Wednesday, November 6, 2013

Casual Heroism

I am writing this blog post from my brand-new home office, which is adorned with framed, autographed pictures I've obtained over the past year attending both the San Diego and New York Comic-Cons. Pictures on my walls signed by the cast of Arrow, Doctor Who and Mass Effect, are complemented by large-scale action figures of Superman and Captain America, smaller model replicas of the SSV Normandy, and a framed Rocketeer comic signed by Chris Samnee. Beyond my Comic-Con swag, my bookshelf contains my prized Daredevil graphic novel collection and a diverse assortment of other souvenirs representing various science fiction and fantasy franchises.

I like surrounding myself with heroic iconography, because I've always been enamored with the idea of heroism. I'm nearly thirty years old and still daydream about becoming a jaeger pilot or Iron Man on my daily commute to work. The creative work I've attempted has largely been based on the idea that people are capable of being extraordinary. I like to believe anyone can become a leader who inspires others to become the best versions of themselves, and create lasting positive change in the wider world. While I love watching and reading stories about overcoming galactic invaders or thwarting mad scientist plots, real-world heroism is just as prevalent and I have resolved in the past year to find ways to make a tangible difference on the personal, local and global levels.

I have found that heroism can be as simple as paying attention to your Facebook and Twitter accounts. Many of my friends have participated in a variety of charity races and events for causes that deep personal meaning to them, including the Lyme Research Alliance's Race for Lyme, the American Cancer Society's Relay for Life, the Boston Children's Hospital Miles for Miracles program, and the MSPCA's Walk for Animals. Social media has also led me to charitable projects run by companies within my media and sports fandom, including DC Comics' We Can Be Heroes initiative, which benefits organizations working to end hunger in the Horn of Africa, and a charity auction run by Major League Soccer's New England Revolution where proceeds were donated to the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society.

Anyone who provides support to a cause that provides relief, care, and happiness to those who need it is a hero, but creating and leading a cause yourself is still possible, even if you aren't a genius, billionaire, playboy philanthropist. I attended the INBOUND Marketing Conference this past September, and the closing keynote speaker this year was Scott Harrison, the founder and CEO of charity:water, a nonprofit that supports clean water projects in underdeveloped nations.

Harrison, a successful nightclub promoter in New York City, started to feel a profound sense of moral emptiness from years of living "selfishly and arrogantly." This epiphany made him pay to volunteer with Mercy Ships, which travels to the most impoverished regions of the world to provide free medical care. Acting as the ship's photojournalist, Harrison took close-ups of horrific ailments that are beyond comprehension in the modern world, with patients' bodies mutated in a way I didn't even know possible when the pictures were displayed. The majority of these ailments were due to the lack of clean water in these regions, as families had to spend entire days traveling to wells racked with parasites and bacteria, torturing their bodies by carrying 80-pound jugs on their back for miles.

Inspired by his time with Mercy Ships, Harrison sought to address a problem affecting one in nine people worldwide. Using his networking talents to acquire funds from angel investors and other sponsors to cover the costs of running the foundation, Harrison created a model where 100% of donations were allocated to clean water projects. The idea to use GPS technology to prove transparency in how donations were used was also an innovation that allowed charity:water's message to break through the noise in the nonprofit sector. Today, charity:water has raised over $93 million since its inception, providing clean water access to over 3 million people.

Scott Harrison's world-changing accomplishment didn't occur because of any natural advantages. He has a communications degree, like myself and countless others, and his sphere of influence didn't exceed the New York club scene. He is one person who was inspired, and had the will to see his idea to through to its fullest potential. His keynote at Inbound 2013 spurred me to take the first steps to actual leadership in my life, and work toward creating a Massachusetts chapter of Green Wish.

I first learned about Green Wish at San Diego Comic-Con, when I visited actor Raphael Sbarge's booth for an autograph. Sbarge, a prolific voice voice actor best known in video game circles for his work in Mass Effect, also plays a recurring character on my fiancé's favorite show, Once Upon a Time. All of the proceeds Sbarge collected from the autographs and pictures sold were going toward Green Wish, a nonprofit he founded in 2009 that creates new donation opportunities for green charities and projects in local communities. Once again, my interests took me in an interesting new direction, as months after meeting Raphael his message stuck in my mind and I studied Green Wish's mission and model online.

Green Wish's method for supporting local environmental nonprofits is to establish partnerships with local retailers, by providing the retailers with community-customized donation cards to be sold at their registers. The funds generated by these cards are then collected by Green Wish and distributed to the approved nonprofit organizations. Retailers that participate receive a variety of financial and promotional benefits, making the partnership a win for all parties. Green Wish's other programs, such as live events and the recent EEK-O-Halloween drive that is modeled on the annual UNICEF Halloween coin collection, require low involvement on the part of the "target audience" but can yield large rewards toward continued environmental sustainability in your neighborhood.

I am incredibly excited about creating a Green Wish chapter here in Massachusetts, because it is a tremendous opportunity to utilize the leadership skills and creative thinking strategies developed by my marketing and communications education, in order to improve the quality of life in my community. However, the core reason I am taking on this project recalls a thought Raphael Sbarge considered prior to founding Green Wish, which is, "what can we do to protection [a child's] journey in a world as vast and complex as ours." I am hoping to start a family in the near future, and my reply is that I want to set an example for my children, that empathy and consideration for others and your environment is a responsibility of being human. I want to teach them that while fictional heroism is thrilling, real heroism is perfectly ordinary.


I am currently seeking board members for the Massachusetts chapter of Green Wish, including a Vice President, Secretary and Treasurer. These are all volunteer positions, but are a fantastic opportunity to enhance a marketing skill set through work in creative direct marketing, public relations, and event planning (with a highly flexible time commitment), all while making your neighborhood a better place to live! Please leave a comment below if you are interested in learning more.

Additionally, I am participating in the "September" campaign for charity:water, which is working to complete water projects in underdeveloped regions of India. My goal is $450, and I will be matching all contributions up to my goal with a donation to the American Lung Association. You can donate to my campaign here.

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