a few women, who, no matter how hard they are struggling, are working towards changing their lives so that they can reclaim what was lost, and so much more.

And, I have been blessed with watching one man take an idea and turn it into action. Action that changes lives and changes the world, one person at a time.

We can all do it. Take action. Change the world, one person at a time.

All it takes is an idea. A commitment. A belief you can make it happen. A passion. And action.

We can all make a difference in the world -- and when we do, we can all share in the gratitude of knowing, our ripple effect touches lives in very real ways. Our ripple spreads out and creates smiles and joy in the hearts of those we touch.

Like the men last night. Their lives have been touched and they now want to give back, to share their knowledge, their courage and their strength to encourage others. They want to share their learning so that others can take the steps they have taken to create very real success in their lives. They want to create their own ripple that keeps on spreading, ever wider, in a world of ending homelessness, one person at a time.

Success was in the air last night and its spreading.

The question is: Do you have a dream of making a difference? Are you taking action?


Maureen said...

A perfect post to read here in the U.S. on our day of Thanksgiving.

Thank you for the difference you and Ram and those at the shelter make in this world!

As Rumi wrote, "When you do something from your soul, you feel a river moving in you, a joy. . . ."

S L M Moss said...

Wow! What an amazing story!! One we could all learn from.

Dreaming is not enough - we have to take action every day to see them come true.