7 Billion People – 7 Billion Stories to Tell

31 Aug

So last week I was in Las Vegas for the annual Development Conference. I was the only person from my office chosen to attend, and even though I really shouldn’t, I felt kinda honored and proud of myself. My first event this year will end up coming in $10k+ over goal, raising the most money since 2008, which is an incredibly good feeling. There is also the potential for a promotion/increase in responsibility possible by the end of this year. I’m feeling very confident about the place I’m in right now, and that’s led me to reduce the dosage of my medication, and go 3+ weeks without a panic attack. (There are other factors involved in not having panic attacks, but I’m not going to dwell on them, or share them. Some things do need to remain private, even for the Queen of Social Media over here.)

So anyway, the whole point of the conference was to get the development staff to change their way of selling our events. It’s really tough to be a fundraiser right now, especially in a city with so much oil & gas money – everyone is waiting to see what happens with the election before they commit to giving any of their money to charity (except most oil & gas companies have posted record first-half profits, so this whole thing is kind of annoying and selfish when looking at it from my angle, but whatever. I guess they didn’t get filthy rich by spending willy-nilly. Oh…. wait.)

Lemme walk you through a typical sponsorship meeting, just so you can get an idea of what I’m talking about, because I think you’ll be able to see the difference a little better if I explain instead of just glossing over this.

Previously, we’d walk into a meeting armed with numbers. Facts, statistics, dollar amounts:
Arthritis affects 50 million Americans, 300,000 of them are kids. 1 in 5 Texans has arthritis. 1 million Houstonians. 5,000 Houston kids under 18.
Arthritis is the #2 cause of  disability in this country. It led to $120 billion in lost revenue in 2011 alone. Since 1948, the Foundation has contributed over $450 million to research grants.

50 million? 120 billion? 1 in 5?

Don’t get me wrong, numbers are great. They prove things, they make your eyes wide. But they don’t tell a story. There isn’t much feeling behind them.

On the other hand….

“Meet Essynce. Until October of 2011, Essynce was just like most other teens her age.  A friendly, outgoing high school freshman, she was popular and very involved with multiple activities.  Because of this, it was very noticeable when her health began to gradually decline late last year.  She  had never been sick a day in her life, so it came as quite a shock when she was diagnosed with Lupus and told that she would require daily medications for the rest of her life.  One of the symptoms of Lupus is early-onset of arthritis.

There are days when it is difficult for Essynce to perform tasks as basic as jogging or even bending her leg.  However, she has not allowed this to slow her down.  She remains active in her school and community, serving as an  Athletic Trainer for Manvel  High School Athletic  Department, working as a Children’s Patient Advocate for Children’s Memorial Hermann Hospital and recently winning the title of Miss Teen Silverlake 2012-2013.  Upon graduating from Manvel High School, she plans to attend the University of Texas San Antonio, to become an Occupational Therapist. 

She is currently working to develop an organization dedicated to promoting self-esteem and confidence in young girls, particularly those suffering from a chronic illness. In her own words, Essynce challenges us to ‘challenge our minds, open our hearts, and realize that no matter what our today looks like, we are more than a diagnosis. Let’s do something about it!'”

Or how about…

“About a year ago my now five-year old little girl started limping, when I asked if she was in pain, she said no. I couldn’t accept that the limping was normal so I took my baby to the doctor where they proceeded to tell me her leg was broken, common for children her age. Despite my persistence that I didn’t see what they were talking about on the x-ray, we put her in a cast up to her waist. When the cast came off two weeks later she could no longer walk because of the pain. This was not something common.

Following blood tests, x-rays and extensive testing, my daughter was diagnosed with Juvenile Rheumatoid Arthritis. We now give her methotrexate (or chemotherapy) shots every week, steroid shots about twice a year and many other medications. 

Once I was asked if she comprehends what she is going through. I answered, “No, because all that my baby knows is that pain for her, IS her normal.”

What makes it so hard for us is that the disease is so silent. You look at my little girl and wouldn’t fathom she lives a life of pain … or how long will she endure this. What we do know is that we are proud of Reagan and proud to partner with the Arthritis Foundation to make a difference in the lives of the 300,000 kids suffering from this disease.”

This new approach is so different and yet SO POWERFUL and SO NECESSARY. My absolutely favorite quote from the conference, which hit home for me, was this:
“50 million Americans. 50 million stories. 50 million reasons to make a difference.”
50 million stories? Absolutely. 50 million ways this disease has impacted lives and relationships and routines. Holy shit. This is powerful information. This is a new way to look at something every fundraiser does on an almost daily basis.
Tell the story, don’t just recite the numbers. Anyone can give you numbers. Not everyone can tell you the stories behind them.
And that got me thinking (950 words later, you’re finally gonna figure out what the point of this post is):
We all have a story.
You’ve read my story, at least as to how it relates to my anxiety issues, but every single person on earth has a different take on life. We cannot allow ourselves to only see the numbers – how many people are jobless, homeless, on welfare. We have to remember that each of those numbers is a real, live person, with a tale to tell. We cannot be blinded by our preconceived notions.
It’s time we stop talking and start listening.
That’s my challenge to you, dear reader. Take a step back and look beyond the numbers and the things we think we know. See the people in your life (and the strangers you’ve yet to meet) with new eyes, and a new understanding. We all have a story to tell.
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