Second Chances

k0345992 When I was in grade school, I could not wait to get home, shed my school clothes and hit the court for a little basketball.  Whether it was a small pick up game or one-on-one, my afternoons were filled with a little round ball competition.  Occasionally it was a game of “around the world” taking shots from around the court with a miss resulting in the next player’s turn.  We always allowed a “second chance”.  Make the shot and you keep going, miss it, and you had to start over.

Later in life “second chances” were much rarer and harder to come by.  Blowing an assignment in college or getting a really bad grade on a test came with just a few second opportunities to pull that grade up.    After college, I entered the workforce as a salesman.  I sold office furniture and supplies.  Throughout my career, there were quite a few instances where I ordered the wrong paint color, the wrong finish, or the wrong fabric.  A mistake was made and usually another chance by my customer to get it right.

We’ve all been there – whether in our jobs or at home – “just one more chance, please…”  How many times have we hit our knees looking to the heavens and pleaded, “if only one more chance, one more shot…this is what I will do.”      There is a new organization at Lake Norman that deals with “second chances”.  Crossroads Reentry Ministry is a non-profit, tax deductible Christian organization that assists formerly incarcerated men successfully transition back into society.  Founder Jeff Cloud admits the idea of creating such an organization was inspired by so many inmates expressing their fears and hopes for when they were released from prison.  Some however, could not find employment or housing and turned to the only method of survival they knew – crime. good sam

This program assists those formerly incarcerated individuals supplying room and board, teaching life skills, and finding employment.  While there are many jobs that may not be well-suited for a former inmate, there are many more that are – particularly those which require labor and some degree of supervision and management.

Many of us are familiar with the story of the Good Samaritan who stopped to help the stranger in need.  There are those in our community who have hit rock bottom and second chances mean the difference between a productive life or serving life.    If you want to know more about this ministry, give me a call at the Chamber.  Whether it’s a job or a donation, the individuals at Crossroads could use your help.  For some of us second chances are just another shot.  For others, it may be the only shot they’ll ever really have.


A Prayer to Keep

3rd Grade Finley Road
3rd Grade Finley Road

Not long ago, I picked up the paper to find that one of our regional towns was wrestling with the issue of an invocation before Town Board meetings.  In a majority vote, the town decided to observe an invocation or moment of silence before each meeting.

It comes when there seems to be so much controversy in our society about the role of religion in public venues.  Prayer in school, innovations at sporting events, and references to the Ten Commandments are being challenged by the ACLU and those who are offended at the thought of religion threatening their freedoms.  Separation of church and state is their battle cry.    I don’t claim to be an expert in constitutional law.  However, I do pride myself to be a student of history and from everything I have read I am led to believe the founding fathers envisioned a country based on freedom of religion…not freedom from religion.

When I was in third grade, a retired lady would visit our school once a month.  She would hand out little green Bibles to the children and spend half an hour telling Bible stories.  Our parents had to sign an approval form before we could attend her story telling sessions.  Those who did not want to participate could go to the back of the room and take a nap or play with some of the games and puzzles kept there.  Many of us chose to listen to Mrs. Trumbell’s stories of David and Goliath and King Solomon’s Mighty Temple.

Today, nearly forty years later, children do not have the choice between taking a nap and Bible stories.  Religious displays have been banned in public buildings and on municipal grounds.  Nativity scenes are not allowed but Rudolph the Red-nosed Reindeer is still welcome.    I recently attended a meeting in which the discussion centered on the declining work ethic in today’s employees.  Last week I read about an offensive marketing campaign by a major retailer with strong sexual images in storefront windows.  We hear the news reports daily about heartbreaking stories committed against children by their parents.

The state of our workforce, our families, and our communities tell me that people like Mrs. Trumbell are sorely missed.  I agree you cannot legislate morality, however we as parents, community leaders, and volunteers can work with children and help them understand and appreciate simple values.  The education the children receive at home, through the examples set by parents, are stronger than any instruction they can receive at school.

The students educated today are the business and community leaders of tomorrow.  I applaud our elected leadership who insist God still has a place in our society.  To whom we pray is less important than the fact we should pause each day and give thanks for the blessings from above. We are so fortunate to live in a country founded on strong principles and paid for by the blood, toil, and sweat of the generations who came before us.  Let us never forget the sacrifices made by so many so that we could enjoy the privileges we have today.  Let us pause and give thanks while America still has a prayer.

Left High and Dry at Lake Norman

blue_heronLast summer, I wrote an editorial called “Access Denied!” which our Charlotte area media picked up.  The editorial was focused on Mecklenburg County Park and Recreation’s current policy that prohibits public swimming in any of the County’s lakefront parks.    In my editorial, I pointed out that if you are not fortunate enough to own lakefront property or a personal watercraft or know someone who does – you have no access to the lake.  There are some area businesses which rent watercraft.  However, if you do not have the financial means, you are left “high and dry.” 

Many of our county residents simply do not have the resources that many others of us take for granted.  Individuals and families who do have lakefront property, boats, and other watercraft should enjoy the fruits of their labor.  However, access to the lake should be made available to everyone.     A couple of years ago, I was leaving the Chamber offices on a summer afternoon around 5:30.  I had just turned the key in the front door when two cars pulled up at the Visitors Center loaded with young people.  A young man exited one of the cars with a wide grin on his face.  “Sir,” he inquired, “Are you with the Visitors Center?’  “I’m with the Chamber,” I replied back.  “How can I help you?”  The young man queried, “Can you tell me how to get to Lake Norman?”blythe_landing

“Well you’re here,” I replied back.  My response was well received as I could hear the gleeful conversations going on in both cars.  “Great,” said the young man whose grin had exploded into a wide smile across his face.  “Where can you go swimming?” he added.     It’s a question I’ve answered countless times throughout my time at the Chamber.  I informed the young man that we didn’t have public swimming here in Mecklenburg County.  He and his group would need to drive 20 miles up the Interstate to Lake Norman State Park.  Looking at my watch, I also informed him that it likely will be closed by the time he arrived.

I could see the dejection on his face.  I literally felt the exhilaration and energy that had once occupied the cars wither on the hot pavement below as the two cars of disappointed youngsters drove back home.  It’s moments like that – I really feel bad.  I cannot help but think of the Chevy Chase movie Vacation when the family treks across the country only to find the amusement park is closed for repairs.

It is time to change an archaic policy that has no place at Lake Norman.  We have a great lake.  Largely in part to the hard work of Visit Lake Norman, Anglers across this country know Lake Norman as a great fishing venue.  Water enthusiasts enjoy sailing, boating, skiing on our waters.  It is simply a great lake!    It is also a missed opportunity for our travelers and tourists staying at our hotels.  More importantly – it’s a quality of life issue for our families.  While pools are available at the hotels and parks – there is much to be said for the cool embrace of an inviting lake.   Our greatest liquid asset shouldn’t be off limits to the public.   Lake Norman is not just a large body of water – it is a lifestyle everyone should experience.

Pennies for Progress

 200px-SfogWhen I was ten, my grandparents took me on a trip to visit Six Flags over Georgia.  Carowinds, today’s regional amusement park, was still years from breaking ground. We loaded up the car and down the highway we went.  Granddaddy, not one to splurge on unnecessary items, had purchased a Mercury  automobile without air conditioning.   No matter!  Grandmamma had packed a bag with Cracker Jacks, Cheese Nibs, and cool orange sodas.

While the trip down seemed uneventful, withstanding the anticipation of a ten year old, the return trip proved to be quite amusing.  We left Atlanta about mid-day on a hot July afternoon.  The late start and the fact we had no AC began to take its toll on the inhabitants of granddaddy’s new car.  About the time we reached Greenville, granddaddy began flapping his arms in great anxiety.  Mumbling to himself he seemed to be quite agitated.  Grandmamma asked him what seemed to be the problem.  “My arms keep sticking together, “ he complained.

“What kind of deodorant did you use this morning?” my grandmamma inquired.  “I don’t know.  Whatever you had on the counter,”  he retorted with a grimace on his face.     I could see a look of thought before she responded back at him.  “I didn’t have anything on the counter ,” she said.  “The pink can Louise.  I used the deodorant in the pink can.”  Grandmamma looked straight ahead and then responded with a shrug, ”No wonder you’re miserable.   That was my hair spray.”

Today’s drivers do not need to use hair spray as deodorant to get agitated with driving.  Our congested roads are getting more crowded each day.  Even with out of control gas-hikes, our traveling seems unabated.photo_1245200218530-1-1

     If the Village at Lake Norman project is approved by our County officials and gets the green light from NC DOT, many of our road needs could be addressed.  However, our Charlotte regional road projects still exceed $6 billion in funding.

Our neighbors to the south in York County (SC) have taken matters into their own hands with a road campaign called “Pennies for Progress”.   A temporary sales tax approved by the voters prioritized regional road needs throughout the county.  The 1997 campaign raised $185 million for 14 road projects.  The tax, set to expire in 2009, was reapproved in 2003.  Ironically, Jerry Helms, the Vice President for Operations at Carowinds, chaired the initial campaign and recently addressed the elected leadership of Lake Norman’s four lake towns.

Helms stressed that the success of the referendum was establishing trust in the campaign by creating a tax that sunset after raising the funds; prioritizing the road projects; ensuring road projects were spread evenly throughout all areas of the tax district; and having an independent board (with no government composition) oversee the program.

707-279388-133086_embedded_prod_affiliate_6Some have suggested a Lake Norman “Invest a Head” program modeled closely after York County’s Pennies for Progress.  Like the latter program, it would be imperative to keep the program accountable by making sure the revenue mechanism is temporary and requires voter approval.

Granddaddy Russell was never amused when I recounted the trip back from Atlanta.  He passed away many years ago but those memories always bring a smile back to my face.  And I’m quite certain if he were here today, he’d agree – York County’s Pennies for Progress … certainly made a lot of cents!

A Reminder from Arlington

arlington00011      Last September, our Chamber delegation met with Senators Dole and Burr and Congresswoman Myrick and Congressman Watt in D.C.  We spoke about a variety of issues from road improvements, and energy to what we perceived then was just a sluggish economy.  Within days of our trip, news of bank failings, lost jobs, and the credit crisis filled the evening news.  We arrived back home feeling a sense of accomplishment.  Little did we know the news which would overshadow that trip – a market collapse requiring a “rescue” by the federal government.

     While in D.C. we did have an opportunity for a little sight seeing.  The most awe inspiring was a trip to Arlington National Cemetery.  Perhaps there is nothing more stirring than to look at the row after row of white markers designating our national heroes, many who served our country well.  Most, giving their very lives to protect the freedoms, liberty, and rights we hold so dear.

     Some may not know that Arlington, our nation’s most precious shrine, is the home of Robert E. Lee.  I must confess that I am an unabashed Son of the South.  I was probably sixteen before someone finally convinced me that Lee was not really a member of the Holy Trinity.  However, we are kin!  My great grandmother’s father is Lee’s fifth cousin.

     I know…people from the north wonder how we southerners can go on and on about our cousins three times removed.  So how is it that America’s most cherished shrine honors a man who led the army that fought for southern independence from the Union?

     With the passage of time, Americans came to appreciate Lee’s role in reuniting the nation after the Civil War.  The Confederate general’s example inspired men and women of his day to lay down grievances and get on with the job of rebuilding a new and better America.  Lee used his influence to move away from the bitterness of the war to reunion and peace.  “Madam,” Lee admonished a Southern visitor in his last years, “Don’t bring up your sons to detest the United States Government.  Recollect that we form one country now.  Abandon all these local animosities and make your sons American.”

     The situation we find ourselves in today with the challenges to our free market, health and welfare, our very jobs are a result of greed and partisanship.

     Government spends – it does not solve.  Only people can solve the problems that were created by people in the first place.  It will require putting aside labels, and bickering, and politics, and partisanship and putting service above self and people above party.

     We are reminded of the souls that stand silent sentry on the hills of Arlington. Those who paid the ultimate price for God and country – for you and me – and the generations who will inherit this great exercise in democracy.

     Each generation is tested.  No great opportunity comes without risk, no great reward without hard work and determination.  And working together, we will rebuild this economy better than it was before.  Because we are all Americans and like the generation before us we will accept nothing less than our very best.

Our American Journey

Flag1Last November,  America witnessed more than an historical election.  Regardless of who you voted for, and shame on you if you didn’t, young and old were energized like no other election I have experienced in my lifetime or am likely to witness in the future.  Most of my friends and associates know that I’m personally an unabashedly conservative Republican.  So much so that I once teased a U.S. Airways flight attendant I wouldn’t fly on their jet until they found me one with two right wings.  The day after the election one of my past Chamber of Commerce Chairmen who will remain anonymous …oh, what the heck, let’s call him Charles, left a voice mail on my cell expressing his condolences on the grief he was sure I was experiencing.  I might add he had a touch of glee expressing his sincere regret between chuckles.  I suppose that’s the price you pay for being passionate about politics.

As partisan as I am, it may be a surprise for some to know I worked on the 1994 campaign for candidate Nick Theodore who was running for Governor of South Carolina.  Nick beat a popular Charleston Mayor in the primary and lost in a very close election to David Beasley.  Incidentally, Theodore was a Democrat.  That said, it will also come as no surprise to anyone that I did not vote for Barack Obama.  While we share the ultimate goals for Americans in terms of health care, education, commerce, and national defense we differ greatly in our approach. However, there was no prouder American than myself the day he was sworn in as the 44th President of the United States.   

The election itself was just another act in a long play with the changing American landscape as the backdrop.  It began with the early settlers who braved the new world and the Native Americans who had already discovered it.  Paid for by the blood of Americans who died defending it and the immigrants, indentured servants, and slaves who toiled in unimaginable conditions building it. A democracy governed by the people for the people.  One nation, one republic, under God. Our history is replete with human tragedy and shortcomings.  Yet it is the fire which forges our steel as a nation.  One which seeks to rise above discrimination.  To soar among the heavens where only eagles dare.  To speak boldly of our intentions and allowing our actions to speak louder than the words.      Pres Obama

President elect Obama will lead but he is not the answer.  The American people are the answer that unlocks our human potential. When we choose to practice personal accountability, work together for the common good, and treat others as we would expect to be treated we advance as a people and a country. We hold in our hands, our hearts and our minds the destiny of a great nation. This is our moment to be a shining example for the world.  We have the opportunity to live out the beauty of our grandparent’s dreams and embark on a journey unrealized in the history of our great nation.  And we’ve come too far as a people to fail in that task.

New Relationships

     Since the beginning of time, mankind has wrestled with its ability to create and maintain healthy relationships.  Some of us have great personal relationships but have difficulty building strong ties in our professional lives.  Others are champions in their professional field but struggle with balancing their affairs at home with family or close personal friends.  Regardless of who we are or what we do, the one constant is we all have to deal with other people and to be truly successful in any endeavor we must be masters at the ability to manage and maintain healthy relationships.

     Not long ago, I heard a preacher telling the story of a castaway who was stranded on an island all by himself for two decades.  As the old man gathered up his belongings he had collected over his long stay, the captain of the rescuing vessel remarked at the three buildings on the island.  “If you were the only one on the island all these years, why are there three different structures?,” inquired the ship captain.  “Well,” began the old man.  “The first hut was the house I built for myself.  Then I realized I must build a church to thank the Lord for my deliverance from the sea.”

    The ship captain waited patiently for the explanation for the third building.  Seeing none forthcoming, he asked, “What’s the purpose of the third structure?”  The old man looked dejected, shrugged his shoulders a bit, and said, “To be completely honest, things were going great for a while.  But one day the congregation had a fight and I just left and built a new place.”

      Everyone in the church howled with laughter at the preacher’s story but deep down many of us knew his point.  We see strife in relationships played out every day in athletics, politics, offices, and our home.  Someone usually comes out on top and someone else loses.  Usually the issue is not so much the loss, but how they feel they were treated in losing.

     In business or any other field, the single most important element of success is learning how to get along with people.  Outstanding leaders learn to develop great relationships.  We are all treated well on the way up but how will we be treated on the way down?  That is the true measurement of how good we are in dealing with people.

     James MacGreggor Burns once said, “In real life, the most practical advice for leaders is not to treat pawns like pawns, or princes like princes, but all persons like persons.”

     Like the old castaway, we can move from relationship to relationship, turning our back and burning bridges, or we can recruit and nurture our associations with others.  At the end of the day, it is not the machinery, the facility, or the strategy that will allow for our success – it is the people who make it possible.

Now’s the Time to Turn it up!

HomeThis past January,  I was asked to speak at a South Carolina Junior Chamber of Commerce (Jaycees) meeting in Columbia.  My participation in Jaycees is really what led me into a Chamber career.  For those unfamiliar with Jaycees, it is a service organization for young people ages 21-39 years old much like Optimist, Kiwanis, and Rotary.    When I joined the Rock Hill Jaycees in 1982, I was just looking to get involved.  However, when an opportunity of leadership availed itself, I volunteered to be an officer.  Within a short time I was chapter president.  In a few years state president and in 1992, I was elected president of the United States Jaycees.  In that capacity I traveled to 47 states and 7 countries speaking to Jaycee chapters and other groups about the importance of community service.

Inevitably I also met with chapters who were struggling with membership.  On roll they may have 15 folks but only 5 or 6 were coming out to meetings or projects.  Often the chapter president would confide they had cut back on the amount of projects because they simply didn’t have the manpower to run them.    That’s the last thing they needed to do!  Now’s the time they needed to increase their activity, run more projects, and increase their exposure.  “People in the community need to see you in action.  You can’t recruit new members if they don’t know what you do.”

“Quit feeling sorry for yourself and lamenting how good things were when you had more folks.  Go out there and do your job – make a difference in your community – and people will want to be a part of your success.”     I can’t tell you how many chapter leaders told me over the years that the message we delivered worked for their chapter.   They did turn up the energy and through the exposure of running new projects, new members joined.

Today, many of our businesses remind me of those struggling civic clubs.  When things get tight, we look at ways to minimize our expenses.  Often the first thing we do is cut back on our marketing and exposure.  Perhaps we spend more time at the office and less out in the field.     When things are at their worst is when we must be at our best.  Now is the time to increase your exposure.  When all around competitors might be scratching their heads what to do, you need to get your message to that potential customer or client.  Use your Chamber membership.  Don’t let a networking opportunity slip by that you don’t get in front of another business.

Get out in the community attending local events and programs.  Use every opportunity to showcase why people should do business with you.     The bottom line is this recession we are experiencing is a natural correction of the market.  Just as the sun will set tonight, the day will dawn tomorrow and we can’t have a rainbow without getting a little rain.    In a few months, our economy will come charging back and I expect this region will see recovery sooner than other parts of the country.  We at the Chamber will do everything we can to provide the networking opportunities and create programs that give you the tools for your toolbox that enable you not only to survive but thrive in this challenging time.001_1

However, it’s up to you whether you pull back like a turtle in its shell or you seize the opportunity to promote your business.     As I told those Jaycees many years ago, “There’s nothing we cannot overcome when we work hard, work smart, and work together!”

Precious Memories

Granddaddy Russell working in his garden
Granddaddy Russell working in his garden

     A few weeks ago, a song came on the radio.  Just the few opening notes brought a warm shudder across my body    Precious Memories.  The song was a favorite of my Grandfather Russell.

     “Precious father, loving mother fly across the lonely years and old home scenes of my childhood in fond memory appear.”   I sang along and as the words rolled off my tongue, memories of years gone by played through my head.

     I spent many summer afternoons working out on the family farm with Granddaddy.  Feeding the cows, working in the garden, and tending downed fence line was an every day chore.  On one particular, hot summer day, Granddaddy and I were replacing an old rotten post down by the creek.  

     The decaying post still held the fence in place but the cows now squeezed through and occasionally were found on the other side. Granddaddy dug out a bit from the post until it rocked loosely in its hole.  He then looked over at me and asked me to go ahead and remove it.  I was perhaps twelve at the time as I wrapped my arms tightly around the pole and gave it a mighty tug.

     It raised out of the ground but suction pulled it back and it sank back to the bottom.  No matter how much I wrestled with it, I simply couldn’t free the post from the persistent ground.  Granddaddy smiled at me and asked if I was using all of my strength.  When I replied certainly I was, he chuckled a bit.

     Granddaddy, who had been leaning back on the tractor, took his gloves out of his pocket and replaced them on his old calloused hands.  “No doc,” he said, “if you used all of your strength you’d ask me to help ya’.  Working together, we can get it done.”

     Sure enough, with both of our arms tightly wrapped around the post, it hesitated, and then slipped from the earthly grip.

     The Chamber of Commerce is a powerful tool when it is used and its real strength is when businesses work together.  No doubt we face challenging months ahead with this economy.  However, we can support each other by purchasing our goods and services from one another.  Refer Chamber members to other friends and associates and make it a habit to get involved.

     We are going to continue to provide you outstanding networking opportunities and seminars that provide you the tools for your toolbox that makes you competitive.  However, you have to take advantage of your membership and get in the game, as our Chamber Chairman John Hettwer would say.  Often, we have the strength to overcome any adversity if we just realize we’re not in this thing alone.  Let’s use our greatest strength and work together.

     My Dad still lives out on the family farm tending our cows.  Occasionally, I’m asked to come down and replace another of those aging posts, many of which were put in the ground when I was a little boy.  They stand as silent sentries to my granddaddy’s hard work.

     The summer days working with my grandfather still linger in my mind.  The lessons learned flood my soul.  Those precious memories …

how they do linger.