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Celebrating your impact on our 7th Anniversary -- MLK Day 2024!

“As long as there is poverty in the world, I can never be rich……As long as diseases are rampant and millions of people in this world cannot expect to live more than twenty-eight or thirty years, I can never be totally healthy……I can never be what I ought to be until you are what you ought to be……We are interdependent.”

This is an excerpt of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr’s book entitled, “The Measure of a Man” that was published 57 years ago.I think the greatest way to honor Dr. King on this national holiday – is to think about what in our lives needs to be better…and what are we going to do about it? I’m pretty sure this was on the heart and mind of Dr King every day of his life. We honor his life today, and the opportunity here is to challenge OURSELVES to reach further, serve more deeply, put others first in every way we possibly can.

neighborhood bridges was launched on MLK Day on January 16, 2017. We did this with the understanding that the growth of poverty in suburban America had increased exponentially since just before the start of this millennium. And here we are in 2024 and the number of children living in poverty today has doubled in recent years. According to numerous sources, there are 9 million children living in poverty in our country today.

To honor the work of Dr. King it is difficult, yet vitally important to point out that Latino and black children are disproportionately represented here.20% of Latino children in the United States live in poverty18% of black children in the United States live in poverty7% of white children in the United States live in poverty. This is unacceptable. We have much work to do.

As you would surmise, child poverty is connected to family poverty. Reflected in the numbers above, many children are born into poverty and today we also see more and more children/families affected by a sudden job loss or health care crisis.

Think about this for a minute. How do these children, from ages as young as 6 and up to 18, get themselves to school each day? Lacking food, or warm clothing, a warm bed to sleep in, no soap or shampoo or deodorant or undergarments. Maybe they are unable to see the board or the words on a page and need eyeglasses. That was the very first need we filled in my hometown of Westerville on a snowy Martin Luther King Day…our first day of operation in 2017. It is estimated there are 9 million children living in these conditions in our neighborhoods and our country. Based on my life experience I offer the real probability that the number is probably 50% to 100% higher.

How do they make it to school? How can they stay focused on their schoolwork? How much do they worry about the stigma of not having what others have? Do they feel included and accepted? Still, they come to school. How brave and inspiring they are. We owe them our very best.

So we set off 7 years ago today on a course to engage entire communities to come together to help remove what a Superintendent of Schools would refer to as “non-cognitive barriers to learning.” Poverty. Our mission and our work through neighborhood bridges is laser focused on serving this population. Everyone in our communities is needed to provide this loving and impactful response. Today we are grateful for the partnerships we have established with devoted school leaders, counselors, social workers, and mental health professionals in 50 communities across Ohio, Tennessee, Alabama, and Mississippi.

We are grateful for residents who have come forward in each community to say yes to quickly fill needs, provide hope and opportunity. We are also grateful for city leaders, chambers of commerce, service organizations, churches, and first responders who assign a priority to our work. We need you. And we need to continue to expand our gateway for kindness.

As Dr King states in his book, and I reference at the top of this writing – we are interdependent. He’s right and it is a beautiful concept. I have thought much about Dr. King’s messages. The one I am sharing today is at the core of our service through neighborhood bridges. We simply cannot reach the higher living Dr King envisioned or the Bibles or spiritual books that we read and worship…if all people can’t come along with us.

My achieving my own path is only truly rewarded and achieved if you can do the same. Put another way, I believe that life is a team sport. Except that I humbly submit that we continue to lose sight that through the gifts of life…we are all intended to play for the same team. Love, peace and joy are meant to be shared. When this happens the experience for us all is exponentially more powerful. It’s a simple emotional state that we achieve called ELEVATION.

THANK YOU on behalf of more than 422,000 of our most at risk students across our neighborhood bridges service area (I have posted a screen shot I just took of our impact calculator on our website). Thanks to our counselors and social workers who post needs, we are able to track how many lives you are impacting and the numbers update every time you fill a need.

THANK YOU for lifting them up and offering them hope, opportunity and a sense of community. I hope that your love and selflessness in answering the call through neighborhood bridges has brought you joy and peace!

As I have shared with the dedicated and sharing leaders who serve on the neighborhood bridges Board of Directors -- our goal is to drive impact to ONE MILLION students in need. We will reach this goal fairly soon and then we will set our eyes on driving impact to another MILLION students, then another. I wanted to publicly share this goal with you today.

I invite you to visit one of our neighborhood bridges communities Facebook or Instagram channels today and learn more about how you can volunteer to help us reach further and serve more deeply. This is the best way to honor the life and example of Martin Luther King, Jr. So much opportunity AND THE NEED TO SERVE lies ahead. This is the Clarion Call of this National Holiday. MLK jr Day.

We will reach our goals for impact because one thing I know for certain on this our 7th anniversary for neighborhood bridges…kindness, selflessness, and giving are renewable gifts that reside in all of us. #Elevation

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