Monday, December 5, 2016

What Would Walker Texas Ranger Do?

When I was younger I passed many hours as many boys do hyped up on a healthy dose of action figures and Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: imagining I was some superhero or “good guy” going toe to toe with a villain, or some generic “bad guys”. My imagination was pretty creative I have to admit. One moment I could be Walker Texas Ranger (sorry Trivette, hard to compete against Chuck Norris) fighting a drug cartel and quickly switch to being Leonardo with the sweetest ninja moves going against a make believe Shredder. In reality, if anyone were to observe me without knowing the back story they would simply see a boy making strange sounds while fighting himself as he used vacuum extensions as make believe machine guns. The great thing about these “epic battles” I had to pass the time is that I always came out victorious as soon as I heard “dinner is ready!”; go figure. These may seem like silly memories (because they are), however it is ironic that as adults we still find ourselves fighting enemies we cannot see, which can ultimately make it feel and look like we are fighting ourselves. The reality of these interior battles is we do not always find victory as easily.
An interior battle Chad Etzel discusses often with middle schoolers, high schoolers and college students across the country is how to live a chaste life with virtue in a culture that promotes quite the opposite. As a consultant and analyst for the Culture Project, Chad coaches speakers on delivering a message to teenagers on the benefits of living a virtuous life, oversees donor relations and coordinates events ranging from school presentations to prayer meetings outside abortion centers. Chad explains “Virtue is an interior strength to face difficult moments.  Specifically, chastity is the strength to overcome the temptation to use someone else… our culture struggles with being chaste, but the benefit of promoting chastity is that it respects human dignity by respecting each other’s body”. My first thought after hearing what Chad does for a living was “wow, I don’t hear that everyday…how did you get involved in that?”. Flashback to 2012, Chad graduated OSU with a degree in Exercise and Sports Science and had his eyes set on working in athletics. It was during his time working for a New York Knicks minor league basketball team in Erie, Pennsylvania that he overheard a radio program that highlighted the works he now does. In his own words “I felt a pull to this ministry and returned to OSU to get started”.
Currently in his 3rd year at the at the Culture Project, Chad is pursing his Masters in Theology at the Augustine Institute in Denver. I asked Chad what the deeper reason was that motivates him to continually do this work. “I saw the hurt in relationships of various friends and it reminded me of seeing my parents divorcing when I was 7 years old…I see the hurt and want to do something about it… I have realized how so many of our culture’s problems result from living unchastely, and I realize how many problems would be solved if everyone practiced lifelong sexual monogamy”. If you have read this far you may be feeling a little uncomfortable since if you are like me you are guilty of not waiting until marriage and you may have even felt the effects of divorce. In my opinion these experiences trigger interior battles where the enemy of regret, sadness, anger and a whole host of other feelings line up and treat your soul like a punching bag. However, Chad reminds me that at the core of the message of virtue is recognizing that there is always hope, mercy, and healing for any time we have messed up.

I have been inspired by what Chad and the Culture Project do because they do not shy away from this battle and remind us how to face the interior battles that wage inside each individual. They are on the front lines of a very real cultural war encouraging us all to fight with virtue: prudence, justice, temperance, courage, faith, hope and love. As this is the last post on the 2016 theme of “Raise Your Standards” I find a fitting connection on how living a virtuous life is synonymous with living a life of high standards. 

So if negativity is punching at you this holiday season ask yourself what would Walker Texas Ranger do? You guessed it, round house kick that negativity with virtue J.

Merry Christmas and God Bless your 2017,

*The Culture Project has 3 different teams based in Los Angeles, Philadelphia and Toledo. To learn more, or book a talk on human dignity or sexual integrity you can find more here:

 For those interested in working with the Culture Project look for them at the SEEK conference on January 3rd in San Antonio, Texas.
Fun Questions

  • What do you want to be when you grow up?
    • “Been asking myself that for last four years…still working that out…I would say a good husband/father…in 10-15 years I would like to have a good family and career…continuing to put my trust in God…want to continue helping people, helping people focus and be a Dream Manager where I help people get to where they most deeply want to be”
  • Do you have a favorite Christmas tradition?
    • “It is sort of a tradition, but more of a memory now: Going to Etzel farm down in Stayton and getting a Christmas tree…it would be a long drive and would take an hour to get it…it seemed forever searching and searching for a Christmas tree, but it was great doing it as a family”
  • If you could describe 2016 in one word what would it be?
    • “Astounding…in one year the Cavs, Cubs, Trump and the Beavs (Civil War football) won…who would have guessed that?”

Saturday, November 5, 2016

Trust Your Compass

A traditional past time for many men in my family is to go elk hunting and has been for over 35 years. After a 4 year hiatus due to school and travelling I was finally able to make it out with my dad, brother and a few of my uncles this past fall. Within an hour of pulling up to camp I was already in the forest for the afternoon hunt excited to trade the hustle and bustle of Portland for the sound of being alone in the woods. In my excitement I made the mistake of checking my compass infrequently as I passed through the thick vegetation and subtle changes in elevation. As it reached 5:30PM and the sun sunk quickly I pulled out my compass and looked for the direction back to the truck. I stared in disbelief at the direction of the compass and went a different direction I “knew” was right. What should have been a 20 minute hike out turned into a very long, dark, cold and wet hour as I eventually fell out onto a different road. Anyone who has felt lost in the woods as the sun sets knows it is not a great feeling and they typically know what I should have: trust your compass!

Family Farm
Direction in life is very important and we each have a figurative compass that helps us know where we should be heading; whether we follow it, or not is a different story. One of my uncles during that hunting trip who reminded me of the importance of trusting your compass is Jerry Etzel. The oldest child of my grandparents Ted and Corrine Etzel, Jerry found himself running the family farm shortly after graduating with his Bachelor’s Degree in Agriculture from Oregon State University. Now some readers know what I mean when I say the “family farm”, but for those that do not, it is safe to say it has been the family rally point for countless Christmases, Thanksgivings, birthdays, Easter egg hunts, summer jobs and a great place to B.S. Realizing Jerry took over this responsibility in his 20’s I asked him why he did it and he simply said “nobody stepped forward to do it so I did”. Jerry does not pretend to be someone else, he knows who he is and his authenticity comes out the more you get to know him. Is he perfect? Five minutes talking with one of his siblings will give you an answer to that, but he is hard working and his sense of responsibility has always given him a true north.

Jerry second from the right along with some "Ringtail Raiders" 2017
In my grade school years I would spend summers with Jerry picking strawberries at 7AM in the morning and getting pulled away from Cartoon Network to go move irrigation pipe. At the time I often hated it I must admit, but I am better for the work ethic Jerry taught me. During my interview I kept asking Jerry about his “work” on the farm and he had to correct me a few times that “it’s not work, it’s just something that needs to be done and it’s more of a lifestyle than work”. While Jerry enjoys farming including the fact each day brings a new challenge (“I love there is no monotony”) it is not for the faint of heart. There is no such thing as an 8-5 work day with weekends off and there are constantly changes in technology, business markets and weather that a farmer needs to plan around. “The thing about farming is you may put a lot of work in early on, but you do not see the reward until the end of the season”. When we need to trust our inner compass the most is when we cannot see the end destination. This can be a challenge and is also a reason to keep standards high even when one does not see the positive results of doing so immediately.

I feel Jerry has raised his standards by maintaining a treasured piece of our family history while enduring the up and down challenges of farming in the modern era. When asked what keeps others from raising their standards Jerry mentions “people need to be challenged more often…it’s okay if you fail when you push yourself, but if you never challenge yourself you will never know where your limit is and you will never grow…a big part of this is how people are raised and who influences them”. Jerry challenges me that I am sure of because I know we do not see eye to eye on everything and that is okay because his influence helps me calibrate my direction in life. So whether it be forcing me to shut off Dragon Ball Z to lug a piece of aluminum when I was a kid, or discussing the current presidential race I am glad Jerry has influenced me and helped my compass keep its bearing.

Moment from Elk Hunting October 2016

Jerry: “Now when you head south you will want to go straight downhill, but you actually have to angle to the left a little bit to really go south”

Miles: “Okay, I got it…I will look at my compass more often than I did Saturday” J

Jerry: “Remember, trust your compass”
Fun Questions

  • With Thanksgiving coming up what is your favorite Thanksgiving food?
    • “Turkey, dressing, pumpkin pie with whip cream”
  • What do you do to relax?
    • “I like to turn the light off at night with the door open and listen to all the sounds at night. If you listen you can hear everything including if the water is running, or if it is raining…if it is raining I have less worries because I know the crops are getting irrigated” J
  • Who are your role models?
    • “My dad Ted and uncle Vince…I think you can tell why”

Thursday, October 20, 2016

When Life Tugs Pay Attention

I thought quite highly of myself entering my senior year of high school. As the summer of 2004 wrapped up and my classmates and I were getting ready to finish our last leg of high school I already had my eyes set on achieving great things in college and beyond. To me this meant going to a school that sounded prestigious, or at least gave me the chance to go a different path than my siblings who went to Oregon State University. So as I applied and researched different schools from southern California to the outskirts of Philadelphia I went through the motions and did a campus visit at Oregon State as part of a program offered by our high school. By the end of the trip I pivoted and realized I had caught the Beaver fever and was Corvallis bound. For every pretentious thought in my head to go elsewhere there was an authentic and distinct tug pulling much harder to don that orange and black and have “Go Beavs!” become a common salutation for the rest of my life. This tug is as powerful as the desire to drink water when thirsty, or the inclination to hold the door open a moment longer for the person coming in after you. Some call it following your gut, or trusting your instinct, but however you label it there is a tug that pulls us in the right direction if we are truly honest with ourselves and courageous enough to follow it. I am very grateful for following this tug and have reaped the benefits from it including numerous lifelong friendships such as the one with my brother from another mother, Ben Misley.

Over a decade ago Ben Misley and I found a very similar path to working at the Department of Recreational Sports at Oregon State University. We quickly became friends with common interests in business, Christ and the Blazers leading to years of great times and memories. Ben is one of the most genuine and reliable human beings I know and so it was natural he found his way into a career advising others on personal finance and small business development. He developed his skills initially working in a manager development program ay Key Bank where he learned the nuts and bolts of banking and evaluating business loan requests. While he learned a lot there he consistently felt this tug to help those who came in that unfortunately fell short of the traditional lending qualifications; typically those with poor credit, small amounts of capital and who may have recently gone through a difficult time. Ben explains “I was in banking during a time when lending was a little ‘tight’ and although I had great conversations about financial literacy and next steps with individuals, I found a tension that many of those I wanted to help I couldn’t in my current role as I watched them walk out the door”. Through a random series of events Ben was recommended by his brother to check out a position at Mercy Corps NW. The position oversaw small business grants and worked with the very demographic Ben felt a tug to help more. As you can expect Ben got the job and has been busy ever since coaching and advising potential borrowers on their current financial state, developing business plans and guiding them to the next practical step to reaching their goal.

Being part of that next step and helping to fund a person’s dream when they have met stop signs and dead ends with the more traditional avenues of financing is a great feeling, however Ben mentions the situation of the “positive no”. “Toughest part of my job is when I have to tell a client ‘no’ and have them go back to the drawing board…you have to remember that when I talk with a client about developing a business plan many of them have never seen one before let alone created one…however this is all critical because a favorite quote of mine from Jesse H. Jones is ‘one of the greatest disservices you can do to a man is lend him money he can't pay back’”.  The way I see it Ben plays a role in giving that ‘tug’ I’ve been speaking about to get/keep folks on the right path; the tug isn’t always comfortable, but frankly we all need someone in our life to provide those doses of reality that keep us grounded and on a steady trajectory upward.

Right before sitting down to write this post I noticed a large cargo ship outside my window gliding down the Willamette River. This ship spanned the length of several football fields and seemed to just barely squeeze through the major waterway that flows through the center of Portland. What was not immediately noticeable was a pair of tug boats out in front puttering along as the large vessel made its way to the Pacific. Despite the size and power of this ship, the fact remained it needed a few tugs here and there to get it going and guide it through narrow waters before reaching its full potential on the high sea. If you don’t get that analogy well, your brain just might be stuck at harbor.
What is tugging at you and what are you doing about it? Whatever it is, I challenge you to listen to it, ask if it is true and be willing to trust it a bit tug at a time.
- Miles

 Fun Questions

What do you want to be when you grow up?

  • “Not exactly sure, but I would say I want to be in a position where I am living a life positively impacting people and is helping build the kingdom”.

Are you dressing up for Halloween and if so what as?

  • “Oh man! I need to get on that. I always try to leverage the fact that my wife has red hair…one year we dressed up as Fred and Wilma. I am thinking this year we may dress up as Lucy and Ricky from “I Love Lucy”.

Any tips to deal with the days getting a bit darker as we head into the Fall?

  • “Good point…hmmm…I switched my desk around to see more of the window at work and at lunch I try to go out and walk, or run”.


Want to learn more about Mercy Corps NW and their Small Business Development Program?

Saturday, September 17, 2016

High Standards Are Relative

This past year I have had the privilege to write posts spotlighting amazing individuals who have each held themselves to high standards in a variety of ways. After spending the past 10 weeks as one of forty-three Air Force officers in military training I have been overwhelmed by numerous fresh examples from across the country and world. It was too difficult to choose just one member to interview so I decided to write about the whole class :)
This experience revealed to me that to keep your standards “high”, or to “raise” them implies there is a relativism involved when it comes to things like standards. Although I subscribe to the belief of an ultimate standard that I fall short of regularly, it is also in our day to day interactions with individuals where we choose to live a life that drags the standards of others down, or lifts them up. These constant interactions sharpen each individual involved much like iron sharpens iron to become a better version of themselves.
While spending 10 weeks around some very impressive people I felt my “high” standards tugged at in both directions. This tug back and forth was a challenge I am very appreciative of because it pushed me to grow and not be content with where I was at. Below is a short tribute to the members of Raptor and Lightning II flights and the short chapter of life we shared together (warning, this is one of those "you had to be there" type poems).

Flying and driving we made our way

43 lives on a 10 week track to that graduation day

Raptors appreciated our Miller time while L2 enjoyed their tips from Pitts

With a class full of leaders, talent and sass there were many highs with very few dips

Friends and weight were gained @ NOLA and Half Shell

Although some tabs and tales we rather not tell

Acing tests, community service and 0500 PT balanced us out

With shared stories from Hart and hearts we continued our 38P route

Forming, storming, norming, performing oh yeah that is part of our class reel

Next stop: kicking butt at OFE, with Red Horse Cadre wondering “are these O’s for real?”

With MREs, tents and Turkey we came together

With a host of memories, this time spent has  made us each better

Keep your standards aimed high even if you may miss the mark now and then
Know your integrity, service and excellence set the stage for the next gen
Remember what taking chance means to you for the suit of duty we each wear is a tailored fit

Bang Bang!...Woooow! Time flies…thank you all and know every saw this was worth it

- Banner1

Wednesday, August 24, 2016

Parenting is a Powerful Platform

One of my childhood sports heroes was the gunslinger from Kiln Mississippi, Brett Favre. My admiration for his blue collar style and competitive spirit spanned for over a decade including numerous Pro Bowl and MVP selections and culminated to his induction into the NFL Hall of Fame this summer. During his induction ceremony a special game was recalled that many Packers fans will remember: the Monday Night Football game against the Oakland Raiders Dec. 22, 2003. Thinking of that game still gives me goose bumps as Favre passed for 4 touchdowns and 399 yards (311 yards and 4 touchdowns in the first half) in a 41-7 win after unexpectedly losing his dad and former football coach Irvin Favre the night before. Despite Favre's reputation of being an ‘ironman’ and epitomizing toughness, it is clear from his emotions that night back in 2003 as well as during his recent induction that his dad was a powerful influence not only in how he played football, but also in how he lived his entire life.

Ironically, my own dad’s most impactful influence on my life mirrored Favre’s days in Green Bay from my time in grade school all the way to the brink of my 21st birthday when my dad and I listened on the radio to Favre’s last game as a Packer. Similar to Favre and his dad, I put my dad on a platform and learned from his example. I recognized his work ethic when he went in on his days off simply because he said “there was still work to do”, or the early Saturday mornings he spent doing yard work which I drug myself out of bed to try and pitch in with. I noticed his vigilance as he drove my mom into work when the roads on her 30 mile commute were icy (which was often) and how he was a regular sideline figure at my sports games. He taught me attention to detail by how to properly stack a cord of wood and would make me go back and mow a missed patch of lawn, or re-wash the car if it looked sloppy. Bottom line: a parent’s child is constantly looking up to them because parenting is a powerful platform. I suppose it is nice knowing Brett and I have something in common :)

I recently encountered a perfect example of this with recording artist and fellow Packers fan Amanda Vernon (singing the National Anthem at Lambeau Field gives her major "cheesehead credibility"). I know she realizes the powerful platform of parenting since in the two live shows I have seen her perform she had her children with her on stage; in one show with her infant in a baby carrier literally looking up to her and in the second show her next bundle of joy still in her womb as Amanda belted out a beautiful melody. Enjoy this brief interview as Amanda shares how she keeps her standards high, celebrates the beauty around her and exemplifies how parenting is a powerful platform In Real Life.

  • What motivates you to do the work you do?
    "As a recording artist and song writer, my inspiration is beauty! When I experience something really beautiful, I want to share it with other people through my work."
  • Why?
    "I always learned that gifts are meant to be shared. Awareness of beauty, in both life-changing circumstances and in ordinary moments, is a gift that I desire to share!"
  • How would you say you have raised your standards in your life?
    "I can pin-point the moment when I raised my standards in my life. I was 15, and I realized I wasn't actually practicing a lot of what I believed on a spiritual level. Once I came to the understanding that my life would be more full by integrating my spirituality with my actions, I started chasing after that level of integrity. And I haven't looked back!"  
  • What keeps others from raising their standards?
    "At the heart of my lack of integrity in the past, was fear. I was afraid that if I admitted the truth about myself and my own beliefs, others wouldn't like me or accept me. And I was afraid that I wasn't actually worthy of being the best version of myself. I can only imagine that others shy away from raising their standards because they feel a similar fear." 
  • What upcoming events/initiatives/songs/projects would you like to share, or highlight?
    "My husband and I are about to welcome our fourth child into the world! It's been a new and humbling experience to continue with music production at a steady pace while I'm also making a person! The progression is notable on my YouTube show, In Real Life. In a couple of episodes, I'm going to release a new song called 'Pregnant Pause.' The lyrics are about the encouraging things a person could say to a visibly pregnant woman."
    Go Pack Go!

Fun Questions

  • What do you want to be when you grow up?
    • "I'd like to be a mentor for up-and-coming musical talent. While I love my career as a recording artist, my long-term goal is to help other artists make a living from sharing their musical gifts."
  • What do you enjoy doing in the summer you cannot do other times in the year?
    • "I live near Oakland, California, where practically every day of the year is like summertime!" 
  • Who is your favorite music artist to listen to and why?
    • "When I go running, I listen to Stevie Wonder's Pandora Station. That type of music always lift my spirits with catchy melodies, thoughtful and funny lyrics, and upbeat rhythms."


Tuesday, July 12, 2016

Patched Together and Beautiful

Although I grew up in Chiloquin, Oregon nearly all of my Christmases have been spent at what our family simply calls “the farm”, located on a little slice of heaven just off Fern Ridge Road east of Salem, Oregon. Established in 1896 it has survived  generations of family (my grandpa was born in one of the small downstairs rooms), 1 fire (which nearly burned it to the ground), and several remodels. If those old  farmhouse walls could speak they would probably loudly whisper—  “hey Jerry [my uncle who lives there], do you mind cranking up the heat, it’s colder inside than it is outside!”. Yes, Christmas was always fun there, however with a house that old it has always been difficult to keep warm. Despite this there were always workarounds during Christmas: stand directly in front of the fireplace, keep your jacket(s) on, take a swig of Uncle Teddy’s whiskey, or my personal favorite, stop complaining and start a conversation with a cousin, or aunt you never get to see and let the conversation warm your soul. Eventually the night would taper off as everyone tried to stake out a spot on a couch, or a position on the floor where “santa” would not step on you when he delivered presents wrapped in newspaper at 3am in the morning. Wherever I found my spot to sleep my mom would often find me and come lay an extra blanket on me and I loved it, especially when it was this particular quilt. This big old dense blanket was composed of various patches that made the whole thing a collage of beauty, and completely covered me, bringing  a sense of warmth and peace. Looking back now on those Christmas Eve nights I notice the diversity in my family. Seeing us literally spread across the living room floor on couches, with random blankets and in sleeping bags of different colors, it is easy to see my extended family quilted together as this big old blanket patched together and no matter how cold the world is they can bring a unique warmth and peace to my life whenever I am around them.  

One such family member is my cousin Zippy who is one cool cat. Besides being an aspiring quilter (☺), he has been a recording artist (Misteltoe cover), worked on music scores of major motion pictures like the Twilight series, produced an inspiring film about human trafficking, been a stage actor at the Enchanted Forest, built homes through Habitat for Humanity both locally and abroad, traveled around the world (literally), served as a camp counselor, or director at numerous summer camps for 20 years, is a regular in the Timbers Army (look for the guy with the turned up hat bill) and currently is the founder of his own video production company “Only Today”.
With experiences all over the world and interactions with people from all levels of society such as poor child soccer players in Nepal to Mark Zuckerberg, Zippy has patched together an amazing life. When I ask him what motivates him to do what he does he answers immediately with the direct eye contact and matter of fact tone that tells you he is sincere. “I work on things for the greater good and often that has meant raising awareness of bad things happening in the world”. We spend the next moments discussing his multiple trips to Nepal where he said his world view changed while building a house for Habitat for Humanity (a prize he had won for being a top fundraiser in the North Willamette Valley). “You know it is one thing to have someone poor ask you for money once, but it is very different when you are being asked all the time from multiple kids each day and you are living in houses with no running water, no bathrooms and with people who live on less than 80 cents a day”. As we sip on our $5 microbrews, which in Portland is a good deal on a Thursday night, Zippy throws out enough stories of connecting with people he could easily write a book on it, but I reluctantly move to our final questions.

I ask him to talk more about his motivation and what makes him raise his standards since much of what he does is voluntary. “Man, when you have experienced life changing events in your life…for me losing my mom at a young age, to one of my closest friends a year later, to my own person fight with cancer…it triggers something in you to value every day, focusing more on the relationships and experiences in life versus just the things you own. In fact my company, “Only Today”, is based on the concept of what would you do if you only had today…I am energized by that thought to continue going out connecting with new people and their stories to shed more light on what is out there in the world”. When asked what may keep people from raising their standards he talks about the fear we all have of doing something uncomfortable. “You have to realize I never thought I was going to leave my hometown of Stayton…I was terrified of flying, and the unknown of leaving the small comfortable place I’d spent most of my life” as Zippy lets out an ironic laugh. “One thing my mom taught my brother and I at a young age is you can always come back home, but first go out and see the world now, or otherwise you may never see it. She grew up as an Airforce brat , so she lived all over the world.

To see the world is important; not just through photographs, or other people’s Facebook photos, but to actually take it in with your own senses. Zippy mentioned earlier part of his motivation is wanting to be part of a greater good; a belief I feel is heightened in all of us when we experience how others live. This is a concept we can all find common ground with. For the atheist, or nonreligious you can understand it by the concept of systems thinking of how we are all connected by a vast network of cause and effect. For the Christian you can understand it by Jesus’s teaching we are all the body of Christ and that if one part of the body hurts, the whole body suffers. I interviewed Zippy just a few days after the shootings in Orlando. There are many strong beliefs fueled by possibly stronger emotions highlighted in this event including gun rights, public safety, treatment of Muslims, treatment of the LGBTQ community and immigration policy to name a few.  No matter your view on these individual aspects there is a greater good inside us that tells us what happened there was wrong. We are all woven together in a global quilt comprised of different colors and beliefs, but there is a thread of valuing this greater good that binds us together. We are all patched together and beautiful.  Yes our quilt is frayed on the edges and is due for a dry cleaning, but it is when we try to rip out a patch we do not like that causes the most damage to the whole because it is ultimately ripping a hole in our own shared fabric of life. It hurts when we have something ripped from us. For some it may be a mass shooting targeting a community you identify with, it may be the loss of a parent at a young age, or a significant other, but no matter how much it hurts it will heal and you will again be blanketed in a warmth and peace no matter how cold the night of the world may be.


Fun Questions
What do you want to be when you grow up and why?
  • “I would love to be doing what I did as my favorite job before: a camp counselor. My summers back in 2005-2006 working at Snow Mountain Summer Camp are some of my best memories. I am still involved in camps from a director role, but eventually would love to just do the counseling portion of it”

With 4th of July as the big holiday in July, what do you think is the best thing about America?
  • “To be 100% honest I identify more as an Oregonian than an American. However, with that said America continues to be a great place despite all of our issues. I’m sometimes surprised how well received Americans are in most parts of the world. I was in the U.K. during the Bush Presidency and while getting groceries at a Tesco the checker revealed to me in a low tone how he wished he lived in America, calling me a “lucky boy”. To my earlier point as well, as far as America goes, Oregon is a special place and I love the whole Cascadia region of the Pacific NW”.

As a regular with the Timbers Army, what is your favorite Timbers memory so far?
  • “It would be cliché to say winning the MLS Cup last year although that was pretty awesome. I would say the infamous penalty kick shootout win during the playoffs last year, with the infamous “double post” that helped the Timbers get to the Championship; that game was absolutely crazy! A close second would be hugging the Timbers head coach Caleb Porter in the men’s restroom at Deschutes Brewery shortly after they won the Championship…also absolutely awesome, and maybe a little awkward

Wednesday, June 8, 2016

See a Need and Jump In

Being a lifeguard has never appealed to me. The thought of sitting for hours and monitoring a pool of water waiting for something to go wrong seemed to me a great source of both boredom and anxiety at the same time; the fact I am a poor swimmer may have a small part in it as well. Don’t get me wrong, I admire lifeguards. I grew up catching the last wave of the original Baywatch series and watching The Sandlot (I REALLY hope you get that reference). All kidding aside the very fact that they do monitor a situation hour after hour, day after day and stay ready to spring into action when they are needed is very admirable and noble. Think about it, you are at a pool on a hot day crowded with people and all of a sudden someone yells “help!” just as you notice a struggling swimmer stranded in the deep end. What would you do? As you ponder your decision you hear a distinct splash pierce the clamor to notice the lifeguard jumping in and quickly closing the distance to the victim and then slowly, but surely guide them to safer waters. A key difference is that when they see a need they do not hesitate, their instinct triggers and they have the courage to jump in. 

As an OSU undergrad studying veterinary science Chelsie Vukovich was talked into being a lifeguard at a summer camp for kids in the foster care system by her grandparents 11 years ago. The Royal Family Kids Camp (RFKC) as it is known is the Nation’s leading network of Camps, Clubs and Mentoring for children of abuse, abandonment and neglect. With 209 camps in 40 states and 4 international countries RFKC has served over one hundred thousand kids since its’ inception in 1985. Little did Chelsie know how much this favor for her grandparents would end up impacting her life trajectory as she describes her feeling after that first camp: “I just remember falling in love with the kids and when I returned to OSU I knew I had to switch my major so I began studying social work and volunteering at RFKC every summer since then; I absolutely love it”. This passion continued growing and since then Chelsie has earned her Masters in Social Work from USC, has been a Royal Family Kids Camp Director for 5 years and is the Behavior Specialist at Sherwood school district where she meets the mental health needs for students there. On top of this Chelsie volunteers with Cares Northwest at the Randall Children’s Hospital emergency department where she partners with DHS and police departments to serve child trauma victims in the greater Portland area stretching from Vancouver all the way to the coast.  This is where you pause reading and give Chelsie a big air high five for being awesome…I will give you a few seconds to do that, so go ahead.

Her work is anything, but easy and can be exhausting. Chelsie reflects “I have to admit some days when I get home I am just tired and have to find the energy somewhere because I might have a double shift that night…remembering to pray helps as well as knowing what I do has an impact, I know because I have seen it…it may not happen instantly, you know you have to plant the seed and seeds grow at different speeds, but the important thing is that the seed is planted…when you see your work pay off it is a thrill that helps me keep going”. Asked why some people may not find that extra kick in the butt to reach out in help, or try something new Chelsie’s answer echoes a common response I have heard before of fear and being comfortable. “It can be scary to try something new and if you are comfortable it is easy to stay where you are at, but how are you supposed to grow? The thing is you can’t. To grow you need to take that next step even if it seems uncomfortable…the part that can be scary is when you run into conflict with others and you have to stand firm in what you believe”.

The nature of Chelsie’s work exposes her to being involved in many traumatic experiences where she needs to stand firm and embrace the uncomfortable in order to grow. One recent example is the revelation of an Oregon law that “to convict a suspected child abuser of felony assault or criminal mistreatment, prosecutors must prove that the victim suffered a ‘physical injury’ under Oregon law. And that, in turn, means proving that the person experienced ‘substantial pain.’” (excerpt from Oregon Live article). We live in the 21st century and yet have a law on the books that allows someone who beats a child to face no criminal charges simply because the child does not, or cannot say that they felt “substantial pain”. When a lifeguard sees someone drowning they do not wait for the swimmer to say “I’m drowning!”. What do they do? They see they are drowning and jump in and save them! Waiting in this scenario could very well mean the difference in losing, or saving a life. Now will each child that is beaten with their abuser not facing justice necessarily lose their life? Not likely if you limit the definition of “living” to just having a heartbeat. However, as I hope most of us know, an abused child can grow up to suffer immensely below the surface physiologically, emotionally and spiritually when the figure charged to protect and nurture them does the opposite.
You may not realize it Chelsie, but you never stopped being a lifeguard.

To all those reading, if you see a need around you that you have an ability, or skill to help with then what are you waiting for? Jump in and don’t be afraid to act because the sad reality is the majority will stand around and do nothing.

Fun Questions

What do you want to be when you grow up and why?

  • “I enjoy what I do although it is very tiring at times so I hope I can grow up and can continue to have the energy to do what I am doing now; that would be great. Thinking about it more it would be great to be married to a prince since I feel like if you are married to a prince you get to travel the world and serve the needy, that sounds fun” J

Summer is not officially here according to the calendar, but let’s get real, summer is here. What are you most looking forward to this summer?

  • “Well of course I am looking forward to the Royal Family Kids Camp in August I am running. On top of that though I am going on my first big trip abroad during June. I will be visiting Malaysia and Thailand while spending time with my cousin and dad, which will be great since it will be Father’s Day while I am there. It will be a great way to celebrate the end of a school year.”

It is also the season of graduations and thus commencement speeches as well. If you were giving a commencement speech what would you say?

  • “I would say just keep an open mind. We have an agenda of what is going to happen in college for the next 5-10 years and it rarely stays the way we planned. If my original agenda in college held through I wouldn’t be where I am now. Have a good general direction, set goals and allow time and experiences to shape who you are and where you end up. Do not act like in 5-10 years you will arrive at a destination and you will be ‘done’;  there is always a next phase. Don’t get too comfortable in life and continue challenging yourself; if you stop challenging yourself you will stop growing”.