Seeing Nick up here and hearing his words reminds me just how far we’ve come in a very short time…. Not just as individuals, but as a program. Six years ago, there was no Explore Austin. Then suddenly Jamie had an idea. Next thing you know, there was Rusty, Sarah, and Jamie, me, and 15 6th grade Explorers. And now, there are over 120 Explorers and 40 mentors. There are girls. There are teachers, salesman, therapists, coaches, former military members, executives and students. There are old and young. There are donors, volunteers, parents, board members, and partners. Slowly but surely, a movement has been born. Think about that…. Because I mean it…. A movement has been born. Not just a program. Not just a charity. Not just a nonprofit. Not even just an organization. It’s no longer “that thing that Todd, or Jamie, or Rusty does.” But a movement. A movement to change lives.
Which is what I want to talk to you about briefly tonight… joining a movement (our movement). My name is Todd Hanna and I am the President/CEO of Explore Austin. Last year, at this event I proclaimed that I had the best job in the world…. And I still do, but it has changed. Last year, I used the metaphor of Bus Driver to describe my job and ultimately, Explore Austin! I talked about the view through the Explore Austin windshield and the faces I see looking back in the bus driver’s mirror. I talked about getting the right people on the bus, getting them in the right seats on the bus, and about fueling the bus. I must admit… it sounded good that night, and it worked! One year later, our bus is full…. In fact, it’s busting at the seams! Which is not surprising. Because movements don’t take the bus (they’re just too big, too important, and involve too many people to run on a schedule, stop at the exact same places time and again, or limit the number of people allowed to get on).
I mentioned a minute ago that our movement is a movement to change lives. It really is that simple…. And it really is that powerful. And it really does work! At Explore Austin we change lives. Nick just verified that fact. And, if that wasn’t proof enough, let me add this…. As of this week, 100% of our senior Explorers, those participating in our new “Expedition Year”, have been accepted to a four-year university. 100% of those Explorers listed Explore Austin on their college application, and 100% have told us they feel strongly that Explore Austin helped them get accepted. Most importantly, every one of those Explorers says that Explore Austin has prepared them for the challenges headed their way…. Academic or professional.
So back to our movement… According to Seth Godin, one of the country’s foremost authors on business and leadership, “A movement is thrilling. It’s the work of many people, all connected, all seeking something better.” I couldn’t describe Explore Austin better myself. I mean look around…. Many people, all connected, seeking something better. That’s a movement and that’s what we are! So, for those of you new to the movement, let me tell you what it is this movement is about…. What it is we seek to make better.
In short, we seek to make our world better. We seek to make our community better. We seek to make individual lives better. We do that through leadership, mentoring, and adventure. We believe that opportunity changes lives and that access to opportunity should not be based on zip code. We believe that climbing mountains changes you. We believe that mentors change you. We believe that BEING a mentor changes you. We believe that “firsts” change lives. Think about it…. I’m guessing that everyone here remembers lots of firsts; your first bike, your first day of high school, your first day of college, the first step of your first marathon, or your first job. At Explore Austin, we provide Explorers with as many “firsts” as possible….their first plane trip, their first summit, their fist bike ride, their first caring adult outside of their own family, their first visit to a national park, their first solo, their first community service project. And often, their first failure.
We believe that in addition to changing you, “firsts” make seconds easier. Think about it for a second. If you’ve ever done something difficult, the first time is always the hardest. The second time, what was difficult gets easier. We know that when our Explorers are faced with a challenge in college, it won’t be their first difficult experience (because they’ve struggled up mountains and been stuck in hail storms), so facing it head on won’t be so difficult. We know that when they take a new job or show up to a campus in a new city, it won’t be the first time that they’ve been in unfamiliar environment (like the rapids of the Gunnison River or the snows of Rocky Mountain National Park), so adapting won’t be so difficult. We know that when they need help from a friend or mentor, it won’t be the first time they’ve had to ask for assistance (like they’ve done around a campfire), so finding the help they need won’t be so difficult. We know that when our Explorers come up short…. When things don’t go their way… when they fail, it won’t be their first time they’ve been forced to stop just before reaching their goal (like having to turn around literally feet from a mountain summit). We know they will pick themselves up, dust themselves off, and keep going. We know that when their community has a need for service, it won’t be the first time they’ve answered that call (because they’ve served every year with Explore Austin), so they will do it on their own. And, we know that when they see something going wrong… someone in need… or a problem that needs fixing, it won’t be the first time they’ve led. They will take action…. They will lead.
And that’s what changes our community and our world…. Leaders. Over 20 years ago, many in this room made the same investment I’m about to ask you to make tonight. An investment to change a life. A group of people, some working together, many who don’t even know each other, made opportunities available to a child that would have otherwise missed out on them. They provided shoulders to lean on, or sometimes cry on. They provided adventures. And they provided hope. They had faith that, as Steve Jobs would say, “the dots will connect down the road.” That child was me…. And I’d like to think my being in front of you today, leading a movement, is proof that that type of investment, in hope… and in opportunity… is pays off.
Six years ago, Jamie Matthews made that same investment… in hope and opportunity. I’m the product of over 20 years of hope. These guys behind me are the product of six years of hope. Some of them of only three, two, and one year of hope and opportunity. Imagine what this stage will look like in 20 years, when one of THEM is at the microphone, making the same speech I’m making now. Talking to our sons and daughters about a group of people, some who knew each other, many who didn’t, who got together and decided to make a difference. Decided to trust that “the dots will connect down the road.” Join our movement tonight, and that child will be talking about you. And trust me, your decision to join this movement will not only change their lives…. It will change yours too.
Lastly, let me leave you with a thought… admittedly, its stolen from another famous quote, but I wholeheartedly believe it to be true…. “Some people spend an entire lifetime wondering if they’ve made a difference. People involved in Explore Austin don’t have that problem.” The reason… because the proof is standing right behind me.
So, how do you join our movement? There are many ways…. Become a mentor, tell others about our program, volunteer with us. But tonight is about joining our movement financially. We’ve made it REALLY simple and, thanks to the Pine Foundation, doubly powerful! Thanks to them, every dollar (up to $75,000) donated tonight will be matched dollar for dollar! But we need your help getting to the $75,000 goal. So here’s how to do that.
-As you leave, there will be volunteers holding containers.
_Simply remove your nametag, turn it over, fill out the pledge/donation information on the back, and drop it in the container.
- It really is that simple. Don’t leave here and, like most people, spend a lifetime wondering if you’ve made a difference. Take 30 seconds, fill out the card, and you won’t have that problem.
Thank you to everyone for being here. Thank you for joining our movement. Thank you for changing lives!