by Jim Grout
During my 38-year career of adventure education, I think I have worked with every kind of group imaginable. I've with spent time with students at every grade level from schools throughout the northeast and around the world; including young people from Iraq, Bosnia, Cyprus, Turkey, Northern Ireland and about twenty other countries. I've gone to a prison to work with young offenders who were on their "last chance" before permanent incarceration and kids from a half way house that could have ended up there. I've trained thousands of teachers and adventure educators from the US and countries like Taiwan, Japan, Singapore, China, Canada, Mexico, Australia, New Zealand, Norway, Sweden and England. I've led corporate teambuilding workshops with BMW, GE, Johnson & Johnson, CEMEX Corp., Hannaford Foods, C & S Wholesale Grocers and specialty groups like the Massachusetts State Police and the US Postal Service. And finally I've had the opportunity to work with professional sports teams that include the NHL's Boston Bruins and the NJ Devils and the German National team in Mannheim, Germany. All of these groups have taught me so much about facilitating and understanding people.
As your experience grows you gain confidence in your skills and your ability to "deliver the goods" to any audience feels very assured. At 64 years of age, I honestly find it a fun place to be in my career. I feel I've earned it and enjoy it immensely.
But recently, I had an experience with a group like nothing I have ever experienced before. As we say in our Edge of Leadership program, "it's all about connections," and that's what made the experience so powerful. The group that came to High 5 was the Center for Donation & Transplant, CDT based in Albany, NY. This organization makes organ donations happen. When a donor becomes available, they are the people who meet with the donor family, coordinate with the giving hospital and find the organ recipients. And they do all this in clockwork like fashion over a short period of time so that as one life is ending, many others may continue to live. Their world is one that most of us never see, as it happens on the fringes of life and death in a place where tragedy and joy meet.
On July 1 2006 my family and I met the people from the Center for Donation & Transplant in a hospital room in Burlington VT. as our 21-year-old son Nick lay on life support following an accident. It was here that my understanding of organ donation went from academic to very real and that my connection with CDT was formed forever. Nick had signed his driver's license to be an organ donor and my wife and daughter and I simply became a reflection of his wishes and an admirer of his soul. While our lives were changing forever, the CDT people were doing what they are trained to do which in this case was to find six recipients for his organs. They did just that, and a 14 year old received a kidney and a 60 year old a heart and four others received life-sustaining organs as well. As time went on CDT coordinated our anonymous communication with various organ recipients via letter. Eventually this led to a meeting years later with the recipient of Nick's heart.
Fast forward to Wednesday Nov. 4, 2015 and imagine 25 CDT staff arriving at High 5 for a day of team development and imagine that I am the lead trainer. I, along with High 5 staffers, Liz Moore and Phil Brown, had crafted a good plan for the day so we were ready. But the ready part for me started weeks earlier as I tried to wrap my head around meeting all the people who had touched my life and that of my family in such a profound way. For me, this was not a job for the day; it was a special reunion with people I'd barely met. And there was one reunion unlike all the others for it was with the CDT staff person who was actually with my family and me during our long days in the hospital. Her name is Jenn and she has a big smile, a warm heart, a graceful manner and a brave soul.
While the agenda of the day was about them as a team at CDT, the backdrop was the richness found in our shared reality. I knew with every fiber of my body the meaning of the work that they do and they knew that I knew it. Sometimes verbalized but often times not, this reality provided richness to our day that was of another world. It was the best of what we do as humans when our heart and soul are truly present with one another.
On a personal level this day helped me to continue to move forward in my life of trying to live without my son Nick. While this is a never-ending task, the energy and meaning of our time together provided me a moment of great joy and satisfaction.
I started this blog by saying that I'd worked with every kind of group imaginable during the course of my career. Little did I know that such a gathering was on the horizon of my life and the life of High 5. Fortunately, what has been true so many times before, the power of our work in connecting people in wonderful and meaningful ways shined brightly once again.
Thank you CDT for all that you do to make good things happen on the fringes of life and death in a place where tragedy and joy meet.
Note: If you'd like to learn more about the Center for Transplant and Donation go to http://www.cdtny.org. And if you'd like to learn a little more about Nick and his donation go to Gift of Life Stories on their web page.