Thursday, October 16, 2014

Door Nuber 11

John came from very humble beginnings. His parents were divorced when he was just two years old, and by the age of nine he and his brothers were selling Christmas cards and newspapers in order to make ends meet. At first John’s big dream was to simply get a job where he could make $150 a week so that he could make a small house payment and drive a good used car. Here is how John describes his struggles through life:

“I was homeless twice in my life, mainly because I was too proud to ask anybody for help. In my early twenties I was divorced from my first wife. I had my son; I had no place to live. I went out and collected Coke bottles at night. I’d cash them in at the drugstore. You’d only get two or three cents in those days. We lived off a very skimpy diet in those days, rice, potatoes, cereal, macaroni and cheese or canned soup, but we lived.”

Despite his struggles, John persisted. When he left the Navy he started honing his sales skills by selling encyclopedias, then copy machine and then insurance. Eventually he became a circulation manager for Time Inc. In 1971 he stated working for Redken Laboratories, the leading professional salon product company in the U.S. at the time. In 1980 he joined forces with Paul Mitchell, an influential hair designer, and introduced the concept of hair setting and styling as part of their professional hair care system. The company was started with only $700, some of which he had to borrow.

Initially John Paul Mitchell Systems faced many challenges. Even the famous black and white packaging that became a key part of their brand came out of their lack of funds to use color ink. Initially the company consisted of a post office box and an answering machine. A female friend with a British accent produced the message recording to convey that there was, indeed, an office. Through persistence and hard work John and his partner removed each barrier as they came up:

“We should have gone bankrupt perhaps 50 times during the first year.”

Today John Paul Mitchell Systems is a $800 million business selling more than 90 products that are sold through 25 distributors within the United States to approximately 90,000 hair salons. Internationally, John Paul Mitchell Systems works with distributors in 73 countries that supply thousands of hair salons.

So what is John’s success secret? He explains it succinctly:

“I have said many times, the difference between successful people and unsuccessful people is that successful people do a lot of the things that unsuccessful people don’t want to do. Like when the door is slammed in your face ten times. You go to door number 11 with just as much enthusiasm. It is during the toughest times that you do what others will say, oh my God, this is too tough."

All of John’s success was conquered through a set of beliefs that we can all learn from:

“Whatever you do, if you do it better than anyone else, it’s amazing how things just start falling your way. Also, regarding balance, do unto others as you would have others do unto you."

Courtesy of

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

From Broken to BBQ

With so many dreary and depressing stories in the media, this week I want to focus on a couple success stories dealing with formerly homeless people. I understand these tales might not be typical or abundant, but I believe they are important. The moment a person loses hope, life takes a different trajectory and can become unbearable. So perhaps this first story can provide some inspiration and remind us to hold on and persevere in the face of difficult odds.

Frederick Waller told Nashville's News 2 he once lived on a couch under some trees while doing and selling drugs.

"I've gone from living under the trees, to in a house with trees all around it," he said.

Waller spent the last 30 years in and out of prison on drug related charges. The last time he walked out of the state prison, Waller was a brand new man.

"One of the things I knew I didn't have experience in was working. I had never really had a job," Waller explained.

He continued, "I had to learn how to go about that. So I went to Goodwill and Goodwill really helped me to understand the workplace."

Waller enrolled in Goodwill Career Solutions last December where he learned enough about computers and business that he went out and started his own BBQ drive-thru.

"I wanted to be an entrepreneur. I wanted to work for myself. So I decided I wanted to open this place up and I did," Waller said, standing by the smoker at Ooh Wee BBQ on Jefferson Street.

"I always thought I was a wise man," Waller said adding, "But I proved it otherwise. Now I'm trying to prove I am a wise man by doing things productive."

Waller said his new business is off to a "fairly good start" but that he knows it will get better. He is working to open a second location in west Nashville.

Waller was recently honored by Goodwill for his success.

Courtesy of

Thursday, October 9, 2014

Three Strikes

This is my third attempt at a topic. Since what you read is the final draft, I thought I would allow you a brief glimpse of what transpires before I tidy things up and punch the "publish draft" icon.

Originally, I was nearly 400 words into a treatise about Columbus Day, but I realized it had no correlation to my main point and I was forcing the issue simply because that day is nearly upon us. Next, I made it through two paragraphs based on my recent viewing of the movie Rudy. And while the story is heartwarming and inspirational (like my blog surely would have been), I am an ardent anti-Notre Dame fan, so I could not work past my juvenile and irrational biases. Yes... I am that petty, sometimes.

So, here we are. Some people would say the third time is the charm. This is a curious phrase and from what I've read, its origin dates back to an old English custom declaring if a person was still alive after 2 attempts at being hanged, they were allowed to live. There are other possibilities for this phrase, ranging from Shakespeare to thoughts found in the Hebrew Talmud, but I really like the hanging antidote and since I'm the one writing this, I'll stick with it.

Others argue, "three strikes and you're out." Again, there are a few possibilities for this phrase, but because baseball's playoffs are upon us, let's stay with the tried truism of America's historically favorite pastime (beware, though... Soccer is gaining) indicating three failed attempts at securing a base hit leads to an out. And three outs culminates in the end of an inning!

So, which person are you?

Do you live under the auspice and fear that perpetual failure will lead to a forfeiture of your dreams? Are you worrying so much about not doing the right things, that you are crippling your creative efforts because you are afraid of making a mistake? People are quick to remind you of previous calamitous ventures and you are even quicker to beat them to the punch and chastise yourself.

Or, do you live in the freedom and elation that accompanies the notion that the best ideas and efforts are often the result of multiple failures and frustrations? Do you realize that you've fallen several times but focus on the times you pick yourself up and carry on because its the right thing to do. People are quick to point out your shortcomings and you smile, thank then, and then move on with steadfast determination because you understand fortitude trumps apathy.

How we respond to what life hurls at us defines much of who we are. Do we fold and allow ourselves to drown in our circumstances or do we risk the vulnerability of reaching for greatness and pushing ourselves in spite of what's happening around us? The world is a better place when its populated with people who aren't afraid to be messy. People who know that success is raised from the ashes of failure.

And speaking of failure... If only I could think of something to write about.

Monday, October 6, 2014

Role Models

A few years ago there was a commercial featuring a prominent basketball star named Charles Barkley. To provide a little context, all you need to know is Barkley was renowned for his tough, physical play. He often would be assessed flagrant fouls for his hard-nosed antics, and he inspired countless other basketball players to emulate his actions. The commercial was centered around a controversial phrase in which Barkley reiterated, "I am not a role model." He was paid to be an athlete and presenting an acceptable code of behavior or ethics for kids to watch was not his responsibility.

Maybe he's right.

A few years ago I would have argued it was his responsibility and athletes should be mandated to behave in a manner worthy of copying. Perhaps its because I'm older (and more cynical) but my views are changing. Are there athletes (and musicians, actors, authors, etc) out there who are bastions of decency and morality? Sure. But it's not their job to raise my kids. That task falls to me and I must become the one they look to for guidance and inspiration.

Over the years I've met many incredible people who spent time residing at Samaritan House. Countless families have moved in and out of our family housing units and those parents and guardians do their best to raise their kids with ethics, empathy, and a moral compass designed to inspire positive behavior. One of the most important things we can do is not let our socioeconomic station in life become an excuse for poor parenting. Teaching right from wrong is not dependent upon our tax bracket.

Celebrities are easy scapegoats because their lives unfold in a world with virtually no privacy. When they succeed or fail, it is often in real time. But their job is to entertain and not to be the voice for decency and reason. Instead of pawning our responsibilities as parents and caregivers to sports stars, we need to be accountable for what we are teaching those who look up to us.

The importance of our family housing quarters cannot be underestimated. While they are not luxurious, they do provide a stable place for families to get back on their feet. Families have a place they can stay, rent-free, so they can save money to elevate themselves out of the depths of homelessness. Parents and children are given an opportunity to spend time together so that positive values can be taught and enforced.

We can argue the validity of celebrities as role models all day. But I prefer a world in which families take ownership of creating the strong bonds that will contribute to society.

Thursday, October 2, 2014

The Damage of Violence part II

Child maltreatment includes all types of abuse and neglect of a child under the age of 18 by a parent, caregiver, or another person in a custodial role (e.g., clergy, coach, teacher). There are four common types of abuse.

• Physical abuse is the use of intentional physical force, such as hitting, kicking, shaking, burning or other show of force against a child.
• Sexual abuse involves engaging a child in sexual acts. It includes fondling, rape, and exposing a child to other sexual activities.
• Emotional abuse refers to behaviors that harm a child’s self-worth or emotional well-being. Examples include name calling, shaming, rejection, withholding love, and threatening.
Neglect is the failure to meet a child’s basic needs. These needs include housing, food, clothing, education, and access to medical care.

Why is child maltreatment a public health problem?
The few cases of abuse or neglect we see in the news are only a small part of the problem. Many cases are not reported to police or social services. What we do know is that:

1,640 children died in the United States in 2012 from abuse and neglect.
• 686,000 children were found to be victims of maltreatment by child protective services in 2012.
The total lifetime economic burden resulting from new cases of fatal and nonfatal child maltreatment in the United States is approximately $124 billion.

How does child maltreatment affect health?
Child maltreatment has a negative effect on health. Abused children often suffer physical injuries including cuts, bruises, burns, and broken bones. In addition, maltreatment causes stress that can disrupt early brain development. Extreme stress can harm the development of the nervous and immune systems. As a result, children who are abused or neglected are at higher risk for health problems as adults. These problems include alcoholism, depression, drug abuse, eating disorders, obesity, high-risk sexual behaviors, smoking, suicide, and certain chronic diseases.

Who is at risk for child maltreatment?
Some factors can increase the risk for abuse or neglect. The presence of these factors does not always mean that maltreatment will occur. Children are never to blame for the harm others do to them.
Age.Children under 4 years of age are at greatest risk for severe injury and death from abuse.
Family environment. Abuse and neglect can occur in families where there is a great deal of stress. The stress can result from a family history of violence, drug or alcohol abuse, poverty, and chronic health problems. Families that do not have nearby friends, relatives, and other social support are also at risk.
Community. Poverty, on-going community violence, and weak connections between neighbors are related to a higher risk for child abuse and neglect.

Note: statistics courtesy of

Monday, September 29, 2014

The Damage of Violence

A few nights ago I spent nearly 2 hours watching television, switching the channels back and forth between various sports and news networks. The content was nearly interchangeable as the main stories focused on two NFL players who are being scrutinized for alleged domestic violence; one for knocking his fiancé out and the other for bearing his four-year old child with a switch until there were marks left on the child's legs.

My fifth grade daughter was in the room, drawing. Finally, after a few minutes, she spoke up and asked why these men would hurt people they were supposed to love and protect. It's a simple question with no solitary answer. I'm not going to comment on why a man would beat a woman or child (or another man) except to say that the individual committing the violence is a coward and degenerate and the act is indefensible. There is NO justifiable reason to knock out a woman with a deliberate punch to the face or to beat a child with an foreign object until the child bleeds. Or at all.

If these instances can draw attention to issues of domestic violence, then perhaps people who wouldn't regularly pay attention or care might be stirred to do something. In the coming days, I will post some statistics and data relating to domestic violence in America. Many of our residents have been victims of this topic and some have chosen to leave their situations and face the prospects of homelessness rather than continue to have their lives (and the lives of their children in many cases) threatened.

When you donate to Samaritan House, you are helping people you will never meet, but who are embracing an uncertain future rather than remain in violent situations. Please take some time to consider how you might play a role in changing the lives of people dealing with an issue that too often places an emphasis on the violent perpetrator and not the innocent victims.

Thursday, September 25, 2014



Recently, I was speaking to a group of middle school students who were writing essays about this issue and a young lady asked me if there was a space between the words 'home' and 'less.' I answered her and then continued with the topic, but in the back of my mind I kept thinking about her question. It wasn't particularly profound and her intent was not to provoke a larger discussion; she had a spelling question, plain and simple.

But the more I thought about the phrasing, I began to realize there is a gap between the the two words. It has nothing to do with the spelling and everything to do with the perception. Being homeless and home-less are two very different things.

Home-less implies the problem is a lack of housing. This is easily identifiable and actually not difficult to address or solve. If a family or individual is home-less, the issue is remedied by providing or helping them secure a home. On a base level, the intimate variables are removed and the narrative is less about people and more focused on habitats. Drywall and foundations are needed. If a physical structure can be built, the problem of being home-less goes away. Home-lessness is characterized by building permits and zoning regulations and solved by construction projects and housewarming parties. If this were the brunt of the conversation, we could well be on our way to ending an American epidemic.

Unfortunately, homelessness lacks the hyphen or open space separating the two words. Homelessness is a snare often predicated upon a set of circumstances not easily fixed. Its systemic nature can engulf entire generations, making self-reliance impossible even if it desired. Children born into poverty have a higher likelihood of not finishing high school. The high dropout rate can be accomplished by illegal activity and higher instances of single-parent households. When kids don't finish school, college becomes unlikely and lower-paying jobs become a reality.

Homelessness and poverty can be cyclical because they are handed down from one generation to the next. Living paycheck to paycheck is difficult enough, and when finances are depleted unexpectedly due to any number of emergencies, homelessness is only a step away. This problem is not absolved with any brick and mortar dwelling. Addressing the conditions causing poverty... lack of education, expensive health care, abysmal living wage conditions, just to name a few... will be the key to eliminating homelessness.

I'm thankful for occasional spelling errors because they make me think.