Friday, January 25, 2008
Big Shoes To Fill
"Each time a man stands up for an ideal or acts to improve the lot of others or strikes out against injustice, he sends forth a tiny ripple of hope."
“You have big shoes to fill.”
Time and time again I would hear that phrase as I introduced myself as the successor of Ashley Wiltshire as Executive Director of the Legal Aid Society. In time, I was finally able to embrace what that really meant and what was really most important.
In the past six months, I have learned that you never really fill another person’s shoes and nor should you try. Ashley built a wonderful, strong organization but he didn’t do it by himself. It never has been nor ever will be about any one individual. He needed the community of all the people that have worked in this organization the past 31 years, some of whom still remain as staff dedicated to the mission and work.
He needed the community of the “alumni” of the Legal Aid Society that continued to support the work and spread the message of equal justice to persons who are poor. He needed the community of the private bar to respond to the overwhelming need for legal assistance and narrow the gap. He needed the support of grants and donations to financially support the work that needs to be done.
Recognizing the importance of community, I can also recognize the great leadership of Ashley that inspired and gave confidence to staff, other agencies, and supporters. He seized the opportunity and made a path for this organization that has enabled it to deliver justice and hope to our clients.
On Wednesday night, we had a reception to celebrate my first six months as executive director. It was a wonderful evening that brought together old and new friends of the Legal Aid Society and mine. As I sat in my office to prepare my thoughts for the evening, I listened to a CD from the group U2. As I heard the song “I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For”, I smiled with the comfort that I had found what I was looking for. This is where I belong and this is the work I was prepared to do.
As I mentioned in my remarks, we often find ourselves lamenting that “there is only so much you can do.” But, with community coming together in unity, we can enthusiastically say “there is so much we can do!” This spirit filled our offices that evening with the feeling of affirmation from our community to our work and what we can do. Passion and persistence.
I have learned a great deal in the past six months. I have blogged to share my thoughts and experiences. As I was writing in the blog for the last time, I kept thinking about how to come to some closure to this experience. I suppose the last thought is that legal aid is a basic need, like food, clothing, safety, health care and shelter. The provision of legal assistance to a person who is poor is the key to unlock the door to those necessities – the core essentials of life.
There was one other exciting aspect of the reception. We had requested that people bring blankets, socks and shoes for needy individuals and families. Earlier in the week, one of my friends that I play basketball with at the YMCA told me that he had gone to COSTCO and bought some socks to bring to the event. He was willing to give a little more, make a little extra effort. At the end of the evening, I had a chance to see the collection of items and it choked me up. The next day I sorted the items and smiled as I thought how each item could help.
This morning, Traci Pekovitch of the Mental Health Co-Op came to our office and we loaded up boxes and boxes of blankets, shoes and socks. They work with consumers who not only use their facility for psychiatric/case management care, but also use the Campus for Human Development, Urban Housing Solutions, Downtown Clinic, Family Life Center, and the Nashville Rescue Mission. Tonight, they will be doing outreach to persons that are homeless and they will have these items to share with them. By meeting a basic need, it will be a way to talk about other needs.
I thought of the socks that my friend had donated. Tonight, someone will be getting those nice, new warm socks. As he puts on those socks, he will know that someone thought enough about his life to give a pair of socks. His life has value and his community wants him to press on. Who knows, maybe it will be just enough encouragement to tell him that life will get better soon. It just might give a tiny ripple of hope to him. We can help ease people’s burdens and uplift their spirits. It may be something as simple as socks, a smile, a word of encouragement, or legal assistance.
We truly can do so much.