Economic Well-being: The Barometer of Success

Economic Well-being: The Barometer of Success

Every day at Fedcap, we strive to find solutions to help people overcome barriers to economic well-being.  While to some extent economic well-being is subjective, we measure economic well-being by having enough income to pay bills, enough income to cover emergencies (that always come up), and enough income to build a future.  We also understand that economic well-being involves a more nuanced ability of an individual to participate in the commerce of society—purchasing goods and services, having a place to call home and creating a future for children that is better than the generation before.    Stigma, inadequate access to education, lack of behavioral and physical health care, unsafe or unstable housing, little to no personal support and limited job opportunities create barriers to economic well-being.

Trying to design effective solutions to overcoming these barriers is complex work. One size—one solution—does not fit all. For example, if economic well-being meant simply finding a person a job, then all of our government, agency, business, and organizational energies would be focused on that and nothing else. But it is more complicated and demands precise interventions sequenced in the right way, delivered at the right time.  Because there is no emphasis on economic well-being as the backdrop for economic policy, the task falls on mission driven agencies like Fedcap and many others to lead the way.

The multi-faceted nature of economic well-being demands that we design, test and refine laser focused and wholly integrated solutions that blend health, education, and employment within a message of hope and possibility.   Were we to approach solutions in a less integrated, less intentional manner, we would miss the opportunity  (and some might say the obligation) to create relevant and sustainable impact.  For example, veterans come to us to help them find a job.  But they also come to us with PTSD, physical disabilities, family issues, housing needs –each that must be addressed if we they are to achieve economic well-being.  A job is not the goal—economic well-being is the goal.

What if our collective societal energy were geared toward building a platform for economic well being for everyone?  What if economic well-being was the barometer for national achievement?  What would happen if our policies, our leadership, our systems and our social fabric were woven around the attainment of economic well-being?

As always, I welcome your thoughts!

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What would happen if being different…just meant being different?

What would happen if being different…just meant being different?

Rigid academic and social expectations could wind up stifling a mind that, while it might struggle to conjugate a verb, could one day take us to distant stars.                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                               www.templegrandin.com

April is International Autism Awareness Month. It is so designated to raise awareness about autism and to promote the concepts of inclusion, self-determination, acceptance, appreciation, and the opportunity for those with autism to achieve the highest quality of life.

When you hear the word autism, what is the image that immediately comes to mind? What words do you use to describe someone with autism? Whose face do you imagine?

I suspect that the first image that comes to mind is not the face of Einstein or van Gogh or Steve Jobs. And yet, according to the 2013 American Psychiatric Association’s revised definition of autism, the spectrum can range from brilliant inventors and creators to those who are not capable of feeding or dressing themselves. Autism is part of a continuum with a broad range. Many of our most capable and creative leaders may touch on the spectrum.

And yet, we tend to label those with autism as disordered or abnormal, with an irregular pathology. We tend to make assumptions based on our experience in the media or in life. We assume that our experience is the prevailing reality.

What if we were to look at those who are not like us as just… different? What if we didn’t socially pathologize autism, or, for that matter, any type of developmental—or cultural—or economic—or social—difference?

All of us are different in some way. We each have our own biological and cultural differences, which many of us hide or keep secret because we don’t want to be labeled. Some of us come from extreme poverty. Others of us are recovering addicts. Some of us have been incarcerated. Others of us are over 55. For each of these “populations,” there is an overarching definition or label that does not necessarily account for our strengths, our abilities, our talents, or the things that make us unique.

Temple Grandin is a remarkable advocate for autism awareness. She is a professor of animal science and a consultant to the livestock industry. In 2010, she was named by Time Magazine as one of the 100 most influential people in the world. When she was two years old, she was diagnosed with “brain damage.” She came from an affluent family who could afford tutors and nannies and other helpers to guide her through school. Otherwise, she would have been institutionalized as most people like her would have been. Dr. Grandin uses her strengths—her ability to see things differently from those of us who are labeled as “normal”—to not only create and invent methods for keeping livestock, but also to raise awareness about autism. (For an animated interview with Dr. Grandin, check out this interesting video: https://youtu.be/Ifsh6sojAvg)

Dr. Grandin is just one example of what could happen if we were to question our assumptions about the labels we tend to assign to others.

What words might we use to describe those who are different from us in a way that doesn’t pathologize or stigmatize them?

What is it we think we know about another person?

As always, I welcome your thoughts.

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In Praise of Effectively Managing from the Middle

In Praise of Effectively Managing from the Middle

Success in middle management requires learning as fast as the world is changing.

-Warren Bennis

No doubt there are middle managers who find their position challenging. They have multiple stakeholders who look to them for answers. They are tasked with turning high-level decisions into actionable plans and goals. They are often the messenger and not the decider, and so have to defend decisions they may not have had the benefit of helping to make. They are more apt than high-level leaders to bear difficult feedback from frontline staff. Being in middle management is not easy.

And yet, strong mid-level management can be—and often is—the difference between success or failure in an organization. In a study cited in the Harvard Business Review, organizational expert and author Behnam Tabrizi conducted a survey of 56 random companies from a variety of industries. His goal was to determine the catalyst for success or failure in a change management effort. He discovered that the majority of change efforts failed. Yet the 32% that did succeed had one thing in common: the involvement of middle management.

Managing in the middle offers an exceptional opportunity to lead and execute change. Middle managers know how things get done. They are privy to the day-to-day workings of an organization and the work of the staff. They understand the why of a change effort and they understand how it will get done. They understand what motivates their staff, including what incentives will inspire them to follow through on a goal or plan. They know whom to pick as early adopters and whom to pick as leads on a project. Middle managers know the clients, customers, and vendors and what drives them.

Strong mid-level managers can be visionaries and know how best to articulate that vision to their staffs. They are able to see the moments when staff may falter or need support. They understand the concrete processes necessary to see change happen. They are the “translators” between executive management and frontline and across an organization and can translate ideas into action.

In this way, middle managers are the true innovators. Innovation can happen incrementally or all at once.  Either way, it is the middle managers who are responsible for identifying changes that can happen and for being the early voices if or when a change process will clearly fail.

For those of us in senior level positions, it is our job to inspire and support our mid-level managers as they execute and create change. We can set the direction, and it is essential to include leaders from all levels of the organization in our planning.

Their knowledge of process and resources and staff will inform our decision making. Mid-level managers are key leaders as we work together to grow, to learn, to improve, and to change. I am so grateful for the leaders who, every day, offer me insight and the benefit of their expertise to help us grow and thrive. Because of their hard work, dedication, insight, and ideas, we are the strong organization we are today.

As always, I welcome your thoughts.

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The Challenge of Making Smart Social Investments

The Challenge of Making Smart Social Investments

Life skill formation is dynamic in nature. Skill begets skill; motivation begets motivation. If a child is not motivated and stimulated to learn and engage early on in life, the more likely it is that when the child becomes an adult, the child will struggle in social and economic life.
–Dr. James Heckman, Nobel laureate, University of Chicago
What if we could solve the problem of poverty with one, targeted and precise intervention? What if the picture of the future did not include the faces of poor or hungry children—or adults? While this is most likely not the case…there is a growing body of research around the importance of intervening during the first three years of life in order to significantly improve lifetime outcomes for children including health, educational attainment, long term earning, reduction in involvement in the criminal justice system and lifelong productivity.
Every day here at Fedcap, we work to eliminate barriers to economic well-being. And because we believe that questions are at least just as important as answers, if early childhood education is the place to focus our energies (or at least part of our energies) then—what are the most effective strategies for investing in early childhood development, how much investment is the right amount and what are the most effective and targeted interventions?
Next week, we will be exploring this question at our 13th biannual Solution Series. We will be joined by three national experts who well understand the need for investing in high-quality early childhood programs that could dramatically improve opportunities for a better workforce and a better future. If you click on the invitation below you can register for the event. I would love to see you attend!
According to the First Five Year Fund, a federal, non-partisan advocacy group, today, less than half of low-income children have access to the types of programs that could radically improve their future.
Our panelists will tell us that every dollar invested in quality early childhood education for low-income children provides taxpayers with a significant return (as much as 13%). They will explore the economic implications of that investment—not just for those who reside in poverty, but for society as a whole, and particularly, what it means to the workforce of the future and the competitive position of our country in a global economy.
Our experts next week include Caitlin Codella, Director or Policy at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce Foundation Center for Education and Workforce; economist Michael Weinstein, Executive Director of Impact Matters; and Katharine Stevens, resident scholar at the American Enterprise Institute. I urge you to join us for what promises to be a transformative conversation. I welcome your thoughts, as always.

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The Challenge of Making Smart Social Investments

The Challenge of Making Smart Social Investments

Life skill formation is dynamic in nature. Skill begets skill; motivation begets motivation. If a child is not motivated and stimulated to learn and engage early on in life, the more likely it is that when the child becomes an adult, the child will struggle in social and economic life.

–Dr. James Heckman, Nobel laureate, University of Chicago

What if we could solve the problem of poverty with one, targeted and precise intervention? What if the picture of the future did not include the faces of poor or hungry children—or adults?  While this is most likely not the case…there is a growing body of research around the importance of intervening during the first three years of life in order to significantly improve lifetime outcomes for children including health, educational attainment, long term earning, reduction in involvement in the criminal justice system and lifelong productivity.

Every day here at Fedcap, we work to eliminate barriers to economic well-being.   And because we believe that questions are at least just as important as answers, if early childhood education is the place to focus our energies (or at least part of  our energies)  then—what are the most effective strategies for investing in early childhood development, how much investment is the right amount and what are the most effective and targeted interventions?   

Next week, we will be exploring this question at our 13th biannual Solution Series. We will be joined by three national experts who well understand the need for investing in high-quality early childhood programs that could dramatically improve opportunities for a better workforce and a better future.  If you click on the invitation below you can register for the event.   I would love to see you attend!

According to the First Five Year Fund, a federal, non-partisan advocacy group, today, less than half of low-income children have access to the types of programs that could radically improve their future.

Our panelists will tell us that every dollar invested in quality early childhood education for low-income children provides taxpayers with a significant return (as much as 13%).   They will explore the economic implications of that investment—not just for those who reside in poverty, but for society as a whole, and particularly, what it means to the workforce of the future and the competitive position of our country in a global economy.

Our experts next week include Caitlin Codella, Director or Policy at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce Foundation Center for Education and Workforce; economist Michael Weinstein, Executive Director of Impact Matters; and Katharine Stevens, resident scholar at the American Enterprise Institute. I urge you to join us for what promises to be a transformative conversation.  I welcome your thoughts, as always.

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Early Education: Good for Business, Good for Society

Early Education: Good for Business, Good for Society

“If we don’t look at this seriously and think about early childhood education as our moon mission for the next ten years, then we miss the opportunity to build a workforce to keep us competitive for decades to come.” Larry Jensen, President and CEO of Cushman & Wakefield Commercial Adviser
For many parents, the birth of a baby can generate hope and optimism for the possibilities of what lies ahead. It can also cause anxiety about ensuring the baby has what she needs to not only survive, but thrive in the world. Uncertainty lies ahead, and the most hopeful among us trust that the child will be safe and will discover a way to excavate her talents and live a fruitful life.
Everyone wants a child to grow to her greatest potential not only for her own fulfillment but to ensure the prosperity and future of society. Our well-being depends on the next generation of children who will become our citizens and our workforce. It is up to us to create an environment where we are cultivating our future by investing wisely in educating parents and early childhood practitioners in the “skills” that will ensure a prosperous society.
Experts in the area of early childhood development tell us that learning begins at birth and that the most critical learning imprints happen in the first five years of a child’s life. “Parents are a child’s first teacher” is a mantra familiar to many, meaning that a parent’s job is to cultivate a secure attachment where a child feels safe and has a healthy sense of self. Coupled with a parent’s efforts is the need for robust early childhood education taught by well-trained practitioners who understand the science of imprinting and learning that complements the work of the parent at home. Scientists are using their combined research to call for the need to create policies and to invest in early childhood education as a means of ensuring the future of business and of our society.
Research makes it clear that early childhood education is the catalyst for creating a vibrant, progressive workforce and society. According to a study conducted by the National Scientific Council Center on the Developing Child at Harvard University, there are clear concepts to back their theory:
Child development is a foundation for community and economic development as capable children become the foundation of a prosperous and sustainable society
Brains are built over time
The interactive influences of genes and experience literally shape the architecture of the developing brain, and the active ingredient is the “serve and return” nature of children’s engagement in relationships with their parents and other caregivers in their family or community.*
In addition, investing in high-quality early learning programs for children from birth to age five yields high financial returns. Research shows that besides the social and cognitive benefits comes economic benefit, including higher earnings for the individual, increased tax revenues and decreased use of welfare and other social services, ultimately resulting in lower expenses for states and for communities. The earlier the intervention, the higher the return.
The business community understands all too well the importance of having a world-class education system as a pipeline for their workforce. Achieving a world-class education system means focusing on the all-important learning opportunities for children from birth to age five.
On March 29th, we are hosting our business Solution Series—Why Business Should Support Early Childhood Education: Building a Workforce Pipeline for the 21st Century. The forum will be an opportunity for businesses to come together to learn more about why it’s essential for businesses to care about investing in early education and how it can influence the bottom line today—and in the future. If you are a business leader, this forum will offer a fascinating lens on the future of workforce development. I urge you to attend! You can register at www.fedcap.org. Hope to see you there. In the meantime, I welcome your thoughts.
*from the The Science of Early Childhood Development: Closing the Gap Between What We Know and What We Do National Scientific Council Center on the Developing Child at Harvard University http://www.developingchild.net

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Responding to Difference with Interest

Responding to Difference with Interest

One of the greatest joys of all time is watching a small child as she or he discovers something never seen before. She asks (sometimes over and over again), “What’s that?” “What’s THAT?” And, as a patient adult, you answer—after all, you have the opportunity to introduce the child to the world through your eyes, with your perspective. If you’re like me, you love the natural curiosity, as it is a reminder of what it is like to experience the world anew.
Research tells us—as does our experience—that children view things that are new—or different—with great interest and curiosity.
But what happens when a child sees someone moving in a wheelchair, or walking with a white cane or making unfamiliar noises? Natural curiosity would lead them to ask questions: “Why is that person in a chair with wheels?” “What is that white cane for?” “Why does that person sound like that?” These are natural questions that reflect a healthy interest in the world.
How we respond to those questions is the critical moment. When we respond by pulling the child back and saying, “It’s not nice to ask that question,” or, “Don’t point,” or whatever we do to divert the child’s focus on the other person—in that moment, we spawn discomfort, and potentially, fear.
And this becomes the next generation of stigma. This is how we create a sense of “other.” This is how those with disabilities become “them,” and not “us.”
In her essay, Stigma, An Enigma Demystified, Dr. Lerita Coleman Brown writes about the origins of stigma. She suggests that all of us carry with us a fear of being seen as different or separate from the rest of society—an “other.” Any one of us, she posits, could become stigmatized at any time, given how rapidly our culture shifts over time. For example, as we age, our status changes, and, in some cultures, age gives us increased status. In others, ageing decreases our status. And when we lose status, we lose power. Losing power means losing advantages and ultimately, losing control about the choices we get to make about our lives.
In addition, those who find themselves in a category or population that is stigmatized in one way or another become defined by our “otherness,” or what could be considered our disadvantage by those who are yet not stigmatized. We become part of what I referred to in an earlier post as a “single story,” defined by that “otherness” such as our heritage or our disability or our politics or our age or economic status, just to name a few ways of exclusion and segregation. If we have gifts or talents that are outstanding, they are highlighted in spite of our “otherness.”
I believe that stigmatization happens on both a conscious and an unconscious level. It is part of a defensive posture that many use to protect themselves from the exclusion that stigma brings. It is part of the message that is passed along to us as children when we are told to be polite and not point out differences. It is passed along in messages from the media and from opinions handed to us by those in authority.
But what if we were to respond to difference with respectful interest instead of fear? What if we allowed the questions: “What is your life like in that wheelchair?” “How do you know it’s safe to cross the street if you cannot see?” What might be the result?
I would suggest that the result would be greater empathy and ultimately, greater understanding of what it is like to be in another’s shoes. We might come to discover that the “other” is, in fact, very much like us. We might be inspired by them—and ultimately, by each other. It would require that those of us in both the stigmatized and non-stigmatized groups be willing to have the conversation.
We all want to be part of the non-stigmatized majority. If we were to work together, we could indeed all be part of the that majority if we would reshape our thinking and our language. “Them,” then, becomes “us.”
This March, as part of Developmental Disabilities Awareness Month, I ask: what would it take for us to recognize our own unconscious stigmatization of others—no matter what the difference might be? And ultimately, what would it take for us to turn to the world of differences with respectful interest instead of fear and discomfort?
I welcome your thoughts and responses.

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Building a Culture of Organizational Resilience

Building a Culture of Organizational Resilience

Every day, I marvel at the resilience of the individuals we serve. I see veterans wounded both physically and psychologically with the scars of battle; I see men and women who have lost their homes, their jobs, and their families; I see young people who have moved from foster home to foster home—and I see those who have suffered from substance use, and those who have been incarcerated only to re-enter society burned by the stigma of their past. Yet in so many, I see above all, extraordinary resilience. I am inspired by their ability to not only recover—but to bounce back from unimaginable trials. They have been through a great deal—and still they have the stamina to walk through our doors and find hope, meaning and, most importantly, possibilities for a new future.
While the issues are clearly very different, organizations, too, are also susceptible to the impact of the environment. In our organization, like many nonprofits, the only constant is change. Contracts shift. Foundation awards run their course. Federal guidelines change. The political climate shifts with new leaders. Staff move into new roles. These forces create stress. But also like people, organizations can build their resilience muscles so that change is less a cause for stress, and more viewed as an opportunity.
What are the catalysts for resilience? There is much research out there about what makes resilience in human beings. To sum it up, resilience is found when an individual feels: competent—well-built skills to meet whatever challenges arise; confident—in their various abilities; connection—to a mentor, a teacher, a leader, a family member who has faith in their success; contribution—to something greater than him or herself; and control—over the basic and most foundational aspects of their lives.
These characteristics can be applied to organizations as well. These “c’s” of resilience are essential to creating a positive and growing organizational culture.
For an organization to feel competent, there needs to be a common understanding of mission and the skills required to accomplish agency goals. From hiring, throughout the lifecycle of an employee, it is essential that every employee understands the work, how to do it and where to get information to enhance skills.
Organizational confidence comes from leaders who are clear and focused on the right things at the right times.
Organizational connection is essential—to each other, to our Board, our funders, our stakeholders, and of course, to those we serve. These connections help us feel a part of something greater than ourselves.
Contribution, is an easy “muscle” to fall back on as every day we are able to see the fruits of our hard work in the successes of those we serve. This “doing” makes us feels good, makes us resilient.
And finally, control…while we really have little control over the future, we do have the ability to prepare for it by carefully attending to the environment and the trends.
How resilient is your organization?
As always, I welcome your thoughts.

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Why Together is Better

Why Together is Better

If we are not growing we are shrinking. My staff have heard me say that many times. Every year it costs more to do our work—more in salaries, health care benefits—so if you are not growing, you are shrinking.
One of the strategies for growth we have employed is to join with reputable, like-missioned organizations. People often ask me exactly why this strategy for growth? My response: because together, we are better.
The driver behind all of our work is comprised of three key concepts: we must be relevant, we must be sustainable, and we must have impact.
In order to be relevant, we must continually look at ways to solve the problems that challenge economic well-being. Needs evolve, policies change, government and foundation budgets grow and shrink, and innovations are happening every day. Part of our strategy is to not only keep up with all of those changes, but also to lead the way in guiding policy and thinking. By joining with organizations that are also focused on solving the problem we have a much better chance at creating relevant solutions.
For our work to be sustainable, we look to long-term outcomes, not just quick solutions. For example, twenty years ago, sheltered workshops were seen as cutting-edge solutions to integrating individuals with intellectual and developmental disabilities (I/DD) into employment. As a result of our learnings about sheltered workshops, it is clear that not only can people with I/DD work and work well, but most are able to work in the community, contributing great work in a variety of settings. And so the next generation of understanding support of those with I/DD includes closing sheltered workshops, working alongside businesses and families to inspire not only the possibility that an individual with I/DD can work, but that he will make a huge contribution to his family, the workplace, and his community. Combining with organizations that are forward thinking helps us to maintain long-term sustainability.
And, for us to have impact, our work must be about both changing the life of an individual, but ultimately changing the system itself—we aim to change hearts, minds, systems, and processes so that even those who do not come through our doors are impacted by the work we do. By leveraging our work and the efforts of our family of agencies—we have a tremendous opportunity to make real impact.
And so we seek to partner with other organizations whose work adds to ours—so that together we are not just 1+1=2, but more like 20 or 30…better together.
And when we find ways to leverage the brands within our family of agencies—like Easter Seals, ReServe, Wildcat, Community Work Services and most recently, Single Stop USA—we are really leveraging the value of each.
On February 1, we combined with Single Stop USA. This combination is a perfect example of combining strength, talent, and ensuring our commitment to relevant, sustainable impact. Single Stop enjoys a strong reputation as a one-stop shop for individuals seeking to access resources to help break the cycle of poverty through access to education, training, counseling, and employment. Single Stop USA is a perfect addition to our “family,” –and as a result, each of us will be able to offer a new portfolio of services to those we serve.
Together, we will use our strength to leverage equity for those with barriers to economic well-being. And together, we will continue to strive for relevant, sustainable impact.
As always, I welcome your thoughts.

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Leaders as Storytellers: A Catalyst for Growth and Change

Leaders as Storytellers: A Catalyst for Growth and Change

The success of our organization lies in changing the narrative of the thousands of lives we serve each year. For every individual whom we serve directly or indirectly through our influence, there is a story behind them—a story that changes as a result of the work we do. These stories are what inspire people to join our staff, become part of our family of brands, donate money, and to enter our programs seeking help.
The stories of those we serve are just part of the power of stories. Research proves that storytelling is also an essential skill for leaders to inspire and motivate. And, ultimately, they are a catalyst for growth and for success because, among other things, storytelling is a tool of persuasion—a key driver in a leader’s toolkit to win hearts and minds and to inspire action.
There are many ways to approach storytelling as a leader, but for me, the first and most important approach is to use storytelling as a means to show others who you are as a leader. Most often, this means telling the story of a time when we learned something—when we were vulnerable, perhaps believing we had the right answer and being humbled by an authentic truth that may have jolted our perceptions and inspired a new way of thinking. This type of story—told absolutely authentically and humbly—breeds trust. It helps those we lead identify with us and understand that as leaders we don’t have all the answers. The story scenario might unfold as, “I believed something, I made a mistake, I learned, and now I see things differently and what a difference it makes.”
Storytelling also motivates others to take action. Telling a specific story of something that has already happened and its success shows an audience what is possible. In my role as CEO of Fedcap, I have no shortage of true stories about how the work we do has impacted others. Telling my story of what it was like to work with someone and the rewards of witnessing their progress inspires others.
In every good story, something must happen and someone must change. Storytelling for its own sake is of course, entertaining. However, as a leader, the stories we tell must also be accompanied by some analysis of what happened and what its impact was as well as to reflect what changed as a result. If I tell a story about my own leadership, I must lay out the narrative and then reflect on how I changed. If I am telling a story about an individual we serve, then I must tell precisely what happened, what changed, and how that person is different as a result of the story. Stories can be not just about individuals, but also about the journey of a program or about an entire organization.
And not all stories are happy all of the time. Rarely do people ‘s lives stay on a single trajectory…they have ebbs and flows, it is what makes us human.
For us at Fedcap, all of our stories—the stories of those we serve, of our agency, of our growth and change over time and my own story as a leader—all follow a narrative that reflects the power of possible. People have entered our agency without hope and because of what happens between individuals, or a system that works, or an inspired story of someone else who has succeeded, things that seemed impossible morph into the possible. Stories are what touch us and inspire us and cause us to remember why we do the work we do. I am inspired daily by the stories I hear from staff and from those we serve about what can happen when we share our vulnerabilities, look to each other for support, and keep telling the stories of what is possible.
I am always eager to hear your stories. As always, feel free to share your thoughts.

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