Leadership That Makes A Difference: World Autism Awareness Day
4/2/21 was an inspiring day. On World Autism Awareness Day The Gloucester Township Municipality & The GTWP Police Department unveiled the "PAVERART Walkway" in a press conference that was up-lifting in so many ways.
This was the culmination in a 18 month project I outlined LAST YEAR at this time in "Making a Difference, Not Just a Buck." That post outlined the back-story of what we call "Project Neuro" which was our internal name for operation Neurodiversity.
Chief David Harkins summed it up perfectly in his opening sentence:
"This is a day we've been waiting for. Covid put the Kabash on our plans and the timing of this, but we are very glad to be here on this autism awareness day and this month of autism awareness..."
I am thankful that the full 16 minute event was captured, here it is! The Chief of Police, Gloucester Township Mayor, David Mayer and myself each spoke which you'll see in the vide.
FULL EVENT VIDEO (My takeaways below)
What Stood out to me?
* Wow, was it COLD!!!!! The weather reports showed low 30's but it felt colder. Despite the chill there was a great turn-out, various news outlets and people from the community attended as well as our great partners at EP Henry. And I was surprised my son and daughter were able to hang in there on stage with me!
Core Values & Innovative Leadership
Before the event started, Mike, my son Dominic and I came in from the cold and waited for a few moments on the ground level of the Municipal building. My mind started racing and I couldn't stop staring at the steps, where the Police Department put their brand and core values on every single step leading to the the exit.
Yes, I notice these things. I borderline obsess over these things.
I've worked for over 25 years in a number of businesses, from fortune 500 to 5 employee companies and in between. Publicly traded and private. Here's what I believe to be true. Companies that live and breathe their core values (no matter WHAT they are, all companies are different), have something very different about them than those that do not. There's a difference between "slogans" and truly living your core values.
Core Values are behaviors. Fundamental beliefs of an organization. Sometimes they are aspirational, and you strive to live up to them. But they are certainly who you are.
My wife said something that didn't hit me at the time:
"They are going to save lives with this program, no doubt about it."
She mentioned a tragic loss of life of young man with Down Syndrome where if this type of approach to the Special Needs Community and community outreach had existed, there's a great chance he'd still be here today.
As I re-listened to the entire event with my wife's comments front and center.....as I keyed in on Chief Harkins talk, how he outlined the Gloucester Township Police Departments approach, I kept saying to myself: She's right.
Welcome To Holland
I couldn't believe Mayor David Mayer's remarks! He talked about a wonderful writing by Emily Perl Kingsley: "Welcome to Holland."
When my wife and I learned of our daughter's Down Syndrome Diagnosis (through an amniocenteses) I immediately thought to myself,
"What the heck is Down Syndrome?" I did what many of us did, I turned to the internet, got overwhelmed, dealt with a range of emotions, had the mandatory 24 hour Pity Party. My wife and I picked the best name we could imagine (HOPE). Within the first 2 days someone sent me Welcome To Holland.
Mayor David Mayer summed up this writing perfectly.
"Families with children of Autism might not have been be prepared for where life has taken them....but nonetheless that journey and that experience is just as beautiful."
I had the pleasure of speaking after the Mayor. Like most people that speak in front of groups, some degree of preparation is required. I had the "business owner" hat on throughout most of this preparation. But the Mayor's comments reminded me of a more important hat that I wear. Father of Hope Olivito.
Art Has A Real Place In The World
I often think at "PAVERART" we get too wrapped up in the PAVER, not wrapped up enough in the ART. As a small business, we worry about a bunch of things. Moving Pavers. Cutting Pavers. Building designs. The nuts and bolts of running a design and manufacturing business.
ART however is different. Art is PERSONALLY meaningful. That meaning is different for everyone.
As The Chief, The Mayor and myself all discussed the day and what we hope to see happen, there was one theme that kept emerging:
STARTING A CONVERSATION.
Isn't that what ART does?
Doesn't CHANGE first begin with one conversation?
The PAVERART Neuro Diversity Custom paver design is strategically located, directly at the entrance of the police headquarters building. Chief Harkins said it perfectly.
"I couldn't be prouder to be a GTWP Police Officer, to have this PAVERART right in front of our home, our police headquarters. We hope that it stirs up a conversation. We hope that everyone sees this is who we are, that we are accepting of everyone in this community. That's what makes Gloucester Township such a great place and it makes all of our officers aware as they walk in the door, it's a little reminder of who we are here to serve, and we are all about service." - Chief Harkins
Friday was as good as it gets for me as a Business Owner.
* My son Dominic hit the road with me (spring break) at 4:30am to arrive at 6am at PAVERART.
* My wife Kim and Daughter Hope met us at Gloucester Township Police Headquarters for the event. John, a PAVERART Team member came out to the event, AND his family came out as well! In a small business, it's not just "the team" but the extended families that make a real difference and this certainly is a great memory.
* We came back to PAVERART, handled some business, had a photo shoot, shared some laughs.
And as we hit the road for the 1:45 minute commute back to North NJ, Dominic fell asleep. And as I often do, I replayed the event over and over in my head. I couldn't get Kim's words out of my head.
"They are going to save lives."
Throughout this entire project, I was hoping maybe a handful of kids could find there way into the Friday night social group. Or an employer would get creative and find a way to give someone yearning for a job a chance. To me, that would be success, and a step in the right direction. It still is.
But then the event happened. The Chief's remarks, the Mayor's words, The Captain, a BUNCH of police officers, members from the community, the press, all attending the event. The many side conversations. Things clearly started to conflict with my life experience.....
I've been involved in the Special Needs Community for 16 years, and I served on a non-profit board for over 6+ years which was focused on supporting and improving the live's of people with special needs and their families. I've lived in 6 different municipalities. Simply stated, I have not yet come across the programs that I heard discussed at this event. Clearly, there's something special happening in Gloucester Township.
After the event and about halfway up the NJ Turnpike a new thought came to mind
Kim nailed it. She's right.
At about the one year mark of COVID-19 I've thought a bit about where we were in the world this time last year and all our efforts we worked on to see this through to the other side. We did a number of things that helped us, all important and took massive energy and a fair amount of stress/worry. And while my thoughts on all things "post corona" are not fully developed......the survival recipe may just be a spin on last year's blog post title:
Worry about making a difference, not just a buck.
Very grateful I've come across wonderful people that help show us the way.
News Coverage by ABC Philadelphia