Conventional wisdom tells us to look toward the most accomplished among us for inspiration, motivation, and life lessons. We are seemingly obsessed by those who have “made it” and what they had to do to get “there.” How did they get to that “level”? How did they make so much money? Or more recently, how did they get so many “likes”?
It is also common practice for many to be influenced by the most physically attractive among us. We give a lot of attention to those who haven’t done anything other than simply being born with attributes that our culture finds appealing.
And as a result of conventional thinking and common practice, many of us are missing something really important. We are missing the opportunity to learn from some of the most special teachers on the planet. I was missing it too until I met Melissa.
I’ve told the story before in a prior article and in a TED talk, but when I met this amazing six-year-old girl with cerebral palsy I didn’t know the impact this teacher would have on the rest of my life. She opened my eyes to something I hadn’t seen before. This little girl in a wheelchair was more powerful than most people I’d ever met.
Perhaps the world’s most special teachers are those who have had to face the biggest challenges and those who don’t get the societal benefits of looking like professional models as they do it.
When I first learned about Sammy’s House is Austin, Texas, I was struck by their mission to serve and support families of the most challenged kids in the special needs community. From care for infants and preschoolers to grade school summer classes, to continuing education and support for parents whose divorce rate skyrockets due to the unique stresses of a special needs child, founder Isabel Huerta and her amazing teamwork miracles every day.
When visiting Sammy’s House, I learned that the staff designed each class such that 75% of the kids have two and three levels of major challenges and 25% of the kids are typically developing peers. Why? Because the staff has learned that the 75% will actually push themselves harder to get closer to the performance of the 25% with a “reverse inclusion” model, while the 25% benefit from an optimized learning environment. Amazing. And while all the kids learn from Sammy’s outstanding staff, the staff was clearly learning from all the kids as well. It aligned with everything that Melissa had taught me.
And it became a no-brainer for me to donate 100% of all author proceeds from my book Be Chief, in honor of Melissa, to such a special place that supports such special people.
I also encourage you to consider three choices:
Wouldn’t it be great if we followed Isabel Huerta’s dream as many followed Danny Thomas’ dream that started years ago at St. Jude’s? Who knew then that St. Jude’s would grow into an iconic institution supporting kids with cancer, and their families, with fundraisers across the country. Why not Sammy’s House, too?
In any event, I hope you consider rejecting conventional wisdom and common practice and perhaps thinking differently about those with special challenges and what they have to teach the rest of us.