The influence of one man

I promised to return with the true story of the difference one man can make.

If Sam knew that I was talking about him in my blog he’d be embarrassed. Recognition isn’t his thing. In fairness to Sam, I’m not writing about him, but about the effect that one motivated individual can have. Like the shopkeeper in Haiti whom I wrote about last month, Sam isn’t a hero, except to the people who benefit from his efforts.

Sam is a retired colonel with a second career in banking. He’s been retired from his second job for another 15 years or more. He spends his time working in the community, as a church volunteer as well as in anything he thinks is worthwhile. One of those worthwhile efforts is Habitat for Humanity.

Sam first joined a bunch of his ROMEO breakfast buddies (Retired Old Men Eating Out) in spending one day a week doing catch up work on Habitat houses. Most Habitat volunteer work happens on weekends, for obvious reasons. The well meaning volunteer workers frequently don’t get enough done to keep the build on schedule. Sometimes they get in over their heads, or do something to the best of their ability, but not of the quality that it should be. Habitat uses some handy guys who volunteer to go out in between weekends to fix, redo and catch up these problems. Sam helped out on one of these.

He grew more interested in the Habitat effort, and took their orientation class for volunteer leaders. A devout Catholic, he asked how many Habitat houses went to Catholics in the predominantly Hispanic poor community of San Antonio. It was about 75%. Sam wasn’t being exclusionary, because his next question was “Why don’t I see any Catholic Churches participating in Habitat?”

The Habitat executives explained that since the organization’s roots were the Baptist and Evangelical communities around Atlanta, the Catholic community had always seen Habitat as more of a Protestant effort. Sam found this ridiculous, and said so then, and when he returned to his own parish. A respected leader in his church, Sam got permission to talk to the community about building a Habitat house.

The response was favorable, and the money was quickly raised. In my opinion, Sam had found a basic truth about asking for anything. Give the request a specific purpose and outcome, so that people can quickly decide whether they want to be involved or not. His focused request to do something tangible for specific and deserving people (Habitat ownership requirements are very stringent) in the local community hit a chord.

Sam took the show on the road. He went to other parishes to request time at their podiums. Some declined, but not all. Once he saw the enthusiastic response, he went back to the demurring churches and asked again to speak. Some took multiple tries, but Sam didn’t give up.

Step by step, campaign by campaign Sam built a donation and volunteer network. He’d coordinate multiple parishes who felt they couldn’t afford the effort alone. He’d put poorer parishes with little money, but lots of skills, together with richer ones that could collect checks but not hands and backs.

It’s 13 or 14  years later. They don’t let Sam climb on roofs to shingle anymore, but he still shows up to supervise on almost every build weekend. Well over 100 families live in their own homes due to the efforts of one man. More than 5,000 people have volunteered where virtually none would have done so before.

If Sam hadn’t been busy serving his country, he would have made a great small business owner.

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2 Responses to The influence of one man

  1. Dan says:

    Well said John. A fitting tribute to an inspiring man

  2. Well it’s 2 AM, no kidding.
    Thanks for the story about a great small businessman that has his own franchise working for the greatest man who ever lived. The franchise is free but it’s not cheap, it doesn’t pay well, you have to work everyday for the one payday and that day is priceless. Sam is a great businessman.

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