“To find our calling is to find the intersection between our own deep gladness and the world’s deep hunger.” ~Frederick Buechner
Rich and Yvonne co-direct an organization called Be the Change, that sponsors Challenge Day workshops for young people dealing with issues of diversity and self-esteem. Their work is an integral part of their relationship. Their workshops are held in a gym that can hold a hundred participants mostly high school students with some administrators, teachers, counselors, and parents. They spend one full day together. The intention is to challenge people’s prejudices and preconceived notions about diversity.
Dealing with issues of race and sexual orientation break down some of the barriers that keep young people enclosed in narrow rigidly defined networks. The kids learn that they are so much more alike than they are different. People get to see what it feels like to be on the receiving end of a bully’s behavior. Everyone who participates gets to see how we have all been victimized and the victimizer. It becomes apparent that those who have been most provocative towards others are the ones who have been victimized themselves.
This couple has a great relationship and are making a profound difference in lives of thousands of people. Their marriage is an ongoing model of the challenge they wish to see in the world. It is their wounds of their childhoods, that brought forth a fierce commitment to help other kids get what they need before they end up in serious trouble. Their commitment is to live the spirit of our organization. Challenge Day is about going beyond the limitations of our social and cultural conditioning. In Gandhi’s words “to be the change you wish to see in the world.” They know that they cannot teach this unless they embody the same principles in their lives.
Yvonne: “When I was a girl, I clearly remember the feeling of starving. As a child, I was fat. I remember one day going to the refrigeration and the only thing there was a whole raw onion. I ate the whole thing. I was teased for being fat in school and I was so unhappy to not be included into the cool kid crowd. We lived on a farm and I was active in 4H. I raised sheep and pigs. One day when I was completely miserable, I slipped and fell into the pigpen. I was filthy, covered with muck, and I had a dream or a vision of a white dove that spoke clearly to me saying, “Come to teach the people.”
“When I was in seventh grade, I went away to visit some cousins. I had this bizarre idea to put my finger down my throat and make myself throw up. That was the summer that I learned that I could eat whatever I wanted and then make myself throw up, and I began to lose weight. This was long before it was in the public eye. Bulimia didn’t even have a name back then. When I went back to school slim, all of a sudden I was included into the popular crowd. I was chosen to be included because of the outer change. I still felt exactly the same inside. Something didn’t feel right.”
Rich: “The lies and tension in my house were just as bad as what was going on in Yvonne’s home. When my father applied for jobs, he told his employers that he had degrees that he didn’t have. My father told me that he had been a professional baseball player. I later found out that he never made it to the “pros”; it was a lie all along. For some reason, my father pushed me a lot harder than he did my other two brothers. I tried my best to please him, but no matter how hard I tried, I never could.”
“I realize now that he was projecting all of his unfulfilled dreams on to me, but at that time I was a kid chronically disappointing my dad, who would become tense and violent. My mother showed love by doing things for us kids, but she couldn’t show love with words or touch. I was the good-looking guy that made good grades and was a jock, so I was in the accepted group. But I felt terrible about myself; I felt that I was living a lie.”
Yvonne: “During that first encounter we shared that day, we both had a sense that this was a relationship we wanted to deepen both personally and professionally. There was an instant recognition that with the support of this person, my life and work could be so much more.”
“And of course the thousands of kids that we come into contact with through our program are our kids too in a way. We put a lot of time, effort, care, attention, and love into those kids. And it shows. We want each and every child to feel safe, loved, and celebrated.”
Rich: “One of the things I loved about Yvonne from the very beginning was how passionate she is about her commitment to serve and contribute. I’ve never met another person who is so driven to make a positive difference in the world as Yvonne is.”
Yvonne: “Yes, it’s true about me. I am possessed by my drive to serve and always have been. But until I met Rich, I didn’t think there was any body out there that could really meet me as a full partner in this work. Rich not only meets me as a partner, but he inspires and supports me to continually press into new challenges and new possibilities that I couldn’t even imagine without his support.”
The level of respect, integrity and commitment that they bring to each other serves as an example of what is truly possible even in a world that doesn’t always honor the values they live by. They ask nothing of each other or anyone with whom they work that they don’t expect of themselves. In the time that we spent with them, we found it impossible not be inspired by their love and respect for each other and the people with whom they work. These two are wounded healers who exemplify your greatest wounds can become your greatest gifts.