That’s a great question. I’m still trying to encapsulate my answer into a 10 second sound byte. But the best answer I can give you at this point is, “I was asked to run by the people I have been serving.”
People at our food outreaches have said things to me like, “This city really needs someone like you. You should run for mayor.” The implication being, or at least the perception out there is that no one out there cares. Or at least no one cares about them.
They know I do. I have been overseeing The Hope Foundation of Greater Dayton for the past five years. Hope provides groceries to nearly 1,000 households every month in Greene and Montgomery Counties. Nearly half of them receive their food at one of our mobile distributions in Huber Heights, Northridge, Fairborn, Kettering, Xenia or Fairborn. (We also resource a pantry in Cedarville.)
The person who had started the organization six months prior, came to the realization that she didn’t have the resources to achieve what was in her heart. Out of her own frustration she said to me, “You should just take over.” I was like, “No, no, no… Put me on your Board. I can help you. I know a lot of people!” She prevailed, and I accepted the appointment as Executive Director.
Since that time, Hope has grown into one of the largest distributors in the Dayton Foodbank’s network of 88 member-agencies.
We are doing great work, but it’s not rocket science. We pick up food from the Foodbank, bag it and give it to people. I think every church in our city should have a food pantry, even if it’s just for their neighborhood and it’s only open once per week or even once per month.
The old proverb, “Many hands make for light work” applies. We bag groceries for a few hundred households in just 45 minutes. We do it every Wednesday. While some non-profits struggle to get volunteers, we never have. I believe people respond to vision. They don’t respond to “HELP!!!” I believe people respond to, “Join us this Saturday as we go out and serve our community and give out bags of food and hope to people.” It has to be about making a difference, not a person’s contribution by merely “putting food into bags.”
But I digress…
I am often asked if running for office is the reason we moved downtown. That answer is no. (If you are interested in that piece of our story, you can read one of my previous articles entitled, “Why?” ). Although moving downtown obviously opened the door for me to now be able to run for office.
Honestly, I moved downtown to make a statement. I know that may sound crazy, but I had read that in my lifetime Dayton’s population has gone from 260,000 at its peak in the early 1960s, to currently 143,000. I just wanted to make a statement… maybe born out of a combination of desperation and irritation. I thought, “Someone has to do SOMETHING.”
Once we were living downtown, I started periodically attending Dayton City Commission meetings. I became interested in the leadership of our city. I wanted to discover how things worked.
As The Hope Foundation began getting more and more recognition, and since I am the face of Hope, I began meeting people across the city. I got invited to events and to participate in roundtable discussions about fighting hunger or how to invigorate downtown. I have done briefings at Wright Patterson AFB about Hope.
I also started a Facebook page called I Love Dayton! that has 5,100+ Likes, just to have a voice… to promote what I love about our city. I highlight various events, and other non-profits that are doing great work in and around Dayton.
Behind the scenes I even ran the social media campaign (as a volunteer) for the National Museum of the United States Air Force Foundation’s bid to bring a retiring space shuttle to Dayton. (I am still crushed that we didn’t get one of those shuttles!)
I began meeting people like Cathy Ponitz, Lisa Grigsby, Sandy Gudorf, Carol Clark, Connie Post, Ron Rollins and a whole host of other leaders and business owners around town. I joined a group called New Media Dayton… an affinity group of social media professionals and small business owners who utilize and want to learn more about social media.
I even received the “Hunger Champion” award from the Foodbank along the way!
Over the past 25 years, I have been leading and caring for people, but it was in a less visible way as a pastor at the Vineyard Church. (Vineyard has campuses on North Main Street in Dayton and in Beavercreek.) Adding Hope to my resume raised my public profile in ways that I never expected. Suddenly, I was being invited into all kinds of opportunities and partnerships.
Funny… Same Guy + Different Title = Open Doors
Then came THE conversation… the one with a trusted friend who is like-minded in many ways, who also has a non-profit background, but has been involved in the political scene around town in different capacities over the years. I asked him at breakfast a year or so ago, “What would you think about me making a run for Dayton City Commission?” to which he replied, “I’ve had this same conversation a dozen times, and I’ve said, ‘Yes’ four times. You’re the fourth.”
I bounced the idea, informally, off a few friends, then more formally off a few others… After some tough conversations and soul-searching, I decided to go for it.
Fortunately, I am surrounded by people who love me and care about me. I have some amazing people who have come alongside me who are guiding me though all the craziness, making sure that I’m ok… that I’m taking time for myself and my family along the way.
I have met a lot of people over the past six months, including a handful of elected officials. I have attended numerous neighborhood functions such as the Walnut Hills Neighborhood Association Chili Cook-off, the Shroyer Park Neighborhood Association meeting, Oregon District Historic Society Board Meeting and the UpDayton Summit. I have also attended two candidate forums in west Dayton and I am gaining a greater understanding of what the needs are of people all across our city.
Many people have graciously met with me to bring me up to speed, give me pointers, insight or just to encourage me in my effort. I’ve had people make financial contributions to my campaign, even before we hosted our first official fundraiser.
I have been on a steep learning curve over the past six months. And, yes, it was a lot of hard work getting 1,000 signatures on my petitions. (In the dead of winter, I might add!)
I have been both embraced and snubbed. I have been warned and encouraged.
Every day I just try to push the ball down the field… Some days I have fumbled the ball, other days I went for it when it was 4th and 10 on my own 20-yard-line. I am trying to stay true to myself and hopefully earn (or keep) the respect of those around me along the way. I am just trying to be the same person on stage, off stage… and back stage.
One of the questions in the Cox Media Online Voter Guide is, “What’s the worst thing the city has done in the last four years?” I ended my answer with “Some people like to point out what’s wrong and who’s to blame for it. I’m not that guy.” (Based loosely on a line from the movie “An American President” with Michael Douglas when he is referring to his nemesis during a press conference at the White House at the end of the movie.)
I believe we are writing future history now. I want to be a part of our city’s resurgence and future growth. There are signs of life everywhere you look and I’m not going to play the doomsday card to get into office. I love Dayton. And there are a lot of sharp young people out there who believe in our city. If you don’t believe me, check out Generation Dayton, UpDayton or #DaytonInspires. There are exciting things happening all around us and I just want to be a part of it all by providing some guidance and leadership.
Before I ever thought about running for office I wrote articles for Dayton Most Metro, so I thought it would be ok for me to write this article while I am in the process of running Dayton City Commission. I may never get more than 2-3 minutes of airtime to tell my whole story… So I wanted you to hear it from me, in my own words.
I will close with one of my all-time-favorite quotes from Mother Teresa,
“God doesn’t require that we succeed, he only requires that we try.”