Practicing the Art of Presence: Volume 1 – Thrivent Financial loving teachers!

Praying with teachers

When we prioritize certain things in every human interaction it can make the difference between success and failure! As a boy my father coached me to look a person in the eye and give a firm handshake. Our society values fully present interaction. The way we give our attention to others, or not, transmits a message about who we are, if we can be trusted and what we think about them. This “fully present” connection happens in a blink of an eye and it is especially vital in community engagement. 

Three reasons the Art of Presence is important in Community Service

First, our presence Heals. Effective service occurs when we are present to listen first and act later. “Healing” occurs before we actually “do” anything! Everyone wants to feel seen and known. When we miss this we accidentally make people feel like a “project” instead of a person to be known. Our presence speaks value.

Second, being present helps us to see the problem behind the problem. The reason people face challenges is hard to see. If we perceive the problem behind the problem we can unlock multiple solutions all at once and empower them to rise above an endless cycle of reoccurring barriers to thriving. 

Finally, being fully present defuses static stress. People know they have options and resources to get through challenges but their motivation gets drained by relentless fear and anxiety. Human to human connection refuels folks with enough hope to trust, refocus and rise above the “want-to-try” drain.   

For two years our educators have faced anxious parents, masked and remote students, and a culture war that raged on as they, their students, colleagues and families got sick, were hospitalized, and died. What a great time to be present and bring hope to our educators! 

Recently Lakewood Connects linked a local branch of a national financial firm; Thrivent, to a teacher affirmation event at an underserved school. These business leaders left their office to greet teachers in the school lounge and serve a catered lunch for over 2 hours! Teachers were encouraged, yes… but the key here was the fact that business leaders were present! They went the extra-mile to sit with educators and connect to them personally. “Feeling valued” happens when “service” moves to feeding a person’s heart and soul with real connection and love!  

Lakewood Connects is building a model for school staff affirmation in Lakewood that includes assembling local “teams” from service clubs, churches, businesses and neighborhood association leaders who will continue being fully present into the future with their local school. If you would like more info on this kind of work please contact us at Lakewood Connects! Let’s do good together! 

Filling Up the Appreciation Cup

Teacher Appreciation at Creighton Middle School

The past two years have emptied our country of goodwill, civility and energy to face the rigors of our fast paced anxiety laden society. “Empty” is an especially dangerous condition for certain leaders in our community like emergency personnel, medical workers, law enforcement and teachers. We’re all tired and stressed but these four sectors of society are functioning beyond their limits! When they break down or quit they exponentially affect tens of thousands of people. It’s time to fill up their appreciation cups! 

Lakewood Connects is inspired by a vision statement that states: “Collaboration reduces suffering!” That statement suggests that when business, government, community and faith work together we create exponential positive impact. This vision has led us to find “needs” then create partnerships that execute focused service programs in our community. In 2022 a need we discovered was encouraging educators! 

Mid-March, Lakewood Connects partnered with a local business owner, Brandi Koskie, and a financial management company, Thrivent, with an aim to encourage the staff at Creighton Middle School. Brandi’s daughter attends Creighton and she noticed a lack of teacher appreciation activities there. Upon investigation she discovered that the staff there had not experienced community love in over two years! This is unacceptable! We may not be able to give these teachers more money or a less challenging classroom but we can sure find ways to show them love!

Brandi and Lakewood Connects Director, Reg Cox, met with the Thrivent staff and drafted a plan of action that included bringing a top notch BBQ lunch to the school, served up with personal praise from community members who cheered on staff as they entered the lounge and joined them for conversation during lunch. Anyone can drop off food… but true appreciation is delivered in person! 

A special note here for anyone interested in imitating this work… the Thrivent team stayed in the  lounge that day for 2 ½ hours talking to teachers. They carefully gauged how much presence was appropriate and shared meaningful messages of appreciation with each person who walked in the room. Of course, it’s easier to feel affirmed when you get top quality BBQ! That’s a fact!

Since March Lakewood Connects has partnered with churches, Thrivent Financial/Lakewood and other groups to set up appreciation events in other schools and more are planned! Our community thrives on appreciation, love and goodwill…join us! If you would like info on how to support a local school or how to join us in an upcoming appreciation event, contact us! Let’s do good together!

The Power of Presence… Thank you for Being There!

Twelve weeks ago Lakewood Connects Executive Director, Reg Cox, was involved in a cycling crash that broke dozens of bones, laid him up in the hospital for a week and dramatically altered summer plans! Immediately people showed up! Pastor James Hoxworth and Mayor Adam Paul walked in Reg’s Intensive Care room that first morning. So many showed up, 50 visitors in five days, that Amy cut off the open-door policy! When things are tough in our lives there’s no substitute for being present to show love and bring encouragement!

As Reg returned home, longtime friend Dr. Glen Villanueva flew in to help with the transition. Can’t have better care than a doctor in the house! As Reg continues to advance through stages of healing and is now back to work it is all of your relationship connections that have become the key to his healing.

Reg’s first in-person meeting was with a group of government and nonprofit leaders in June. As things started several asked if he would share the bike crash story. Reg has worked with these leaders for years on various programs and projects and the relationship has always felt warm but professional. Mid-story several folks at the table began to cry. It was then Reg realized that his relationships had long surpassed mere project management and had become something personal. Real. Deep. Meaningful.

That kind of human connection is the essence of what Lakewood Connects is all about! We create partnerships that become the foundation for creating solutions where once there were only challenges, suffering, and heartbreak! We can bring healing to a broken world the same way Reg has experienced healing in his body and mind… relationship connections and love make broken things whole again! 

Fall opportunities: For our Lakewood area partners several volunteer and service opportunities exist this fall that we invite you to join us in: 

  1. Whiz Kids after-school tutoring is entering its 10th year in Lakewood and we have never needed to find tutors as much as we need to this year! Enrollments are falling across the country and raising academic scores is at the heart of what helps a school, students and families thrive. Please contact: Janeal Doctolero for more info about Whiz Kids. 
  1. Finally, we are partnering with several nonprofits and coalitions that have established and resourced Family Centers at five Lakewood elementary schools. Family Centers offer food, clothing, and support services at underserved schools to families in the school and community. This is a partnership with food organizations, the school and community partners including churches to deliver the exact items each Family Center needs to serve their families. We could use your help! Please Contact: Miriam Richards 
  1. Along with tutoring Lakewood Connects is partnering with several organizations and individuals to support Teacher Appreciation at underserved schools. The effects of the pandemic are showing up in dwindling teacher numbers. An encouraged and appreciated educator is a more resilient educator! Please help us bless our educators!