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Martin Luther King Jr. Photos and Volunteering

18 Jan

It is hard to believe it is now almost 50 years since Martin Luther King, Jr. was killed. It is great to see his life remembered as a national day of service each year.
20131110_214517 MLK 4 Full length front

Martin Luther King Jr. died when I was 10 years old. Bobby Kennedy was also killed in 1968 and his brother John F. Kennedy in 1963. I tried to understand what was going on in our country.  Why did these three inspirational leaders have to die?


As an adult I entered the United States Peace Corps, in part perhaps inspired to volunteer to give back to my fellow man by these three leaders. For many years I worked in and with nonprofits and churches often as an employee, but also often as a volunteer.

20131110_215012 MLK - I have the Audacity to believe

As a nonprofit executive my focus shifted to empowering and engaging volunteers to building community, to strengthening connections, to improving collaboration. As a volunteer with the Association of Personal Historians, I continue to work to empower and engage volunteers to work through chapters and regions to help personal historians strengthen their skills to capture and share life stories, memories, experiences and lessons learned from one generation to succeeding generations.

20131110_205606 MLK - at Lincoln Memorial

Martin Luther King Jr. had a dream, he inspired thousands during his life time. He still inspires me and many millions more after his death. I hope he inspires you to give, to serve, and to volunteer.

20131110_205551 cropped Lincoln Memorial - MLK speech

Integrated in this article are a few photos I took at the Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial and the Lincoln Memorial, I hope you have a chance to travel and visit these sites and that you are equally inspired by Dr. King and his legacy.

20131110_214526 MLK 3

Bruce Summers is a Personal Historian with Summoose Tales. He is a past  Board of the Association of Personal Historians and served as their volunteer director for Chapters & Regions,

September 11, 2014 started as a cloudy day

11 Sep

It was cloudy today as I walked to work down 18th Street in NW Washington, DC. There was an incredibly brilliant blue sky when I walked down the same street 13 years ago the morning of September 11.

I was working at the American Red Cross in the Volunteers, Youth and Nursing Department. I was talking with Mary Etta Boesl a colleague and my counterpart in the Communications and Marketing Department.

As we were chatting she glanced up at a TV over her desk, paused and said, “Bruce a plane just flew into the World Trade Center building, (in New York City)!”

I hurried around to my Vice President’s office to let him know, he had been a director of disaster services, he turned on his TV and we watched the coverage of the hole and the smoke coming out of the Tower speculating…

It was a large plane, not a random occurrence we suspected terrorism then we watched as a second plane flew into the other tower!!

We calculated how many 10’s of thousands of people could work in this complex. We were concerned but New York was 200 miles away…

Then we learned that a third plane had flown into the Pentagon, just across the Potomac river a couple of miles at the most, in our neighborhood!!! The disaster became real and present directly in our lives.

I tried to call my wife, but the phones were jammed with calls, finally she got through to one of my colleagues. Her government agency was being evacuated. We were worried what would happen next. We were worried about our young children 17 miles away in their elementary school.

My colleagues and I, those who had young children, left to be prepared to evacuate our kids to a safer place if needed. My wife left to drive her car across town to pick me up.

I walked out the door a pickup truck was in front of my building. The federal agency employees headquartered around Red Cross Square flooded the sidewalks as they were evacuated. After all the White House was one and half blocks away diagonal across the street.

Traffic stopped, the pickup never moved. Traffic backed up. I ran down the street several blocks to meet my wife hoping to get to her before she got snarled in the traffic jam.

As we drove out of Washington we passed the Chemical Response Fire Truck coming in I 66 to the Pentagon from National Airport. We got to our tree-lined suburban neighborhood, our adrenaline still pumping. It look normal. We got to the elementary school. All was quiet. We asked at the office. The staff said they had not announced anything to the students, afraid some may have parents impacted by the Pentagon crash.

We drove home, my wife left to donated blood at the Red Cross Blood Center. I called into my office to get an update. The pick-up truck had not moved for over an hour. The plan was coming together. Get some rest they shared we are going to be busy tomorrow!!!!

9.12.01 was a new day but a very different day. I had to enter Red Cross Square through the 18th Street entrance because the rest of the block was quarantined with yellow police tape. We did not know what would happen next. A local radio station had a broadcast truck in front of the building where we set up an emergency blood collection station in a large ballroom. The crowd of volunteer blood donors queued up, quickly filling the building.

I became the designated greeter at the end of the line, thanking people, letting them know it would be a 2, then a 3, then a 4 hour or more wait to donate blood. You are welcome to stay in line and wait, or fill out this slip and we will call you to come down to donate when there is less of a wait. I repeated this welcome hundreds of times as the line grew and went around the block. The goodwill of the American people, foreign visitors, people given the day off to donate blood, stranded pilots and flight attendants, pipe-fitters, young and old, waiting in line for many hours, doing what they could do to help.

We finally announced around 6:30 PM that we were not accepting any more people in line, the Blood Service technicians could not work past 10:30. Some people left, but one woman stayed, “I am going to wait and be the last one to donate, no matter what!!!!!” And so she was.

It is amazing the difference a day can make. It is amazing the difference a volunteer can make.

See also…

9/11 – Red Cross memories – 10 years later # 1

9/11 Memories – Red Cross Blood Drive – 10 Years later # 2

Red Cross Stories

Blood Drives planned in Remembrance of 9.11

How has the War on Poverty influenced your career? Response to Linked In Discussion started by Cody Switzer, Web Editor at The Chronicle of Philanthropy

16 Jan

Hmmm… was not necessarily cognizant re: the War on Poverty (I was five when the campaign was launched) – but adult volunteers (from that ERA) supported me and my Boy Scout troop, made it possible to become an Eagle Scout – learned to do a good turn daily, to be helpful… concurrently learned about the Peace Corps through a cassette recording from the son of my fifth grade teacher (A Peace Corps Volunteer).


Perhaps he and other Peace Corps volunteers who inspired me (along with my Boy Scout experience) to take two years after college to make the world a better place. I joined the Peace Corps helped to revitalize the Barbados Boy Scouts Association – led to a thirty plus year nonprofit, volunteer engagement, and capacity building career and now consulting at the World Bank joining the world-wide fight to end extreme poverty.

20131110_205551 cropped Lincoln Memorial - MLK speech

I surmise that a number of the mentors, role models, and colleagues I worked with were inspired by the War on Poverty and indirectly they inspired and informed my work.

20131110_211527 FDR 3 - in wheelchair

During my career I helped to found or organize over 100 new Scouting organizations in Barbados and the US that have involved and hopefully inspired 2 or 3 more generations of young people perhaps these have also connected 10 to 50,000 young people to quality Scouting or Exploring experiences to learn about and try out merit badges or career exploration leading to careers or life-long interest and perhaps a third or more of them have in turn volunteered and inspired other young people.

20131110_212155 FDR 1 - the bread line

This combined with supporting a network of American Red Cross chapter directors and chairs of volunteers connecting up to a million volunteers a year to (usually) quality volunteer opportunities has made a difference.

IMG_4017 1977 National Boy Scout Jamboree Obstacle Course

My since thanks to the volunteers and the Returned Peace Corps volunteers that inspired me and to the thousands and millions of volunteers who pay it forward every day through volunteer acts and random acts of kindness. I hope Monday – MLK Jr. Day – is a day of service and reflection for you, not just another day off.

My thanks also to Cody Switzer at the Chronicle of Philanthropy for inspiring me to reflect on how I can pay it forward.

He was 102; she was 94…

6 Nov

He was 102; she was 94 building a barn in 1919 brought them together in Australia at the end of World War II. Writing Personal Histories – bringing other’s stories to life, documenting stories and long forgotten conversations is a wonderful gift. Today I am working on page 380 of their book telling their story.

It’s just two days until the Association of Personal Historians Annual Conference in Bethesda, MD. This is my first APH conference, it will be intriguing to meet hundreds of colleagues dedicated to helping thousands of people each year write their life stories.

Some Personal Historians specialize in video memoirs; one colleague used his film and documentary skills, his experience with interviewing, videotaping and editing to craft compelling 30 minute or 60 minute stories that captures and shares the essence of his clients, often bringing them almost to life, for family and friend long after they are gone.

Some colleagues specialize in photo memory books, the focus is on bringing to life those compelling photos and the stories and background connected to the photos. Their books are beautifully crafted bringing individual and family stories to life. Too often the unique stories behind photos are otherwise lost.

Some colleagues specialize in memoir writing – providing coaching and classes to encourage people to just start outlining and writing down their stories. This often gives the rest of us great material to build upon, if/when needed. These colleagues are very skilled in writing and editing and often provide ongoing coaching or ghost writing support to help their clients complete or expand their stories or shape their writing into a book.

Personal Historians often collaborate, sharing tips, tricks, tools, expertise, reference resources and referrals. Some specialize in transcription, line editing, converting manuscripts into books; or specialize in community or corporate histories.

Some us are fascinated with genealogy, tying in many little known threads of family history, vital statistics, where their ancestors came from or moved to and why location or specific events, like building a barn after World War I, could shape the story arc of people’s lives on opposite sides of the globe.

My focus is on the research, the interviews, weaving in sometimes hundreds of family photographs, letters, journals, genealogy into the story arc. Sometimes this comes together as a 400 page book; well there was that jam packed file drawer down in the basement filled with “material” that no one had looked at for up to 50 or more years.

Sixteen hours of interviews provide a lot of source material. 500 plus photographs needed to be reviewed, scanned or reshot and PhotoShopped; it is amazing how World War II photos of Japanese Torpedo bombers attacking Australian and US warships can deteriorate after 70 years, but they were part of the unique story of this couple that met while serving in the American and Australian Navy in Brisbane Australia in 1945.

Then there was his High School journal describing daily highlights, studies, sports, singing practice, “choring” on the family farm, sharing with pride how his family was able to harvest, by themselves, the entire potato crop on their large family farm, what the weather was like every day during the winter in Minnesota, walking to school, catching a ride or going by horse drawn sleigh in sub-zero temperatures.

No one else in the family even knew his high school journal existed. They had not read her vivid descriptions of her six months, grand tour of Europe in 1949, staying mostly in Youth Hostels. Witnessing the still very evident effects of six years of World War of bombings, of fighting, of ongoing shortages of people, communities, and countries still recovering move than four years after the fighting stopped.

Everyone has a unique story to tell. Sometime they write some of it down. Often they have documented unique moments through photographs, or they have collected bits and pieces of genealogy of family history. Sometimes they write their own book or craft their own video or photo book.

I help many friends and colleagues get started either with suggestions of how they can start capturing their stories or especially the stories of older family members using a digital voice recorder or a video camera or the voice recorder in their smart phone.

Personal Historians often can help the individual or the families ensure that the unique life stories and family history are captured and compiled. Too often people put it off and then it is too late and the caption to those old family photograph and the answers to those questions for your mother, father, aunt or uncle just never gets written down or never get asked or answered.

For the couple I am writing the book about, I was asked to help the family capture their stories at just the right time. At age 102 and 94 they were still active, living in their own home; they were able to share rich stories about their life and experiences, about the events and people who shaped their lives. They talked about their parents and grandparents who were born in the 1850s who were still alive during their childhood and could tell stories about their ancestors going further back who immigrated from Norway and the Channel Islands to the US and to Australia.

Within about nine months after I did my interviews with this couple, older age, various falls, and time started catching up with them. They became more frail, less vocal, and would not have been able to share these rich personal and family stories. Meanwhile, I could transcribe their interviews, organize their genealogy, review and caption the hundreds of photos, read through that file drawer full of material, develop the story arc and organize their material into Personal History products… audio tapes, transcripts, in their first person voice, a PowerPoint with over 375 photos, and my, still growing, 380 page book draft/manuscript.

Finally time caught up with my clients, he died in September at age 104 and she a month later at age 95 after long, interesting lives and lots of adventures. Yes, I still have to finish their book, but I have been able to document and share large sections of the manuscript with the family. The audio tapes and the hundreds of photos, many of which have been restored or enhanced, to be included in the book, are much valued by their family. Their personal history and family stories will live on and hopefully be passed on for generations.

It is never too soon to start collecting, to start writing your personal history or to start recording the stories of family, friends and colleagues. If/when you need help getting started, or help moving the story along, or with writing, editing, research, etc., look for a Personal Historian, the Association of Personal Historians is a great resource.

Get started today.

Bruce Summers
Personal Historian – SummooseTales

Member – Association of Personal Historians

Chemistry, Physics, Peace, Medicine, Literature – why not a Nobel Prize for Computer Science, Collaboration, or Community Building?

11 Oct

Each year I keep my ears posted as National Public Radio (NPR) starts announcing the winners of the various Nobel Prizes. It is always interesting to hear and then read more about the recipients for each prize and what they are being recognized for.

This year as the announcements started I started pondering – Chemistry, Physics, Medicine… and wondered what’s missing is Computer Science. Full disclosure: my son is a Computer Science major in college and I thought… Computer Science is really on the cutting edge of many scientific, medical, financial and other practical applications today that are shaping the world. Thinking deeper I pondered if the Nobel Committee was setting up the Nobel Prizes “system” today they would probably have Computer Science in the mix. I wondered to myself, can they create a new Nobel Prize category for Computer Science?

Then I was pleasantly surprised that the Nobel Prize for Chemistry went to three scientists who had pioneered using computer science to do complex chemistry modeling. On one hand this was perhaps the Nobel Committee recognizing the emergence and importance of Computer Science, on the other hand, what happens’ next year when the Chemistry prize goes for a different applied use of Chemistry.

I wonder if the Nobel Committee has the flexibility, vision, and of course empowerment to create a new category a 21st century category or two or three of prizes.

If asked, I of course would suggest Computer Science. If given the option to recommend others perhaps I would go with Collaboration, Community Building and Volunteer Engagement.

What would you suggest?

Government Shutdown – what are the side benefits?

4 Oct

Living outside of Washington, DC and working several days a week “downtown” in Washington, DC, it has been an “interesting week” to say the least, perhaps I should say a bit “too interesting”.

On one hand my daughter’s AP Government class has had a lot to “talk” about, is the Government going to shut down? How long will it last? How will this impact my family and my friends’ families? Note: living in the Washington, DC area many families have one or more federal workers in their families – parents, aunts, uncles, neighbors, the mother of one of a daughter’s best friends. Many have been furloughed (out of work) a few are in essential positions (have to work that much harder in new and different ways to keep essential systems – some automated – working).

The commute into DC is “different”. There are a few less cars on the back roads to the Metro. There are “way” less cars in the Metro Parking garage, we can park 1, 2, or even 3 floors further dawn. There is “always” a seat on the Metro (subway) going to work and coming from work Understandable going in to DC since I get on at the 2nd stop, pretty unusual coming back out during rush hour, I almost always have to stand, packed in.

Volunteering and “Random Acts of Kindness” are trending up this week. Parents that are Federal workers that were furloughed (not allowed to work) have had a bit more time to volunteer at their children’s schools, to visit elderly parents, to help a neighbor or add an extra pair of hands to help with that church outreach project. They have time, talent and expertise and (at least) a few days off. Note this is a short term benefit, hopefully these same parents and nonparents that are federal workers have some cash reserves and savings to help pay the bills and to cover emergencies during this period when they are not getting paid.

A few random thoughts…
— Do Congressional Offices – shut down when there is a Government Shutdown and no approved budget to meet their payroll?
— I know the Government Shutdown affects the Executive Branch agencies since friends are furloughed, but what about the White House staff? What percentage of their staff are “non-essential” workers.
— I am very glad that my mail is still being delivered.
— Will my Metro fees go up “again” to help cover the shortfall caused by reduced ridership during the Government shutdown?
— When will our Congress and the White House start “collaborating”? Doesn’t hurt to bang your heads against the wall every day?
— On one hand I love the “Balance of Power” hard wired into our government systems, the checks and balances.
— But I am currently reminded of the childhood “see-saw”
— The Republicans are on one side – The Democrats are on the other side of the proverbial See-Saw
— We start off gently rocking up and down, up and down or balancing, its working out…
— Then President Obama jumps on one side and the other “Party” gets stuck up in the air
— Good new “the view is nice”, bad news being stuck up in the air gets old after a while.
— Then a few more Republicans jump on their side and the Democrats and the White House is stuck up in the air
— Then “Pundits” start jumping on alternating on either side and up and down we go – one side or the other is stuck up in the air
— Or suddenly everyone jumps off one side and the other falls with a bang – that can hurt your pride – so you come up with a new strategy to “attack”.
— Sometime both sides make up and agree to work together towards a gentler, more balanced, more civil experience.
— In my childhood, I liked the See-Saw “game”. As an adult though I wonder if our elected representatives will learn the lessons of how to “play nice” with each other and think about the good of all.
–It is great to see local businesses “get it” many are offering reduced or half priced meals to furloughed (out of work) federal workers – hopefully a win-win – good for all.

“Mug them” the latest of 143 ways to say thank you to a volunteer…

30 Jul

How many ways can you/we say thank you to a volunteer? Please # and add to the list, thanks. LinkedIn Discussion in Volunteer Management Best Practices network

1. [Directly to the volunteer say] Thanks for volunteering today
2. Print a set of business cards for the volunteer
3. Greet them by name
4. Send out volunteer eCards…

Hmmm… So it is summer I wonder if there are any unique ways to recognize volunteers during the Summer?

Since Darlene gets credit for at least # 142 – great suggestions by the way…

Might I offer #143…

“Mug them” for years my father then later I received and proudly displayed our annual “Recognition Mug” for volunteering several days or a week at Boy Scout Summer Camp.  All in all a pretty good trade a week’s vacation and perhaps $100 or so to get to sleep in a tent, get plenty of exercise walking up and down hills through the woods, perhaps helping with a merit badge class, or helping younger boys learn Second and First Class skills, then of course someone has to help taste test the “Cobbler” and sit in on a Board of Review or 3 or 4 and attend a couple of Campfires, and did I mention drive a car full of boys about 350 miles each way – and yes I was very happy to walk down into the campfire circle each year and collect my mug and a round of applause from the Scouts.

What are a few other “seasonal” ways to recognize volunteers?

Note: my sincere thanks to colleagues who contributed the first 142 ways to say thank you to a volunteer. You all do amazing work and provide brilliant insights into year round volunteer recognition and retention.

Bruce Summers

Summers “Engagement” Consulting.

Collaboration – How to find groups with individuals who share your interests

15 May

Hmm… I recommend LinkedIn Discussion Groups. About once a week or so I am invited to join a new LinkedIn discussion group, some are intriguing so I click on it to see what it is about, some are not. I also like to browse the profiles of my LinkedIn Connections from time to time to discover which discussion groups or collaboration groups they are following. I see one that is intriguing I may click follow to see if it matches my interests, I will also see how many of my Connections are members of the group.

For new college graduates or for individuals who are trying to build connections Discussion Groups are a great source of what’s new and what’s next in a particular field you are interested in. I have discovered quite a number of new connections through following discussion threads, if I see an individual is actively commenting or collaborating on a topic that interests me I Like their comment, I may add to their comment or I may invite them to join me as a connection so I can potential collaborate with them more directly now or in the future.

The good news: LinkedIn Discussion Groups provide a ready source of collaborative discussion group that match my diverse interests personally and especially professionally.

The bad news: LinkedIn only allows me to belong to 50 Groups at a time, so when I discover or get invited to join one or two more groups, I have to think through, do I really want to “Abandon” those one or two or three groups and those discussions and colleagues that I had collaborated with and followed for perhaps two years or more? Will I get a return on my time investment from that new group, well sometimes yes, instantly, and sometimes no… it often takes a while for a new group to build critical may and synergy, some never really become collaborative or just do not generate discussions that pique my interest.

Other good news: my 50 or so groups generate a steady diet of bits and bytes of new, high potential collaborative discussions.

The other bad news: perhaps 50 groups generate a bit too many bytes that I cannot consume, so I log on later in the day and triage: no, no, no, yes – I need to save that for later, no, no, interesting – wow, no, save that one, no, no, great there are new comments on that discussion I was following, hmmm… what’s that one about, no, no, save for later, ok – you got me I need to check this one out – browse – hmm… – like that comment, like that comment, like that comment, ok – I need to comment or ask a question for clarification – or share what I know about this one, no, no, save for later, is it really 11 o’clock already, alright better log off and go back to those five intriguing discussion threads tomorrow.

So LinkedIn Collaboration – Discussion Groups and Discussion threads are a great high potential source for collaboration, networking and building connection with groups or individuals who share your interest.

I am also a huge fan of Communities of Practice and Knowledge Networks and Social Collaboration Platforms such as The World Bank’sCollaboration for Development Platform with its 50 plus specialized international development Groups/Communities – some are very open to new members who share specialized interests, some are fairly closed with a more fixed and focus target membership.

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