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We are the world, we are the children
We are the ones who make a brighter day
So let’s start giving…
With a gentle uncoordinated side-to-side sway, twenty-eight of my elementary school classmates and I belted out the now famous words to Michael Jackson and Lionel Richie’s hit song, We Are the World. Mrs. Welch’s ad-hoc choir didn’t have a clue the real meaning of this song or the impact this fastest-selling American pop single would have on the world. It certainly didn’t register to any of us that Wayne, who was discreetly picking his nose in the corner, might someday be an accountant in a major firm, or Jennifer with glitter on her face might become a school dean, or Justin who sang like a sick Rhino would leave New Hampshire for Los Angeles to become a famous musician. Instead, our eyes were fixated on the second-hand swinging around the school clock on the wall above Mrs. Welch’s head waiting for the lunch bell to ring. Yet, almost 30 years later, Wayne, Jennifer, and Justin are successful in their careers, and I found my way to leading this incredible organization.
The significance of both that song and that moment in time is only clearer now when we pause and reflect. The truth is, the process of growing from young to old, from being a follower to a leader, or from seeing the world through our elders’ eyes to seeing the world through our own eyes, is a fluid process. There is no formal passing of the baton in these experiences. It just happens. But at some point, Wayne said, “I want to be an accountant,” and Jennifer said, “I want to go into education.” How does this happen? While I am grossly under-qualified to unpack the psychology of “why we do what we do,” Don DeLillo, in his 1985 book (yes, another ‘80s reference), White Noise, suggested that we are nothing more than the accumulation of our experiences. Many have argued that we are much more than this, but we can’t disregard his main point that every experience can impact the course of our lives. This is largely why parents and educators are so keen to expose young people, who have their whole lives ahead of them, to as many options as possible.
During our 40th Anniversary Celebration in Manchester this past August, we shared numerous stories about how young people, through special Journeys, participating in hosting with their parents, or experiencing Friendship Force in some other way, have been so influenced by their experiences that they joined the organization later in life. Because of their encounters as a young person with the Friendship Force, they eventually acted on a seed planted to join or start a new club in their community. Maybe some of you were swaying in an ad-hoc choir at one point in your life thinking about how we need to create a brighter place, and someone said, “Hey, have you checked out the Friendship Force?” It is quite possible that many of my own life’s ambitions are rooted in that experience in Mrs. Welch’s class. An experience that took root and grew later in life when I realized it was more than just 28 of us — it was millions of us united in creating a better world for you and me.
You might be saying, “Okay, I get it, our past can impact our future, so what does that have to do with Friendship Force?”
Simply put, while the core of our organization remains steadfast in supporting and building new clubs around the world, it does not preclude us from planting seeds for future Friendship Force members today. In fact, we must! According to the Pew Research Center, on the heels of the Baby Boomer and Generation X (my generation) is the largest living generation in history, the Millennials. By 2028, they will be the new generation of world leaders. For the sake of long-term mission prosperity, it is in our best interest to invite them today to have an experience that might blossom into future engagement with our organization.
But this is more than just investing in future members. The part of the campaign oriented around engaging future leaders is also about cultivating aspiring Friendship Force club leaders, Journey Ambassadors and Host Coordinators RIGHT NOW! Today, there are hundreds of Friendship Force members who are eager to invest their knowledge, experience, and skills into Friendship Force and are willing to take a position on the front lines of mission development. This means taking 40 years of experience and hundreds of pages of training materials that have been created by many of our clubs, to deliver a consolidated, organized, multilingual library of courses and materials to support ongoing leadership development efforts around the world.
Engaging future leaders is more than just planting seeds for the future, it is also about nurturing the plants we have today.
A few years ago, I saw a remix of We Are the World that was done for Haiti. With over 210,000,000 views on YouTube, it is likely you have seen it. There is no doubt this updated version will deputize a new generation of swaying, wide-eyed young people with the idea that they can “make the world a brighter place.” Before long, they, too, will pause and reflect on where they are in their lives and consider the impact they want to leave on the world. And before too long, they will consider the seeds that have been planted along the way. Will Friendship Force grow to be a part of their Journey? Let’s hope so!
Want to know how your 40th Anniversary Campaign donations can help develop global citizens and future leaders in Friendship Force? Read here about how the “Engage Future Leaders” initiative of the campaign will support scholarships for Filipino students to travel on an upcoming Friendship Force Journey!