Embracing A Mission

Marie Lapointe in a Traveling Stories: Reading is my Superpower t-shirtWhen you work for a nonprofit, it’s essential to embrace its mission. When I was hired to work at Traveling Stories, I fell head over heels in love with its mission to empower kids to outsmart poverty.

This is a bold and powerful statement because of the choice of verb: TO OUTSMART. It implies a choice rather than a forced or imposed condition beyond our control. We tend to fall in the trap of poverty because my mom and dad were poor, so were their parents, and there’s nothing I can do about it.

Although I fell in love with the mission, two things had to happen for me to embrace it and promote it unconditionally. The first thing was that I had to outsmart my own poverty.

Personal Discovery

Let’s be real here, how could I ever be a role model for our mission when I myself have been fighting poverty for quite a while and have been trapped in my own feelings of poverty? And guess what? All I needed to do in order to put an end to my feelings of poverty was to take a look at my financial situation: I have life savings (ok, so there’s not enough for an early retirement and I’ll be working way later than I would like to) but there’s a nice cushion and most important — I have no debt.

I’ve always been able to provide for myself.

After doing a quick audit I was finally able to say the following: I am not poor. I have enough and will always have enough.

Basic Responsibilities as Humans

I’ve always claimed that one of our biggest responsibilities as a human is to be happy. Yes, happiness is a responsibility. And by assuming this responsibility we are honoring the most precious gift our parents gave us: our lives.

I am now realizing that there is another essential responsibility that goes hand-in-hand with happiness: it is our responsibility to provide for ourselves.

Since working at Traveling Stories, I’ve taken on to not only make sure my responsibilities are met, but extending this role to my community. I am making it my personal mission to make sure kids will be able to meet these two responsibilities: to be happy and to provide for themselves.  

And what better way to do this than by reading!

Impacts of Reading

If it’s true that by simply thinking of a stressful situation we launch our body into the physical sensation as if we were currently living it (increased heart rate, palpitations, heaviness in the head, tight neck, sweaty hands, etc.) so why wouldn’t it be true of the opposite? If we think of love, adventure, excitement, then we can trigger wonderful physical and emotional sensations.

Thinking of this situation is not enough, the thought needs to be supported by the emotional feeling. How could I ever know what it would feel like to climb Mount Everest simply by looking at a picture or watching a movie? A well written essay where the author successfully describes the emotion and the physical labor to make it allows me to feel as though I’m the one experiencing the climb.

We at Traveling Stories have also proven time and time again that the capacity to read is directly linked to success in life. I don’t think I need to prove the point that by getting kids to fall in love with reading they will outsmart poverty.

Making an Ask

In the beginning I mentioned how two things had to happen for me to fully embrace the mission. The first was to outsmart my own poverty. The second thing is a bit trickier because it involves an internal dialogue I have around my relationship to money. Or rather my relationship to my feelings of worthiness.

This second change is in how I ask for money.

Asking for money is a big big thing for me! My internal “I can provide, I’m autonomous, I’m independent” voice argues with me each time I make a request for money.

It’s also tied to this other voice which wants to whisper “I’m not worthy.” This whisper hides behind the mask of independence. As long as the independent voice screams with strength, the lack of worthiness can stay comfortably hidden in the shadows.

Even though the request is not for me but for the kids, the whisper still comes out like a perfectly well crafted recipe where accidentally sour milk is mixed in the blend. That sour taste will come out no matter what. To those who are keenly aware of the unspoken, it makes a request sound something like this “Hi, would you like to make a donation although I’m really not worthy of your time and money?”

See how icky that sounds?

The Perfect Pitch

I’ve been working on what’s called a “pitch”. And it sounds something like this:

What if we could eliminate poverty? What would the world look like? Would we still need welfare? What about incarceration? Would people still commit crimes if poverty were entirely eradicated?

The current reality is that 82% of kids in low-income households cannot read at grade level by the time they get to 4th grade which is when they begin to read to learn. If they can’t read, how can they learn? The backlash of this is that among these kids, two-thirds will either end up in jail or on welfare.

At Traveling Stories we get kids to fall in love with reading thanks to our StoryTents. These are strategically set-up to find the reluctant readers. Kids check-in, they read books either by their own, out loud to a volunteer or they have a volunteer read to them, They earn Book Bucks for reading, and they can then exchange their Book Bucks for toys and prizes ranging from plastic dinosaurs, parachute men to stuffed toys, skateboards and BMX bikes.

Some say we bribe them for coming back because of these Book Bucks, we say we’re paying them to read. This exchange also allows them to build money management skills which happens to be a huge contribution to outsmarting poverty!

We’re currently setting up an entire digital system to track kids’ outlook on reading to see their change of attitude toward reading. Are they shifting from a fear of reading to feelings of joy and love? Not only are we tracking their attitudes, we’re also tracking their reading skill level. With the help of a spin-wheel we’ve created a game that tests their reading levels.

I’ve personally watched a twelve year old girl read to her younger siblings, and earn Book Bucks to use them to spoil her siblings as she would carefully unwrap a pink lollipop and hand it to her three-year old sister. I’ve watched Xavier, an 8-year old read to his 4-year old brother making sure I handed him Book Bucks for reading and Book Bucks to Jose his little brother for listening although he constantly wrangled him back in throughout the stories “Listen to this part Jose, it’s funny!” or “Look at this fish Jose, isn’t it pretty?”

If you’ve never visited a StoryTent, I invite you to come and see the magic for yourself and read to the kids. You’ll fall in love with the kids, and fall in love with Traveling Stories: it’s a promise!

When I share this story, there is no shameful voice in the shadows telling me I’m not worthy. There certainly is NO voice saying Traveling Stories is not worthy. Our mission and our actions speak for themselves.

And what about you? What holds you back from making an ask? What holds you back from realizing your mission and meeting your own “why”? What holds you back from making this world a great place for all future generations to thrive in?

Do come visit a StoryTent this weekend and take a step in the right direction for creating lasting change.

Written by Marie Lapointe
Director of Operations and Marketing

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