A Willingness to Get Involved
Charlie Drake, one of my heroes and mentors, passed away this past week at the age of 86. I am one of a significant number of people who looked up to Charlie as a mentor. There are so many things to celebrate about this man’s life, and so I am pleased to be able to share one story that shows who Charlie was and why so many looked up to him. This story has to do with his very personal, hands-on efforts to help start what is now a vital nonprofit organization serving youth in the city of Milwaukee, Wisconsin.
The Rev. Seth Dietrich, the pastor of Christ Episcopal Church in Whitefish Bay, Wisconsin, where Charlie was a very active member, actually wrote about Charlie’s work in helping to start this youth organization in the church newsletter, and so I will share with you here what Seth wrote to the people of his church this week.
“In the late 1980's, St. Andrew's Episcopal Church on 32nd and Lloyd (Milwaukee) had many kids from the neighborhood coming to church. Charlie felt a call to ministry in the city, and he checked out St. Andrew's and began to periodically worship there. As he got to know the kids in Sunday school and worship, he heard first hand about the incredible challenges they faced on a daily basis. He enlisted the men's group of our church, at the time called The Brotherhood of St. Andrew's. Originally, the group was going to put up money for a scholarship fund, but Charlie convinced them that kids needed more personal attention and mentoring. In 1990, 8 people began a tutoring program for about 20 kids and The Homework Club was born.
While Charlie was tutoring he began to get more involved in kids' lives. If they needed a winter coat he bought one; same with school supplies. He would take his mentee to baseball games. He started going to kids' parent-teacher conferences when a parent could not be there. The other tutors followed Charlie's lead, and before long, formal programming (e.g., a large-scale coat-drive) was created to institutionalize things that Charlie had just been doing on his own. Eventually, the Homework Club became Our Next Generation, a thriving non-profit organization which now has multiple locations and serves hundreds of kids every year.”
One of the many things I love about this story is that Charlie made the decision the path of personal, direct involvement in the lives of the kids was the best way to make a difference in their lives. Over the years have had the honor to serve as both a board member and a tutor at Our Next Generation and so I have had the chance to witness first hand the effect that Charlie has on the kids. He made their faces shine when he walked in the door, and I couldn’t help but notice that they returned the favor, making his face shine with delight every time he was there with them.
I thought of Charlie when I heard the tremendous news of the twelve boys from the Thai soccer team, along with their coach, being rescued from the cave where they had been trapped for nine days. The willingness of the international team of divers, doctors, and other rescue team members to risk getting involved, and to give so selflessly is what made the mission ultimately successful. Any one of them could have chosen to pass on the mission, but they did not. Charlie, like the team of rescuers, chose to risk getting involved and to give selflessly to help hundreds of children. He, too, could have chosen to pass on the mission, but he did not.
It pretty safe to say that the opportunity to help a child in as dramatic a way as the rescuers did in Thailand this week will never present itself to any of us. It’s also pretty safe to say though, that we are all presented with many opportunities to help children in our own contexts, children in our families, neighborhoods, and communities.
In honor of Charlie, I’m going to be looking for new opportunities to serve a child in my corner of the world who needs a little extra love and support. I think that would make Charlie smile.
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