Russell’s Ramblings

Those who do not hear the music might think the dancer mad

A Lasting Lesson From A Moment In Time

As summer vacations begin to wind down, many of us are refocusing on local businesses, seeking to learn new techniques to attract customers and create new revenue. Learning comes in many forms – seminars, forums, and continuing education. Sometimes though, the most lasting lessons come from the briefest encounters.


Aktion Club of Lake Norman

For more than a decade, I have served as the advisor to a group of special needs adults called the Kiwanis Aktion Club. These young adults meet each month at the Lake Norman Chamber to socialize, conduct community projects, and participate in programs to enrich their lives.

Recently, a friend asked if I had a personal connection to this group. Perhaps a family member with special needs or a friend with a disability? As I started to reply, I had to suppress the tears. Yes, there was a story. There’s always a story.

In 1983, I joined a local community service group called the Jaycees and jumped head first into nearly every local project. Then one day, the Chapter President asked for volunteers to participate in Camp Hope Sunday. The statewide charity was a summer camp for children with disabilities. Each year the Jaycees would dedicate one Sunday to drive to this special camp and spend an afternoon with the young campers. The volunteers would take a picnic lunch, usually stopping at KFC just outside of the camp, and spend time with the campers.  After lunch, the kids would sing a few songs for their hosts.

The first few times I was asked to join in, I always found an excuse why I couldn’t attend, but in 1986 I was president of our Jaycee Chapter and felt that I had to go. Once there, I was assigned a little boy. Thirty one years later I still remember his name … Jason. Jason was just like any other ten year old child except he was considered special.  Jason had Down Syndrome.

Shortly after we arrived, we sat down for our picnic. The room was loud with laughter and chatter and Jason hardly took a breath between bites as he filled me in everything that came to his mind. When he reached over and started picking up food off of my plate, I was slightly taken aback.  But Jason just laughed as if he had told the biggest joke of all.

Several minutes later Jason joined a group of kids to sing a few songs. Picture twelve children, all singing the same song, but each and every one in a different harmony and pitch. I caught Jason looking directly at me, eyes locked on mine, and he was smiling from ear to ear. After the last song, he ran back to our table, anxiously asking could I hear him?  “Absolutely,” I replied. I’m quite sure he was the loudest child on stage!  As our group gathered to depart, I’ll never forget that moment when this young boy who I met just hours before, wrapped his little arms tightly around my waist, and said “I love you Mr. Bill.”Aktion 2

We drove three hours back to Rock Hill and although others in the car were carrying on conversations, my thoughts were still on Jason and the other campers. That’s the day, the very moment, I realized Jason didn’t have a special need – I did. But not anymore. I truly believe God gave me that moment with Jason for a reason.

When my friend asked me recently did I have a special needs child of my own? I said yes. I have a couple of dozen of them actually. We meet every month at the Chamber. We call ourselves the Aktion Club.

Some Aktion Club members are in their 20’s, some in their 30’s and they may not be kids – but in a very special way, they’re my kids. When they have every reason in the world to rail against their own particular challenges – they laugh, love, learn, and serve.

Jason touched me in way that I have never forgotten. This ten year old child with Downs taught me I didn’t need to be afraid. He had enough love for us both as he wrapped his arms tightly around me as my body literally shook.  Three decades later I remember that simple hug. It was the afternoon I found God’s Grace in the heart of a child.

Bill Russell

The above article was written for The Lake Norman Citizen Newspaper – July 26, 2017.


August 16, 2017 Posted by | Chamber of Commerce, Kiwanis, Lake Norman Aktion Club, Uncategorized | , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Lake Norman Aktion Club Receives Top Honor

Front Row (Left to right): Whitney Gaar, Donna Frye, Gwen Butler, Brad Wiles, and Adam Dunaway. Second Row: Kristin Hunter, Shekinah Mackey, Chris McCall, Club President Justin Teague, Stephanie St. Peter, Club Advisor Bill Russell. Third Row:  Joey Gift, Aktion Advisor Peter Rieke, Robby Payne, Aktion Advisor Jack Hatfield, Bill Clingenpeel - District Governor of Kiwanis of Carolinas and Top Row: Steve McIlwain – Mecklenburg County Arc.

Front Row (Left to right): Whitney Gaar, Donna Frye, Gwen Butler, Brad Wiles, and Adam Dunaway. Second Row: Kristin Hunter, Shekinah Mackey, Chris McCall, Club President Justin Teague, Stephanie St. Peter, Club Advisor Bill Russell. Third Row: Joey Gift, Aktion Advisor Peter Rieke, Robby Payne, Aktion Advisor Jack Hatfield, Bill Clingenpeel – District Governor of Kiwanis of Carolinas and Top Row: Steve McIlwain – Mecklenburg County Arc.

The Aktion Club of Lake Norman, sponsored by the Lake Norman Kiwanis, was named the Mecklenburg County Aktion Club of the Year by the Arc of Mecklenburg County, an agency which serves individuals with Intellectual & Developmental Disabilities. The award was presented by Peter Rieke, Aktion Club Administrator and Steve McIlwain, Aktion Club Coordinator at the Annual Mecklenburg Arc Awards Dinner held at Park Road Baptist Church in Charlotte.

Aktion Club President Justin Teague was also recognized with the Spotlight Award for his outstanding achievements and contribution to the club.  The Aktion Club of Lake Norman was recognized for their membership activity and service projects which included a coat drive this past winter and a contribution to the Ada Jenkins Center Food Pantry. The club meets on the fourth Friday of each month at 7:00 pm at the Lake Norman Chamber of Commerce.  It is open to any young person over the age of eighteen (18) with special needs.

Bill Russell, president of the Lake Norman Chamber of Commerce and an active member of the Kiwanis Club, is the Aktion Club Advisor.  “We have a really outstanding group of young people involved in our group.  Their energy and positive outlook is a constant reminder that our only real limitations are those we place upon ourselves.”

If you have a family member over the age of eighteen with developmental disabilities and wish more information on the Aktion Club of Lake Norman, contact Bill Russell at the Lake Norman Chamber of Commerce at 704-892-1922.

June 30, 2014 Posted by | Lake Norman Aktion Club | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

We Need Behavioral Health Hospital in Huntersville

Proposed Huntersville Hospital

Set to be voted on by the Huntersville Town Board this month is a 66-bed behavioral health hospital to be built by Carolinas Healthcare Systems.  CHS officials reviewed the need for the facility last summer at a Lake Norman Chamber Focus Friday.  Del Murphy, vice president of Carolinas Healthcare System’s management company pointed out to business leaders that an average of 20 to 30 patients are held in emergency departments and general acute beds at CMC hospitals in Charlotte, awaiting psychiatric bed placement.  There are simply not enough beds to service our growing county.

A few weeks ago, I attended and spoke at the Huntersville Town Board Public Hearing on the topic.  The Town Hall was overflowing with spectators as well as residents from one of the local neighborhoods.  Most of the residents were there to speak against the project.  They were not against the idea of a hospital – “Just not in my backyard.”

 I listened intently as the hospital administrators and health care officials were questioned by Huntersville Town Board Members and Planning Board staff regarding traffic patterns, roads, buffers, walls, and even landscaping.  The residents themselves then took the podium to speak about home values and the notion they were not informed, even though this issue was written about in the papers this summer.

Grandmamma Feemster - "Tillie"

Given the chance to speak, I wondered aloud why we spent so much time speaking to infrastructure and so little time focusing on people.  I pointed out in the little research I did on the topic, I learned that 1 in 4 families has at least 1 family member with a behavioral health issue.  Certainly behavioral health has touched my family with a grandfather who succumbed to Alzheimer’s and a grandmother who dealt with dementia until we lost her a year ago this month.

Looking around the room, I pointed out that many there that evening were likely being treated for some type of behavioral health problem. In my 2-minute remarks, I reminded the commissioners, as well as the residents, that the people who would be treated in that facility are their neighbors, friends, co-workers and perhaps family members.

Lake Norman Aktion Club - Winter Coat Drive

In addition to my role at the Chamber, I have the opportunity to work with kids with disabilities.  Actually these young people in our Aktion Club are individuals 18 years of age or older.  However, they remain – “my kids.”  They are often referred to in society as special needs.  I learned long ago, they don’t want to be treated special.  They only want to be treated the same.

In a community of 47,000 people and a region that’s home to tens of thousands more, we need this critical healthcare facility.  While a small minority may fear what they do not know, I fear what we will lose as a community by not focusing on people who need our support when it comes to quality health care –  and at a time, when they need our support the most.

February 14, 2012 Posted by | Social Causes | , , , , , | 3 Comments

A Christmas to Remember

My brother Todd & I at Grandmamma Feemster's

The Christmas Eves of my youth growing up in Rock Hill (SC) seem so long ago.  Every year my parents would load my brother, sister, and myself into the car and take off to our grandparent’s house.  Our first stop was the Russell’s where grandmamma would be playing Bing Crosby or Jim Neighbors on her stereo with the sweet smell of fresh baked cookies, pies, and cakes in the air.

We would have a large supper with all the other relatives including my Aunt Terry and her family.  There was turkey and dressing with vegetables grown from the garden and my grandmother’s specialty – Quail Pie.  My favorite was her little biscuits.  My cousin Kim had nicknamed Grandmother Russell “Bumba” and I affectionately referred to her delicacy as “Bumba’s Biscuits” and there was simply nothing on earth quite as delicious.

The Russell's 1964 Christmas - Guess who's hiding their eyes!

We all had to save room because round two was with my Grandmother Feemster who worked just as hard in the kitchen with her turkey, macaroni pie (Mac and cheese to my Yankee friends), cornbread dressing in little cakes, and a fresh pound cake.

Sadly, the Grandparents are all but gone with Grandmother Feemster in the twilight of her life.  The onset of dementia has robbed her of most of her memories though mine still fondly recall our family Christmas gatherings.

This past week, our Lake Norman Kiwanis Club sponsored a holiday social for our Kiwanis Aktion Club.  The Aktion Club is a group of young adults 18 years of age or older who deal with some type of physical or mental disability.

Growing up, I never thought about the families who face Christmas Season with a loved one who deals with an impairment.  There are 35 million Americans who deal with a severe disability but roughly 46% of those are still employed.  In totality, there are more than 54 million Americans that deal with some type of disability, or one in five.

Last Friday night, we all enjoyed a wonderful dinner and gave awards out to our hard working Aktion Clubbers.  The joy in their face spoke volumes as they stood front and center clutching their awards tightly in their hands.  We then installed our new officers for the year.

One young lady, Chris Hunter, walked up front with the aid of her crutches and “signed” to me with her hands how she would be a good treasurer and promised not to spend all of our money.  She then hugged me as tears of joy ran down her face.

Her mom Tracy explained how proud she was as we both stood there and embraced, her arms wrapped securely around my waist.  I felt her warm tears on my arms as we pulled apart, but not before I saw her face beaming with joy.

One of our Kiwanians had brought an IPAD and they had programmed streaming Christmas Carols.  Our crowd had all but drowned out the music which had been playing softly in the background, but as Chris and I parted, I heard Crosby’s version of, “Have yourself a Merry Little Christmas…” playing in the background.

Chris Hunter, Aktion Club Member

If your family is healthy, thank God and pray for those who deal with their challenges each day.  Spend extra time this coming year volunteering to help someone who needs that helping hand.  Give a little more to the organization of your choice that is trying to find a cure or at least making life better for us all.

The Christmas Eve’s of my past are filled with warm and special memories of those I love and miss very much.   My Christmas Eve’s of the future are filled with hope that we will make strides toward defeating those disabilities.   That would truly be a Christmas to remember!

December 21, 2010 Posted by | Personal | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

My Great Day at the Lake

Bill Russell, CCE

One of my mentors, Gene Martin, was noted for a charge he would give aspiring young business leaders, when he encouraged us to – “Do what we love, love what we do, and deliver more than you promise.”  Those few words have become a philosophy that I try to put into place daily and I have often used the same message when I meet with young business and community leaders.     This year marks my 19th year in the association management field.  Essentially, I have the unique opportunity to perform in a job that allows me to work with business and community leaders as we make our region stronger and our communities better than we found them.

I have always enjoyed civic service, advocating on behalf of people and businesses, and speaking to groups about how they can bring about positive change for our community and nation.  No, I take that back – I love it!   Perhaps no day better illustrates that than Friday August 27th.  It began like any other day as we convened a program of our Focus Friday and a very informative session on Charlotte Mecklenburg Utilities from their executive director Barry Gullett.  Barry was joined by Jim Duke who led a Mayor’s Task Force on the water rate challenges we were experiencing earlier this year in Mecklenburg County.

Duke did an outstanding job of demonstrating what local citizens can do when they organize together in a constructive manner bringing about changes in CMUD’s operations.     The program adjourned and I went straight into a meeting of our Pubic Policy Committee where Hilary Broadway of Allen Tate Realty and I outlined the Chamber’s advocacy positions we would take to Washington, DC a few weeks later.

Ada Jenkins Check Presentation

Then it was off to a meeting of the Regional Roads Committee, an organization of 17 other regional Chambers of Commerce, as we heard presentations from CATS to Gene Conti, our N.C. Secretary of Transportation.    I hurried back up to the lake for a check presentation from the Ingersoll Rand Foundation to the Ada Jenkins Center for $60,000.  The community outreach center offers 19 programs and services including the free medical clinic, food pantry, school tutoring, and much more.

Leaving there, I rushed off for a ribbon cutting and a grand opening of a new Huntersville business – the Comfort Suites – before heading back up to the Chamber for a meeting of the Lake Norman Kiwanis Aktion Club.     Aktion is a club for young people over the age of 18 with special needs.  I am fortunate to be their club advisor and help facilitate their meetings as the young people get together once a month to socialize and conduct projects.

This particular meeting we enjoyed pizza together provided by Brooklyn South, a great Chamber member, as we wrote letters to the men and women serving overseas in our military.     Perhaps few days go by that each of us do not lament about the economy or how things are just not going our way.  However, each month I have the opportunity to witness one of God’s miracles as a young person, who has every reason in the world to complain, reminds us life is so precious.

Aktion Club of Lake Norman

There is no discussion of shortcomings or disability, just the bright smiles of these kids and their laughter when they get together.  I listened as they read the words from their cards and showed us their own particular handiwork.  Their crayons filled with love, compassion, and innocence.     As I drove home that night, thinking of those kids as they poured their hearts out in words and colors on their greeting cards, I felt tears welling up in my eyes.  I couldn’t help but believe that the hour I spent with them that evening was God’s gift back to me.

It’s the reason I do what I do and just another great day at the lake!

October 4, 2010 Posted by | Chamber of Commerce | , , , , | Leave a comment