Last Wednesday night I attended a great Pro-D event.  Dean Shareski from Discovery Education hosted an Ignite Vancouver evening where educators had 5 minutes each to share 20 slides (advancing every 15 seconds) capturing their passion.  It was an amazing night with educators from most local districts networking and sharing their passion.  Check out #yvrignite to follow the conversation and see some of the presentations.  

Here are my slides and script from the evening….

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Good evening! I bet that growing up, your parents told you not to talk to strangers. As adults, we continue this social norm and usually offer nothing more than hello or an empty how are you.

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My family was different. I was raised by a single mom who encouraged me to talk to strangers. In fact, when I was ten she instructed me to jump from our car to help an old man on the street struggling to pick up his bag.

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I handed him the bag… with a bottle inside… and in his drunken state he swung at me as I desperately waited for the light to change. As a family we still laugh, but maybe it planted a seed for my future.   Fast forward to 2010…

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My students and i had an idea: We wanted to help the homeless but we wanted to do more than offer food or clothing. We wanted to meet an emotional need. We wanted to give them back the power to give.

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We developed project HELLO: Helping Everyone Locate Loved Ones. The idea was simple. We would make handmade christmas cards and give them to the homeless to give away.

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But a funny thing happened. One by one, the homeless asked if we could help find their families. They trusted us and asked if we could reach out on their behalf.   We began to find light in Vancouver’s darkest neighbourhood.

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By searching phone directories and internet, we found families of the homeless – many who did not realize their loved one was still alive. Six years in – we have now reconnected just shy of 500 families through cards, phone calls and face to face reunions.

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And yet our short interactions left so much more untold. I knew we had to go deeper – and so last year I began Beyond HELLO. A simple idea where I invite one stranger to lunch each month. I want to introduce you to some of my friends.

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This is Ron Wilson – a professional boxer from Burnaby who traveled the world. Most days now he sits in Pigeon Square, but on this Saturday afternoon he was a pro boxer once again, teaching my boys how to box.

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This is Irvin. An amazing singer, outdoorsman, who lived under a bridge, never healing from his childhood day where his family perished in a house fire. And yet he made such a difference in the community that his funeral was standing room only.

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This is Cynthia. A woman who has overcome abuse and addiction and has decided to stay in the Downtown Eastside protecting others. Her dream is to one day own her own flower shop.

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And this is my friend Cindy. 24 years ago she gave up her baby for adoption to protect her from her abusive partner. After 20 years on the streets she is near death, Cindy suffers from HIV, Hepititis and heroin addiction. Her dying wish was to find her daughter.

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Through a series of miracles, I found her daughter Paige in Ontario. She too wanted to meet her mom. Two days later, I shared the news with Cindy.

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Paige too had struggled with addiction but found solace in the book “In the Realm of Hungry Ghosts” by Gabor Mate. Paige had written to Dr. Mate to thank him and recommended I read the book. She credits her own recovery to the main character – Celia.

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As I sat with Cindy I asked if she had met Dr. Mate through his work in the DTES. With excitement she shared that she is in that book – she is the main character – under a pseudonym of Celia.

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The women had never met – but Cindy’s story had changed her daugther’s life. Here we sit on the street together while Cindy makes her first courageous phone call to say hello to Paige.

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After 20 years of addiction, Cindy found the courage to go through re-hab and get clean so she could meet her baby for the first time. This is their first mother daughter picture.

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This is the magic that happens when we find light in dark places. This is where time stands still and conversations matter. This is my passion.

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This is how we go Beyond HELLO.

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The next time a stranger intrigues you, offer a cup of coffee. I invite you to share your experience at http://www.beyondhello.org. Afterall, Perhaps your parents were wrong. Maybe It is ok to talk to strangers.

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