WARNING! Long Post Alert … but, if you have a hope for and belief in something better, I hope you’ll read to the end.
By Linda Doran Viscardis
I’ve been thinking ….
How long has it been that I’ve been so clear about my passion? How long have I had a vision of making a huge contribution to Strong Healthy Community? And where have my passion and vision taken me?
I believe my passion – and my vision – was seeded in me, uninvited, back in 1989. Anyone who knows me well knows that was the year I had the privilege of meeting John McKnight. I don’t remember who took me to his lecture … or even how I got to the venue, some 100km away. All I know is that, that day, I left my five- and two-year-old kids behind to go blindly to some lecture in Toronto. And that day, John McKnight spoke to my heart and, I dare say, to my soul. That day, the life of our then five-year-old daughter, who lives with multiple disabilities, was set on a completely brand new course – the GPS to an extraordinary life was set.
How to know you are passionate about a vision:
You think about your vision often … sometimes at the expense of getting important things done (like looking after your kids, or making dinner);
Your vision starts out as something amazing for yourself, then grows into something amazing for your family … and then, before you know it, it grows and becomes about how what you’re doing can impact other families, and your community – locally and then even globally;
You talk about your vision often … with your family, friends and even with people you don’t know – sometimes resulting in your being labelled as “that strange ‘Vision’ lady;”
Your voice becomes animated when the subject comes up … even when you feel deathly ill, or you’re burned out, or you have laryngitis – sometimes ending up with frantic hand gestures;
You have notebooks filled with notes and diagrams that articulate, describe and outline what your passion will look like once fulfilled … of course, no one else can read them, but they contain massive hope and promise;
Your notes and diagrams get fleshed out more fully as time passes … instead of fading away with time, your vision of what could be becomes more and more clear over time;
Wherever you go, you are looking for people who could help make the vision a reality – one of your favourite opening lines is, Hey! Have you ever thought about radically changing the world?!
No matter how many times you’ve prayed to God to take this monumental vision – this sometimes-perceived too-big burden – away from you, it just becomes more and more real.
I won’t go into how our daughter had been set on the margins because of her “differences.” I won’t describe the number of health care professionals who were once poking and prodding on a daily, even at times an hourly basis. I won’t bore you with how very few age peers took the time to understand her and to befriend her. What I will say is that, because of John McKnight’s message, our daughter’s dreams began to illuminate themselves, and, like a seed planted in fertile soil, they began to slowly … ever so slowly … germinate and grow.
Twenty-eight years later, we see an amazing young woman … probably the most courageous woman I know … living interdependently. She lives in her own apartment – on her own. She has two jobs, one paid and one volunteer … the first, she has enjoyed for over 12 years; the second, a volunteer position, is brand new. Oh, and she has a wee work-from-home business, too! She loves the internet, YouTube, Facebook, Skype and Zoom. She enjoys walking, yoga and guided meditation. She loves going out for coffee, going to music concerts and Music Jam, and anything to do with driving. She has friends – with and without disabilities (but mostly without) – and caring and committed family members who are very active in her life. She is a prayer warrior, and praises and worships Jesus like no one else I know! Our pastor once said that she knows how to put the enemy on the run! Truth!! She knows what she wants, and she has an army of people who work tirelessly to support her in living her very best life – the life SHE chooses to live.
This didn’t just happen. It took years and years and years and years of dreaming, setting the GPS, action, success and failure, more action, more success and, so it often seemed, even more failure. It took advocacy, using our voices, keeping a positive attitude, even when we wanted to scream about the lack of resources and the many injustices we faced. It took consistency and persistence. And you know what? It took one heck of a lot of prayer!!
But God is good! All the time!! Yaayyy God!!!
Even when the work became too much for me, even when I endured two breakdowns, even when my physical, mental, emotional and spiritual health took a beating, I knew that our daughter had lessons to teach me … lessons that were seeded so many years ago – in 1989, during that lecture with John McKnight.
Because of our daughter, and the injustices she and, by “osmosis,” I faced, I became deeply aware of others facing injustice. When our daughter and her younger brother started school full time, I went back to work. My career path took me into social services where, first, I had the opportunity to impact the lives of adults who live with intellectual disabilities. Then, I became involved with an innovative new program for families who were identified as “at risk.” Then, I became involved with a quickly growing network of families whose mostly young children lived with various types of disability. Eventually, I put my Arts Degree to work as a writer, with a news organization that began to focus their efforts on what is called Asset-Based Community Development (or ABCD), a concept taught to me years earlier by John McKnight. For a time, I wrote for and edited a magazine, the purpose of which was to highlight the amazing gifts that our local women have to offer our community. And now, I partner with a company whose vision is to impact world health and free people from physical and financial pain, and, in the process, create the largest health and wellness company in the world.
In each position, I have taken the many lessons I have learned from our daughter, from that initial lecture by John McKnight, and from my expanding experiences, allowing them to find a home inside my mind, my heart and my soul.
Today, I am passionate about ordinary people living extraordinary lives! I am passionate about Strong Healthy Community.
And this is not just a dream! It is happening!!
My passion is what drives me … every single day … even when I’m at the point of saying, God, I give up – it’s just too much! I can’t do it anymore!! Even when I think I have absolutely no energy, no resources, no vision. It doesn’t take long before something happens to encourage me, and to let me know that my work has value … and it’s making a hugely positive impact.
My diverse career, my accomplishments (including being the recipient of a Canadian Commemorative Medal of Honour, and the Spirit of Trent University Award, both for the work I’ve done in community), what I have continued to learn from John McKnight and so many other community developers and animators, and the lessons taught to me by our daughter, and our son as well … these have given me too many experiences to ignore – experiences that others might describe as “impossible,” or “miracles,” or even just plain ole luck. They have served to draw me into the lives of people who have been set apart because of their perceived differences, where I have been able to learn and to make a difference.
What I’ve learned is that differences are gold. Difference is what makes life colourful and tasty. Differences welcomed, embraced, and enjoyed make for fertile ground for the planting of seeds, their germination and growth, and then the harvesting of each person’s strengths, gifts and capacities. And, when each person … absolutely every person … is contributing meaningfully, then we can expect our community to be strong and healthy.
But what happens when circumstances contrive to prevent people from contributing meaningfully? When people are seen as “different” or as “other.” When people lack the basics of respect, physical nourishment, appropriate and adequate education, or even identity. When they have no sense of belonging. When societal norms squash people down instead of building them up. When governmental policies support decisions based on words on a page, rather than people in the community. When neighbours are more content to be stuck indoors, glued to their screens, than to be getting to know who lives next door. When churches foster community where only those who measure up belong. What happens then?
I am passionate about ordinary people living extraordinary lives!
I’m passionate about all people having the resources and relationships to contribute meaningfully, and to belong, and to be strong and healthy. This means people who live with disabilities … and their family members, who also often feel set apart. It means our indigenous peoples, First Nation, Inuit and Métis, who have often been so mistreated and forgotten. It means people who find themselves homeless or food insecure. It means our soldiers who fight on behalf of our country, and who often return home physically and emotionally scarred. It means people who have lost hope of ever feeling healthy again, of enjoying physical and financial freedom, and of helping to foster a strong, healthy community.
I’ve seen too many amazing things happen to be doubtful of one person’s ability to affect change. The stories I could tell would leave you with your mouths hanging open! Even now, as I think about them, I shake my head in wonderment!
And I feel I’ve only just begun. There’s still so much to do. And, at age 60, I guess I’m feeling like it’s about time I got my butt in gear! I have many dreams … about impacting the lives of the people I mentioned above. But … I can’t and won’t accomplish huge things on my own.
So here it is …. I’m looking for at least 10 passionate, motivated people* who have vision and passion; who are serious about wanting to make a change in their own lives and in the lives of others. I want to share with you what I’ve been able to manifest … in our daughter’s life, in my family’s life, in my own life (including conquering “the Big C” – naturally), and in others’ lives … by putting into practice what I learned all those years ago, and what I’ve learned along the way.
If you have a vision, and are motivated to serve others by being part of a team that is committed to making absolutely amazing things happen … if you feel drawn to contribute to our local and global communities … if you also would like to be part of helping ordinary people to live extraordinary lives … if you want to make a difference but just don’t know where to start, or what vehicle to use … well, if this is you, I’d love to speak with you!
*Note: At this time (2017), I am particularly focusing my efforts in Canada (Ontario, Alberta and Canada’s North), and in the U.K. (Scotland, Northern Ireland, Wales and England). In 2018, I intend to expand our reach into the E.U.
You may contact Linda at StrongHealthyCommunity@sympatico.ca. Or visit her LinkedIn profile to learn more about Linda and her accomplishments.