A Hero's Journey: Becoming a RESULTS Advocate

August 9, 2012
by Nancy Gardiner, RESULTS Connecticut

The below was first given as a speech by Nancy Gardiner during the RESULTS International Conference 2012 and has been re-formatted as a blog entry.

Have you ever dreamt of being a heroine or hero, like Katniss Everdeen or Luke Skywalker? Do you think about your RESULTS work as being “heroic?” On the RESULTS website there is even a section called “Everyday Heroes.” Last week I heard a speaker talk about the classic stages of the Hero’s Journey, and it occurred to me that at the end of a long day of travel and classes, you might be ready for a tale of adventure. My story may not be quite as exciting as Dorothy’s Adventures in Oz or The Fellowship of the Ring, but with a little imagination, maybe you’ll see some similarities.

So, as all heroes’ journeys do, we begin in the ordinary world: It was January 2010, in suburban Connecticut; I was a typical wife, mother of two, PTA mom, part-time accountant, but starting to feel a little empty as my daughters were leaving the nest.

But I read something online about an upcoming workshop in LA with Marianne Williamson “SisterGiant: Rousing the Sleeping Giant of American Womanhood.” I called a friend and we flew to LA through a blinding snowstorm for we were ready to wake up! At that conference Marianne shared the heartbreaking statistics of global poverty. What spoke to my heart were the effects of poverty on the world’s children: 17,000 children dying of hunger every day, a million babies dying of preventable diseases every year, 62 million children not in primary school who should be.

And RESULTS was there. They taught us about the issues, and they had us take action and write to our Senators. Then Marianne issued a call to adventure, “It’s not enough to take care of our own children, for they are all our children. Will you be a voice for the voiceless?,” she asked us.

But heroes always refuse the call at first, and that was true for me, and I headed back to my comfort zone in CT, educated, inspired, not quite ready to act…until a mentor arrived. No, not Gandalf rapping at my door with his staff, but a modern version as Ken Patterson from RESULTS came to Connecticut. He asked five Sister Giant attendees to begin a RESULTS chapter there. And we did.

We crossed the threshold into a new world: grassroots advocacy. Using Skype and email and phone calls Ken taught us the art of laser talks, he helped us navigate the maze of the RESULTS website, and he tested and challenged us to call & write to our members of Congress.

I was the only one from our chapter who could attend our first RESULTS International Conference (IC). In preparing for it, I had to learn to overcome enemies like the dreaded “Schedulers” for our Members of Congress. But other teachers appeared to help like RESULTS staff members John Fawcett and Jen Maurer, Crickett Nicovich and Lisa Marchal, who taught me how to plan meetings for the Day on the Hill and to pleasantly persist with those Schedulers. And then at the IC the classes were amazing and legislative aides taught us their secrets to success.

As I fearfully prepared to enter the “inmost cave” — the halls of Congress — I found, as all heroes do, unexpected allies along the way whose powers only become apparent in a moment of need: my 16-year-old daughter, Jill, used her acting experience to memorize the EFA laser talk; Priscilla Jeffery, a retired art teacher, recently moved to CT, had just started a microfinance project in Ghana and she joined us on the Hill, and Ruth Daka Edwards, a native of Zambia & childhood friend of international AIDS activist Carol Nyirenda joined us as well.

And though our chapter has had our share of tests and challenges and distractions along our journey, we have pulled many swords from the stone. We found out at that first IC in 2010 that all of Sandra Eagle’s hard work educating Rep. Jim Himes’ aide had paid off: He signed EFA on our first Day on the Hill. And springboarding from the training and energy from that first IC, we learned how to get letters to the editor published and Sandra placed our first op-ed! We developed a network of allies in Connecticut who we brought with us to in-district meetings with Members of Congress, and we reached out to more Connecticut Representatives, like Rosa DeLauro and Chris Murphy. Phyllis Behlen brought her passion, intelligence, and political savvy to our group. At our second IC, Phyllis’ work with our freshman Senator, Richard Blumenthal, was recognized; Blumenthal championed a letter to President Obama in support of GAVI funding.  Next we forged an alliance with the Yale Student Global Health & AIDS Coalition, we helped a new chapter of RESULTS at Fairfield University get on their feet, and we held a successful family and friends fundraiser. And now in 2012, at our third IC, I can report that every Connecticut member of the House is now an Education for All co-sponsor!

But no heroine’s journey would be complete without transformation. And I can truly say that the empty feeling I had in January of 2010 has turned to a fullness that comes from making new friends, learning new skills, from stretching my comfort zone, from being a voice for the voiceless, but most importantly from the realization that as I recognize my place in the global family my nest will never be empty. Joseph Campbell, the great American mythologist said, “A hero is someone who has given his or her life to something bigger than oneself.” And so I say to all of you: Welcome, heroes and heroines, to the 2012 RESULTS International Conference.

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