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I get excited when I find a new hero. However, I’m kind of picky: I want my heroes to be huggable. Those who inspire me the most are people I can sit down with over a cup of coffee. I find my heroes in the most common places where one wouldn’t expect to find them  hanging out. The latest hero I found riding on a DC metro.

I was on the yellow line leaving Huntington for downtown DC when a young lady boarded wearing a uniform I recognized; the black DC Central Kitchens (DCCK) chef’s hat. She immediately sat down, dug out her homework and started working.

I know well the story of DCCK because it was founded by another one of my huggable heroes, the inestimable Robert Egger. Robert opened the 2014 Kansas Hunger Dialogue saying, I wake up each morning wondering how I can be a bigger badass than I was the day before. Robert was well on his way to owning DC’s most popular nightclub when he happened to go with a friend to help feed the homeless.  However, he saw an incredible disconnect as walked home from his club at night and saw dumpsters full of food that restaurants discarded. He wondered if there was a way to reclaim food in such a way that it could do more than help feed people for a day.

I love it when entrepreneurs enter the nonprofit world; they create systems that move people from relief to development.  Entrepreneurs are never satisfied just giving people a fish; they create models to teach people to fish. [Tweet “The heart of a philanthropic entrepreneur replaces charity with dignity.”]

Being a nightclub owner, Robert understood the business of making a splash. So he started at the highest level you can go; the President of the United States.  He rented a refrigerated van and picked up the leftover food from George H.W. Bush’s inauguration and delivered it to local shelters. A few weeks later, DDCK found some kitchen space and launched a Culinary Job Training program for residents of those same shelters where he had fed people. He has written a great book, Begging for Change:The Dollars and Sense of Making Nonprofits Responsive, Efficient, and Rewarding for All.

The more I watched Janiece study, the more I knew I had to make her acquaintance. I don’t know if she’s ever met Robert personally, but I had to tell her how proud Robert would be of her. So I broke the unwritten law of the Metro; I was friendly to a stranger. One of the things I don’t like about the Mertro is some unwritten rule that says you’re not supposed to be friendly. I’m from Kansas where people are so friendly they’ll even wave at cows grazing the field.

As the Metro continued lurching down the line, Janiece was oblivious to all else but her homework. I moved near to where she was studying and struck up a conversation.

Excuse me, ma’am, but I’d like to introduce myself. I’m Rick and I happen to know the founder of DCCK, Robert Egger. I want you to know how proud of you he would be if he could see you studying so hard right now.

We struck up a conversation and she told me how excited she was to be in the training, how hard she worked on homework when she got home at night, how hard she worked on it in the morning on the ride in to the metro, and how soon she would graduate. I asked if I could take her picture and send it to Robert. Is this not about the sweetest face you’ve ever seen?IMG_3317

I quickly emailed the photo to Robert whom I knew was still sound asleep in L.A. He’s moved his magic from the East coast to the West coast now and doing amazing things with the L.A. Kitchen. He quickly noticed the too good to be true statement in the background of the photo.

I found a new hero. I know me well enough that in the days and years ahead, I will draw strength from those few moments on metro ride where I had the privilege of meeting Janiece. Although I had everyone in the metro car looking at me like I was from Kansas because I struck up a conversation with a stranger, I didn’t much care. I had a new hero. I didn’t ask for a hug; that would have been too weird for DC. I could have got by with it in Kansas, but not DC.

Her story is so good it has to be true.

 

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