“I’m far more interested in starting a movement rather than building an organization. If I never have to write a set of by-laws, that will be all right with me.” Dr. June Henton

Almost all of my heroes are people I can hug. I like my heroes to be people I know personally, rather than a  statue in a museum.  Two of them in particular are Dr. June Henton and Dr. Harriet Giles from Auburn University.  They have unassuming offices in Sidle Hall in the College of Human Sciences, but from those offices, they are changing the world.  These genteel ladies with soft southern charm, razor-sharp intellect, and sophisticated elegance are quiet giants in the fight against hunger.

They were approached a few years ago by the World Food Programme to start an initiative to engage universities and colleges in the fight against hunger so they began Universities Fighting World Hunger. I went to a UFWH summit in Auburn in 2008 and, since then, have gone to their summits in Canada, Honduras, and I served on the committee to host the 2013 UFWH Summit in Kansas City (the first ever  hosted by a state-wide collaboration of colleges and universities).  Along they way they started the Hunger Solutions Institute and inspired me to rally the universities/colleges in Kansas to start the Kansas Hunger Dialogue (now in its 5th year!).

Recently, they started an initiative called PUSH – Presidents United to Solve Hunger.  At an historic gathering at the United Nations on December 9 of this year, over 200 people gathered for the signing of the Presidents Commitment to Food and Nutrition Security. Over 50 universities around the world have signed on; more will join.

Here are the ways these two ladies inspire me:

  • Patiently answered my questions; when I was a newbie in the hunger space, I asked them more questions than that annoying little kid in 5th grade who alway has his hand up.
  • Walk with humility in a land full of giant egos; June and Harriet are genuinely kind, affirming, positive, and encouraging.
  • Give place for all ideas; I’ve sat through a few brainstorming sessions with them and am intrigued by how well they give all voices equal honor and consideration.
  • Treat each person with dignity; June and Harriet have incredible reputations in the hunger space- they are legends. But you’d never know it by being around them; they’ll offer you a cup of coffee or a glass of sweet tea and will be intrigued to hear your opinions.
  • Realize that sometimes the snowball just needs pushed; the things they create morph into something much larger than they could ever manage themselves.
  • Are content to let others create; when we set up the UFWH summit in KC in ’13, they gave a little input, but said it was our baby and we could raise it how we wanted. That kind of freedom allows leaders to flourish.
  • Genuinely care; of all things that inspire me most about them, is that they are caring, compassionate people.  True compassion eliminates egos and joins people together to create positive impact.

“Hope is not a plan,” June remarked at the UFWH Summit in Honduras in 2012. “We need a plan.”

Together, they started a movement that now includes tens of thousands. I’d say their plan is working.

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The above photo is courtesy of Kathy Hamilton.