A Wake-Up Call in Wichita

I’m just back from my first road trip speaking on the theme of “Re-Defining Aging in America”. This is something I have touched on in countless speeches over the last few years, and now that it is at the center of my work at the L.A. Kitchen, I took my new big-picture pitch out for a walk in Wichita, at the annual gathering of LeadingAge Kansas.

Like every state, Kansas has a sophisticated and historic network of programs that cater to the needs of the aging community….often dating back to WWII…and pretty much all of them are now struggling to keep up with an escalating client base and eroding state budgets.

BUT….these are the happy warriors of the sector. The palpable love they have for the people they serve is remarkable, as is their faith in even the most frail or forgotten elder. Simply put, we share a deep and abiding commitment to a simple idea–all people have value, a role, a place, and something to contribute. And its our jobs, as nonprofits, to find, elevate, celebrate and share it, so that others come to see that what we often waste is hidden wealth.

MEL1Public health and aging are also areas where I believe social enterprise will explode over the next decade, as evidenced by some of the historic job creating programs I visited with–like Envisions and Asbury Park–as well as new efforts like the gloriously creative work of Bloomerang. Mark my words….the first university that opens a social enterprise program in their public health school will usher in a dynamic new era of creativity and impact.

Of course, I couldn’t let the sun set on May Day without mixing it up, and thanks to my old colleagues at The Sunflower Foundation, I had a few meetings to talk about advocacy and the need to educate political leaders, so that they come to see us, collectively, as dynamic partners in every community’s economic rebuild. And talk about inspiration…in between meetings, I went out to get some air, and I happened to chance upon (and photograph) a statue commemorating the work of Mary Elizabeth Lease, a suffragette, abolitionist and all around rabble-rouser, who famously told fellow Kansans to “grow less corn and raise more hell”.
Now I’m back in LA, at least till next week, when I head to Rockford College and the Northern Illinois Center for Nonprofit Excellence to stir it up all over again, Mary Elizabeth style. See you there.