Saturday, May 2, 2015

The Power of Passion

"I never saw a meaningful life that wasn't based on passion. And I never saw a life full of passion that wasn't, in some important way, extraordinary." ~ Bill Strickland, Make the Impossible Possible

At the 19th Russ Berrie Awards for Making a Difference

At the Russ Berrie Making a Difference Awards each year, I meet the most incredible human beings who bring the gift of their passion to life in the work they do in our community.

Russ and Angelica Berrie

Nineteen years ago, my late husband, Russ, was profoundly moved by his encounters with unsung heroes, ordinary people doing extraordinary things that made such a difference in another human being's life. It inspired us to create the Russ Berrie Award for Making A Difference, recognizing ordinary citizens who have tapped into deep reserves of human potential to contribute all of who they are to create positive change.

Every one of our nominees brings this gift of passion to create something extraordinary in their lives. This is what the Making a Difference Awards are about, everyday people doing extraordinary good.

After 19 years, a network of over 2500 nominees with 264 winners are creating collective impact in New Jersey. Past winners and nominees have since been recognized nationally, sparked connections and collaborations among themselves, and identified other unsung heroes. Today, we honored ten everyday heroes, celebrating their achievements with cash awards that were a heartfelt thank you for their gift of passion and purpose. 

With Steve Adubato, TV host and event emcee

The top award of $50,000 went to Dominique Lee, CEO of the BRICK (Building Responsible Intelligent Creative Kids) Newark Schools. A Teach For America recruit, Dominique's passion, inspired five other Teach For America alumni to join him in starting a nonprofit focused on managing underperforming schools. Addressing the elements of poverty that impede academic excellence, Dominique's bold, entrepreneurial team transformed two failing schools in the South Ward of Newark at the bottom 2% of elementary schools in New Jersey in less than five years. 

These schools outperformed their South Ward peers, bringing best practices learned from district and charter schools. He set up the South Ward Children's Alliance, a collaborative action network connecting health care organizations, social service agencies, and other community resources to provide case management not just to BRICK students but also students at other charter and district schools, including KIPP New Jersey, Northstar and Newark Legacy schools. 

Dominique Lee, BRICK Academy Founder

Dominique is Newark's unsung hero for creating positive change in the way we educate the state's neediest children. 

Every community has unsung heroes. The power of one to make a difference is a gift we all have within us. No step is too small or too insignificant to matter, whether it is collecting beddings or toothbrushes for those in need. We can all live this life of purpose and passion because every day offers us an opportunity to do something good. 

One of last year's heroes, Danny Goldman of Opportunity Fund, passed away this year, leaving an organization he started that helped others like him with cancer. He was only 41 years old but in  his short precious life, he accomplished so much that made a difference in the lives of others. His spirit lives on in the good he left behind.

Meeting heroes like Dominique Lee, who tap into their deepest potential to connect to inner reserves of commitment, perseverance, creativity, and hope inspires others to give passionately of themselves and transform ordinary lives into something extraordinary!

"The best way to live your life is with the assumption that your purpose on the planet is to strive, in some way appropriate to your means and your talents, to make a difference." ~ Bill Strickland