I'll Have Another Won the Derby, But Louisville Wins in Compassion
by The Charter
1 year ago
THIS JUST IN: I'll Have Another might have won the Kentucky Derby, but in inspiring its citizens to give back to their communnity, Louisville, Kentucky is well out in front. Two weeks after Mayor Greg Fischer's "Give A Day" volunteer week the results are in and they are smashing. The total number far surpasses the initial goal of 55,000 volunteers and even predictions of 75,000 to an astounding more than 90,000 volunteers doing well over 100,000 hours of community service.
Tom Williams from Compassionate Louisville broke down those hours for us:
33,570 – meals packaged by volunteers in two days for sending to needy children and families around the world by the Louisville chapter of Kids Against Hunger
9,000 – Brightside volunteers (new record) who helped clean up Louisville
8,753 – shoes donated to Edge Outreach. The shoes are sold to distributors with the funds helping support Edge Outreach’s efforts to provide safe drinking water around the world. It also keeps the shoes out of the landfill.
3,209 – books donated to JCPS so that elementary and middle school students will have grade-level reading material this summer
950-- blood donations to the American Red Cross
200 – trees planted in 14 of the city’s Olmsted parks.
7 – tons of medical supplies and equipment sorted by volunteers at Supplies Over Seas and delivered to a Mexican community of 20,000 to establish the town’s first medical facility.
When we first reported on Mayor Greg Fischer's efforts to make Louisville, Kentucy a compassionate city, his efforts had not yet been recognized with the Compassionate City of the Year award from the Compassionate Action Network International.
But now all the city agencies are developing their compassion programs, the new compassionate designs by school kids are being applied to the city's buses. And the great man of the city, Muhammad Ali and his Center are participating in events and sharing their innovative programs on respect and giving and tolerance.
But the biggest event is just gearing up. The Mayor's Week of Service, which asks every member of the Louisville community to volunteer in some manner is off and running. He aim to have Louisville make it into the world record books for greatest number of compassionate acts performed. Voluteerns and organizations are finding matches on a custom website - My Give A Day. So it's on: Santiago, Cairo, Nashville, Canberra and Glasgow. It's ON.
When Louisville, Ky., Mayor Greg Fischer took office in 2011, he stated his three top goals for the city: health, education and compassion. Promises to improve health and education might be standard fare for inaugural addresses - but compassion?
THE MAYOR AND THE MONK
That day, the mayor cited inspiration from a longtime Louisville resident, Thomas Merton, the Trappist monk and scholar who had lived much of his life in an abbey nearby.
"Just two blocks from here," Mayor Fischer said, "at 4th Street and Muhammad Ali, the Trappist monk and scholar Thomas Merton had a famous epiphany, a sudden moment of insight, as he stood amidst the hustle and bustle of what was then our city's main shopping district…[Merton] was gripped by an overpowering realization that all those bustling people were not strangers. All human beings were connected. 'They were mine and I was theirs' are the words he wrote in his diary on that 1958 day."
"We are already one," Merton famously said, "but we imagine that we are not. What we have to recover is our original unity."
Mayor Fischer set out to make Merton's wish manifest. Using his new office and his powers of persuasion, he put a resolution forward to the Louisville Metro Council making Louisville an official 'compassionate city,' complete with the required 10-year plan.
The resolution read, "Whereas Louisville is a quintessential 'heartland America' city - neither north, south, nor coastal and located close to the mean center of the United States population and..."
And while it might have sounded like any number of prosaic bureaucratic documents, the resolution's results were anything but mundane. Immediately, compassion became part of the city government's mindset.
Sadiqa Reynolds, the mayor's chief of community building, notes: "Having compassion in your mind as you go about your work automatically begins to shift the way you craft your policy."
CONVENER OF IDEAS
Of course, it's one thing to issue a proclamation, sign a resolution or even initiate a handful of government projects. It's another entirely to engage a whole city of individuals with their own busy lives to lead.
The mayor's plan notes that "Compassion is the shared purpose and principle" and "Compassion is a common ground and unifying force in our polarized world," but it also states that "the project is powered at the periphery and unified at the core."
As Sadiqa Reynolds says, the city doesn't want to prescribe what compassionate acts people take but to serve and a convener of ideas and a facilitator.
As a starting point, the mayor asked for one commitment only: that the entire community of Louisville give a day of service during the week of the Kentucky Derby. This give-a-day week is no small matter - Mayor Fischer aims for Louisville to set a world record for individual acts of service.
The city has set up a website where residents can create their own service projects or search for places to serve that interest them. The only problem right now, says Reynolds, "is that with so many people, we need more projects."
EVERYTHING IS BIG
And the give-a-day projects? They are varied - and valuable, no matter their scope.
"It's all big stuff ," says Reynolds. "If you talk about building a house for a family that has not had one, that's big stuff. It changes people's lives. Painting in a community center is big stuff; it changes the lives of those kids who go there. The color of the wall impacts sometimes even how they feel about themselves. They are all big things."
A CITYWIDE EFFORT
Louisville's compassionate city plans don't end with Derby Week. There is a restorative justice program in the courts; the Fund for the Arts is planning special programming; the Muhammad Ali Center plans educational events; the young professionals group will focus on compassion in business. In addition, the city's Spalding University has been named the first compassionate university and is creating a model compassion curriculum
THE ONE THING
It turns out that for Louisville, becoming a compassionate city wasn't that hard a sell. "It's as if the mayor just forced us to memorialize what we do and what is in our hearts already," Reynolds says.
"It's the thing," she says, "that no matter if you are rich or poor, we all have need for. If you live long enough, you will long for or need or desire compassion from someone. It is also the one thing we all have to give."