“Guide Dogs for the Blind empowers lives by creating exceptional partnerships between people, dogs, and communities.” —GDB website
I purposely waited until my blog was ready to share this story because I thought it deserved more than a quick Facebook post. Please bear with me as the story is a bit long.
In early October, I attended a network meeting in Chicago with Cleinman Performance Partners, a consulting and wisdom-sharing organization for independent optometrists who wish to improve their practices. It is a dynamic and inspiring group of people, referring to both the optometrists in attendance and the people from Cleinman who host the meeting. The founder and leader is Al Cleinman, a well-known leader in the eye care industry for over four decades. Al is the practice management guru who I respect more than any other in the field because of the way he espouses principles of integrity, entrepreneurship, and challenging the status quo.
The positive energy at the meeting was electric, just as it had been when I attended my first meeting in 2015. The concept of defining and finding one’s “tribe” has become popular these days, and while there, I feel like I am with my tribe. It is both uplifting and therapeutic to be surrounded by scores of people who share the same high standards for the practice of optometry.
The meeting involved a banquet on Saturday night where two charities would be supported with donations from the attendees. Each attendee was asked to donate at least $100 to the “pot,” and I estimate that there were around 180-200 people in the room. The Cleinman organization also added a large donation. They had chosen InfantSee to be the recipient of half of the funds raised that evening, and the recipient of the second half of the donations would be decided by a two-step voting process.
The first step of the voting process took place in our breakout sessions. Each attendee was invited to nominate an organization, then pitch the nomination within his/her breakout group of 10-12 people. The members of each group chose a winner who would present to the entire organization at the banquet. A second vote would be conducted at the banquet.
It’s probably obvious by now that I nominated Guide Dogs for the Blind. One of the members in my breakout session jumped in to say he was familiar with GDB because one of his employees is a volunteer puppy raiser. Votes were counted, and Amanda, our facilitator, announced that GDB had won the vote for our breakout group.
I was simultaneously elated and intimidated by the victory. You see, I am a relatively new member of the Cleinman group, knew very few people at the meeting, and was unfamiliar with the protocol for presenting GDB to the larger group. Usually the thought of speaking in front of a crowd is exhilarating for me, so I’m not sure why I felt intimidated this time. Perhaps it was because I have such great respect for the group and did not want to disappoint? It is easy to casually talk about something around a conference room table with people who you already know, it is quite another to convince an entire banquet room full of (mostly) strangers to choose my charity. The veteran attendees had the advantage of having seen this event play out during prior years, so they knew more about what to expect and how to make a splash.
Alas, I reminded myself that I was going to be amidst my tribe, and GDB is important to me, so I would figure it out. Amanda asked if I had any pictures or videos that the IT person could display while I talked, so I showed her to the websites for GDB and Trevor Thomas, the blind hiker who is paired with Tennille. Tennille was raised by a volunteer in my local Yolo county chapter of puppy raisers, and she has become very well-known now for her efforts to help Trevor navigate during their backpacking adventures together. All puppy raisers are proud of puppies who graduate to serve as working guides, but Tennille’s work has been particularly remarkable because she can lead Trevor in the treacherous backcountry.
It’s easy for me to speak from the heart about GDB, so that is exactly what I did. I was grateful for Amanda’s suggestion to add an audio-visual element, because the following video was a great exclamation mark at the end of my short talk.
The other banquet presentations were also very moving. In all, seven or eight charity organizations were featured by my colleagues. I wish that I had a kept a list. There was a group related to pancreatic cancer patients, an organization that provides school clothes for poverty-stricken children, a suicide prevention group, and so on. My presentation was the penultimate, followed by an optometrist named Heather Demos who told us about a group called Walk a Mile in Her Shoes that works to end sexual violence toward women. The organization holds events for awareness and fundraising where men literally march for a mile in women’s high-heeled shoes.
Heather’s presentation was fantastic! She told us about the great work that they do, and how her practice has participated in local events, but the way she ended will stay with me forever. She had recruited the men in her breakout group to march on stage in red high heels.
It was hysterical! Picture 6-8 grown men with their pants rolled up to expose the red high heels, some hobbling as if they may fall at any second, and some strutting with serious mojo. Add in the funny music like, “I’m Too Sexy for my Body,” raucous laughter from the crowd, and I thought I was toast. The guys were very good sports, letting all of us laugh at their expense. I wish that I had taken a picture!
Needless to say, the competition was stiff, with all of the organizations very deserving of the group vote. Our emcee, Kathleen, gave the instructions to vote with our cell phones, and the “polls” were left open for five minutes. During those five minutes, I was feeling very relaxed and enjoying the company of people seated at my table, fully expecting that one of the more well-known OD’s would be the winner. After all, things like this can be kind of like a popularity contest, so I imagined that most people would vote for their friends’ charities.
Boy, was I wrong. Kathleen announced that GDB had won the vote! When I returned to the stage to make a few remarks, she surprised me by saying that the margin of victory was quite large. I don’t remember much else because it was a bit of a whirlwind. The other presenters deserved acknowledgment, so I made sure that happened. Later, several people told me the video was the clincher. “As soon as you mentioned puppies, I knew you were going to win.” Or, “No one can compete with puppies.” I would have to agree, but I also thought the men in high heels were tough competition!
Later when I thanked Amanda for her suggestion to include the video, she laughed and said, “This ain’t my first rodeo!” Ah, of course Amanda’s leadership and wisdom extend the gamut from practice management topics to pitching a charity. She had my back right from the start!
Fast-forward a few weeks, and I was cc’ed on the following letter from Al Cleinman to Guide Dogs for the Blind:
Lesson of the day: show up and be vulnerable. Great things will follow. I’ll leave you with this thought from the late Scott Dinsmore. Scott was the brilliant founder of the Live Your Legend community.
More on Scott’s work in another post. His story is both infinitely inspiring and tragic all at once.
As I reflect back three months later, I am still deeply moved by this lesson in vulnerability and grateful that GDB could be the recipient of such generosity. I hope you enjoyed the story. Please leave a comment to tell me what you think! –LMH