This campaign is you. It is me. It is us. It is we.
I've had the exciting, empowering, humbling opportunity to be part of a team of students and staff that is bringing the Every|Day Hero Campaign to Emporia State University and the community of Emporia, Kansas. I want to share with you my experiences thus far in our efforts to spread the Every|Day Hero message, in hopes that some of you will take on the important and rewarding responsibility of leading campaigns in your own communities. As the first university and community to adopt the campaign, Mike told me we would be the "Guinea pigs" for this movement, and he was absolutely right. It has been a whirlwind of an experience, and I am both more excited and anxious with each day and each development in the process.
When Mike first shared the Every|Day Hero concept with me last fall, I instantly connected with it. I had a feeling he was on to something big. I pitched the idea of using the Every|Day Hero message as the foundation for a student leadership institute some colleagues and I were planning, to both bring the message to our students and to help set the stage for a successful national campaign launch later that month. The leadership institute team jumped on board, and two outstanding colleagues of mine, Mary Shivley and Taylor Kriley, developed the curriculum. One hundred ESU students participated in the institute and took the Every|Day Hero Pledge on January 9, 2012. And just like I did, they instantly connected with the campaign's message. It was amazing. But we knew we needed to do more.
At the end of the day, I asked if any students would be willing to plan a campus campaign for early February. Candice Brooks stepped up to the challenge. She volunteered to be campaign manager, and led the way by sharing her own story on the Every|Day Hero website. Says Candice, "All of us have the capability of being an everyday hero." She and a few fellow student leaders came together, and in the span of a few weeks, developed the first campaign week, which they hosted at ESU February 6-10. They promoted the website, encouraged people to take the pledge, and distributed "hero challenges" to passers-by at the campaign table. The ESU Associated Student Government got involved by hosting a campus open forum to explore ways to improve our community, and they are using ideas generated from the forum to set priorities for the year. Emporia State University President Michael Shonrock has even joined the effort by taking the pledge and publicly supporting the work our students are doing with this campaign.
Listen to ESU President Michael Shonrock's 3-minute radio testimonial below.
As the campus campaign planning was under way, I began thinking about launching an Emporia community campaign. I reached out to Mary, and she agreed to help lead the effort. To be quite honest, I didn't really know where to start. I just knew it needed to happen. Mary and I brainstormed and came up with a game plan: hold an informational meeting, invite a bunch of people, tell them about Every|Day Hero, have Candice talk about our campus efforts, throw out some campaign ideas, and see who bites. We paid $50 dollars to rent a conference room at our community arts center, and sent email invitations to about 30 community members, roughly half of whom I know through my involvement in Rotary, and the other half who seemed appropriate to invite. We invited the mayor, the police chief, the sexual violence and child abuse victim advocacy group, the community drug awareness organization, some university members, and the local media, among others. We decided to focus our campaign efforts in three areas: marketing (spreading awareness about the national campaign, promoting the website), education (connecting people with existing community resources, developing new programs to create more heroes), and recognition (highlighting heroes in our community to serve as role-models for others).
Within a couple days of sending the invitation, I received a call from the radio station asking Mary and I to do a 15-minute segment on the campaign. About a week later, we had the informational meeting. A small group of about 10 people showed up, but everyone there connected with the message. Another week later, I got an email from the local newspaper asking Mary and I to come down to their office to film a segment for their weekly web video show. The word was spreading.
The word IS spreading. We are in the midst of what I hope will bring our community together in a new and different way than anything else has before. I had no idea this would take off like it has. Candice, Mary, and I will be hosting more informational meetings over the next couple of months, generating more interest and getting more people on board. We're literally making it up as we go, and I don't always feel like I know what the next move is. But there's one thing I know for sure.
This campaign must be more than a flash mob — a brief meme producing a burst of coordinated actions that quickly end, sending us on about the day. No, this campaign cannot — must not — be a fifteen-minute walk of fame. It must be a never-ending journey, a quest for each of us to individually pursue heroic lives and collectively work to create a better world. It will require sacrifice — of time, of energy, quite possibly of money, most certainly of any self-doubt that you were born to make a difference.
We cannot stop at taking the pledge. We must live it.