You know how dogs cock their heads first one way, then another, when they are confused? I’m told I have similar reactions to questions I don’t understand.
Lately, people ask me when I’m going to retire and I first turn my head one way, then another like a dog; the question confuses me. Why would I retire to a life of golfing, sitting around coffee shops comparing my latest ailments, or, in general, live a life of leisure? Not only do I have a deep belief that my best years are ahead of me, I have a pair of role heroes I’ve been around for the last eight years that prove to me my most productive years of contribution to this world are in front of me, not behind me.
I first met Floyd and Kathy Hammer when I wanted to start my own meal-packaging organization, Numana, back in 2007. Floyd and Kathy had started the first plastics recycling plant in America and wanted to sail the world in their retirement.
However, a trip to Tanzania to help a physician friend work on an AIDS hospice changed the course of their lives and, since then, have impacted millions of the world’s poorest people. Rather than retire, they repurposed, and founded the nonprofit, The Outreach Program.
I journeyed to the little town of Union, Iowa, with a population about the same size as my home town in Potwin, Kansas. I met them, fell in love with them and purchased my first $500 do-it-yourself kit from them so I could actually show people in Kansas what meal packaging looked like.
Then, during the miraculous first few months of Numana (the org I founded in El Dorado, KS), I purchased 20 million meals worth of ingredients, boxes, bags and equipment from them as we reacted to the Haiti earthquake in 2010.
After leaving Numana, Floyd asked me to join Outreach and I’ll soon to celebrate my eight year with them. I have traveled the world with them and spend quite a bit of time living in their house or condo while I’m in Iowa.
So here I am again with them in Tanzania, East Africa with my camera and pen to capture the incredible work they are doing to provide safe water, food, medical care and education for the most vulnerable children and families. They have built schools, drilled and maintain numerous water wells, provide more than 1,200 vulnerable children a day with a nutritious meal and access to education (I’ll share that model more later) and provide medical aid to the remove villages through their Port-a-Doc; yet another one of Floyd’s brilliant ideas. (the images at the end of the article are of the Port-a-Doc with Floyd/Kathy)
What they have done is so significant that, in 2013 President Obama and George H.W. Bush invited them to the White House for a special ceremony to present them the 5,000th Points of Light Award.
As I bounced down miles and miles of rural African roads to see their work, each place I stopped, each family I visited, each young person I met who climbed out of poverty through education, had Floyd and Kathy to thank. I saw hundreds of school kids eating nutritious food and drinking pure water in the Children’s Centers.
Mommas and babies in rural villages receiving inoculations and medicines they would not normally have access to were it not for Floyd and Kathy.
I’m struck by the fact that Floyd was actually older than I am now when he started this whole effort.
So if you ever ask me if I’m going to retire and I look at you like a confused puppy, know that in the back of my mind I have a goal: if I can one-tenth of what he’s done in my next 16 years, I’ll consider my life to be a raging success.