Tuesday, December 30, 2014

Creating Change: It's a Bumpy Ride

Dear friends,

I can’t believe it has been three months of working on Compassion by the Book (CBTB) full time already. I want to give you a bird’s eye view of my work. In typical Kurtis fashion, I will give it to you in complete honesty. If you’ve donated to this work, you deserve to know everything that we’ve been up to in the last three months and to hear about the hope we have for the future.

When I started on October 1, we had two months of funds to move CBTB forward. It has been nothing short of a miracle and testament to God’s provision that CBTB has secured funding through the end of February. I want to quickly say “THANK YOU!” to the folks who have donated to fulfill our mission. Your support means more than I can say.

Nonprofit work is not glamorous. I won’t sugar coat it. These three months have posed huge challenges. Fundraising has been one of the most difficult things I have ever done. Amidst the challenge, I have had moments of sheer amazement at the love that friends and strangers have in joining me in this endeavor. I’m also amazed by the power of perseverance. If at first you don’t succeed, try, try again!

As I am about to describe, the current state of CBTB is not pretty. However, I have reason to believe that CBTB is on the verge of something incredible. If you are able to read through the painful circumstances, I promise you will see light at the end of the tunnel… a brighter light than we would see if things all went according to our initial plan.

At the beginning of the quarter, I had great hope for the growth of our textbook fundraising program because of some technological changes and prospective partnerships. I envisioned a slight change to our model that would help us overcome sales tax issues and encourage more groups to make use of the program. I tested the new technology and unfortunately, it was more burdensome than helpful and did not solve our issues with sales tax (which has kept us from growing outside of Colorado). As for the prospective partnership, it fell through, meaning that CBTB would not grow instantaneously to 10 more campuses. It quickly became apparent that we needed to change our model to overcome barriers to entry and barriers to growth.

Shortly after my big fundraising push for Colorado Gives Day, I found out that several of our student groups would not be participating this semester. The primary reason for this is leadership transitions in our participating student groups.

A couple weeks ago, we were informed that our Regis Chapter would be absorbed by Regis University (due to circumstances beyond our control) and will no longer be affiliated with CBTB. This comes as a heavy hit to our current participation, but we are glad that the Chapter we started will continue to operate under Regis’ umbrella.

One more piece of bad news: our current model cannot financially sustain the work we are doing. You see, taking more time to fundraise means there is less time to work on the program. I cannot justify spending all my time fundraising and not making progress with the program. It is my personal belief that CBTB, as a social enterprise, should be at least partially financially self-sufficient, and some changes are needed to make that happen.

On the bright side, CBTB has been able to help students contribute over $13,000 to their chosen causes this year.

Since mid-October, I have been working on researching and exploring new ways to implement our program that will offer sustainability and scalability. It seemed like every week I found a solution or had some epiphany, only to later have it crushed or found infeasible.

Last week, I was doodling on my white board, considering how CBTB would find a solution to the many issues noted above. I started with the basics: what problem is CBTB solving, what is our vision, and what are our strengths.

Somehow it dawned on me that CBTB was trying to be too many things to the wrong people. What I wanted for CBTB when I started was to replicate my experience for other students and give organizations a powerful tool to make a difference.

Disclaimer: My idea could be the latest in my weekly epiphanies to be shot down. Or it could morph and grow and help CBTB become the organization we have sought to be for four years. I believe it is the latter and offers CBTB the best chance for achieving our mission of cultivating a philanthropic lifestyle in students to create change. Still, the board of directors of CBTB needs to vet the idea and approve it before it is adopted.

So here it is: I believe that CBTB needs to focus its attention on finding, recruiting, and cultivating at least one champion on each campus. Each champion will undergo a year-long fellowship with CBTB to learn about social enterprise and philanthropy while operating a CBTB branch (under our group exemption, for my nonprofit readers) on their campus. Each champion will be responsible for recruiting and managing students and organizations to participate in textbook fundraising by collecting and donating books and volunteering their time. The champion would handle all the business aspects for their campus and give their fellow students an opportunity to give books and time with a low barrier to entry. Student groups wishing to raise funds would be awarded with funds based on the number of books they donate and percentage of volunteer time they give. Upon successful completion of the fellowship, champions would receive a scholarship provided out of the funds they raised through textbook fundraising.

I’ve always said anyone can sell books and give the money away. Any student organization could conduct a textbook fundraiser. There's probably a reason that not every group does do this. I’ve found that only the really strong leaders will be brave enough and capable enough to execute this activity. We should not try to convince all student organizations to participate. Instead, I believe CBTB should find those willing to take more responsibility for personal and professional development and who have an interest in empowering their whole campus.

My solution does not entirely address the problems. We still have a need for ongoing funding for CBTB. Having a strong program, however, is infinitely more fundable than an ineffective one. I’ll worry about the funding when we get there. In the meantime, I hope to grow our program into one worth funding.

CBTB has many resources to aid our growth. We have a fantastic board of directors, including Dennis Griess, Kevin Kuoni, Michelle Norris, Ray Pownall, myself, and Chris Spitzer; amazing volunteers including Joseph Garcia and Kait McNamee (branding, creating new website), Cindy Fitzsimons, Laura Barnett, and Ed Vaughn; wonderful students and alumni of our programs; and numerous other counselors and advisers. And of course, our work would not be possible without the many financial partners of our mission.

This year promises to be an interesting one. I’ll keep pressing on, doing my best, and keep you informed. Thank you for your encouragement and support. It is a bumpy ride, but well worth it.

Merry Christmas and Happy New Year!


Kurtis Griess

Saturday, August 20, 2011

A New Opportunity

As of Wednesday, August 10, I officially started my position as a "Math Fellow" at Denver Public Schools - specifically, Denver Center for International Studies (DCIS) at Montbello.

The Denver Math Fellows are tutors for students at 7 schools in DPS under a program (through Blueprint Schools Network) to turn around low-performing schools. Each student at these 7 schools will have one hour of math tutoring every day for the whole year. I will have the same twelve 6th grade students (2 at a time) every day.

How it Happened

In June, I had an itch to see if I could find any substitute teaching positions in the Denver area to supplement my income while I continue work developing the non-profit Compassion by the Book. I have survived on about $4,000 of savings the past year and worked solely as a volunteer founding and getting CBTB off the ground. However, a series of events (namely a car breakdown) resulted in my savings drying up more quickly than expected in May.

So, as I explored websites for subbing jobs, on the third website (DPS's), I found the Denver Math Fellows program. I applied, attended a screening event, interviewed, participated in a mock tutorial session with a real-life 6th grader, and was notified I would be hired the next day!

What's Next?

My salary and benefits as a DPS employee will help me continue to work on Compassion by the Book. I will be working on CBTB nights and weekends and have already found a renewed focus everytime I get home to expand and develop CBTB. Since I will have greater financial security, I will not have to start fundraising a salary with CBTB prematurely and can continue to focus the majority of my efforts on the textbook fundraising program.

I appreciate all the efforts of my friends and family to help me follow my dreams this last year (especially my parents, who have allowed me to live at home, store thousands of books, and have kept me fed). I am thankful now for this opportunity to touch the lives of young students at DCIS and to continue my efforts with Compassion by the Book.

Saturday, August 13, 2011

The Mountain

I go to my mountain
when I need to be alone with God.
When I need to leave the world.

I bask in his presence there.
He takes my yoke from me.
I sing, I run, I dance.
I rest in peace.

There I go to be free.
I wish I could be on my mountain all the time.
But I must remember
his presence never leaves me.

I go to cry too.
I connect with myself.
Where I am.
Where I have been.

There is no hiding there.
There is no need.
His love pervades all.
No where can I go that he is not.

I remember what matters there.
I cannot be distracted.
I meet my maker
and die to the world.

Oh that I could live
forever on the mountain.

Monday, April 4, 2011

2 Years with Cynthia

Yesterday marked two years since I asked Cynthia to be my girlfriend. It was the perfect weather to celebrate. We had a record high of 84 degrees on Saturday and yesterday, Sunday, we had snow. It was a wonderful re-creation of our first night as a couple.

We decided to go back where I first asked her out, but before we left, I wanted to share my journal entry from the day following. This is how I recounted the experience.

April 4, 2009 ~7 pm

Jump ahead to last night and early this morning. I went on another date with Cynthia. We were supposed to go to an art gallery of the sister of her friend Ana. That sort of fell through. I met her friend Sid, had Spanish Tortilla (which she cooked at her dorm), and drove out to Golden instead.

Rather crazily, we decided to go on a hike in the snow and in the dark. It was cold, hard to walk (because it was slick), and totally fantastic. We went up to the M because I know it very well. We walked up to the top left corner (on the outside of the fence) and embraced for a very long time. Early on in the embrace (perhaps
"barely" 11 pm) I nervously told her I needed to talk to her sometime. She nudged me on by saying "okay, when?" "I suppose now is as good as any time," I continued.

The snow was fluctuating between light and hard. We were fairly warm there together. Down the hill, where you can see Golden and Denver on a clear night, we were surrounded by a cloud that obscured all but two lights. Until suddenly the clouds would break a little revealing what looked like constellations below. When it was just the two lights I felt like we might have been out at sea suddenly coming into view of a lighthouse. It was quiet except for our voices, the wind, the snow, and the occasional car. Well, I suppose I could hear the highway off in the distance. "Well, okay. I'm pretty nervous," I said.

She said, "I make you nervous?"
"No, I make me nervous. I don't know what I'm doing."
"It's okay, don't be nervous."
"Okay. I really like you and I really like spending time with you."
"I really like you too."

The rest of the dialogue is a little fuzzy. I proceeded to explain that I have no experience in having girlfriends and that was why I was nervous. She reassured me she thought I was doing fine. We talked there a long time. She talked about her experience in relationships... she hasn't had many boyfriends either. After probably a half an hour we started to make our descent. On the way down I explained that that was probably the closest to a DTR that I could do.

"Are you going to ask me?" She said.
I said, "Ummm. Yes." (and I thought, "you dummy, ask her then") "Okay," I continued, "would you be... or would you like to be considered as my girlfriend?"

I was so nervous. This is virgin territory for me. I knew she was interested, but I was nervous because I really don't know what being a boyfriend exactly implies... She said "it means you don't kiss other girls." She went on that we would have a Christ-centered relationship and we would pray for guidance about what this would all be like. Did I ever mention I like this girl? I had been having the exact same desires in the past few weeks as I was thinking about what a relationship should be like. We had made it back to the established path by then. The snow was at its thickest then.

When we made it back to the car, someone drove up from the opposite direction. They were slowing down. ("What the heck," I was thinking). Did the lights flash on or did the cop just come out and start talking to us? I don't remember. He asked if we'd had anything to drink. "No," we both answered. He went into a spiel about underaged drinking. "I'm 22." He continued.

"What are you guys doing?"
"We were hiking."
"At this time of night? In this weather?"

I was a bit sheepish, it was obviously dangerous and foolish. I explained about the flashlight that wouldn't work, that I was in Blue Key and knew the M well, and in general was a blabbering fool. He relaxed his demeanor and explained why this was a bad idea and how if he was from Jeffco instead I'd probably be getting a ticket. He was actually very nice by the end and just warned us to be careful on the way down because visibility was poor and there were many accidents.

Eventually Cynthia and I made it back to Regis where we sat and talked for more than an hour (until past 2 am). I was nervous again. Should I kiss her? I was a chicken. I was open with my fears. We talked about boundaries (and what better time than to discuss this before any barrier is breached). She was holding my hand.

"Is holding hands okay?" she asked me.
"Yes," I chuckled.
"Sex is off limits," she said at some point - which I know that she knew I was on the same level with her.
"I'm okay with kissing, I think," I told her.
"Me too."

She sat in what I thought must be an uncomfortable position the whole time (though she denied any discomfort at all) so that she could rest against my chest. Our hands were intertwined and her's were caressing mine. My heart was thudding hard in my chest. We talked a long time. She looked so pretty and the look she would give me dazzled me. Her mascara was sort of a bit lower than I expected - maybe it ran down just a little bit in the snow. She wore grey sweatpants and a turquoise hoodie. She wore tennis shoes on the hike. Her lower legs were positively soaked in the car. That's why she was cold. But she didn't really even mention anything about cold (even when I asked her).

I walked her to the outside of her dorm. I was chicken or I wasn't ready (probably the latter), so I said goodbye with a tight hug. No kiss yet, but I'm not afraid of when it will happen.

That's good enough for now. I have a girlfriend for the first time ever. My motivations are pure, she is sweet and beautiful, and it is well.

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Presentation at Regis

Yesterday, I had the honor of speaking in a class at Regis University. The class focuses on a leadership model called the "Social Change Model" developed at UCLA in 1993 and the teachers asked me to share about my experience working on Compassion by the Book (CBTB).

Since I was unfamiliar with the Social Change Model, I met with the teachers to discuss the course content and to ask how they would like me to focus my presentation to best help the students. They asked that I share my experience, struggles, and motivation. Hopefully my presentation demonstrated the values of Compassion by the Book and the process outlined by the Social Change Model.

My presentation is below. Hit the "play" button and after it loads, click on the "More" button to expand the presentation to full screen. Then use the play button to navigate from point-to-point (you can also use the left and right arrow keys on your keyboard).

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

A Fresh Start, A Clean Heart

I'm wearing a white shirt. That's symbolic, you know. I just took an epsom salt bath. That's symbolic too.

The symbols might not be too obvious, but I put on my clean white shirt after the bath that helped me sweat out the toxins and I couldn't help but feel like the attire matched my renewed, fresh, pure, and unburdened spirit at that moment.

The toxins are gone and I want this cleansing to symbolize my life, of which, one of the biggest toxins is complacency.

It started as a decision to take a bath because I am going to be sacrificing long showers for the next 40 days for Lent. By the end of my bath, I had decided that a lot of other things need to be cleaned up in my life.

Even though I have told some people that I don't like to use Lent as an excuse to give up things I already should not be doing, I understand that like the New Year, Lent can be a positive change agent. I won't commit to a forever change, but for the next 40 days a cleansing should be a nice step out of complacency.

Here are some areas I am going to clean up starting now:

1) No more TV. What else could I do with that time? How is TV being constructive in my life?
2) No long showers. I know they are relaxing, but not necessary.  I may only save a small amount of water, but my awareness of my consumption increases. I become more grateful for my blessings.
3) No sweets. I need to eat healthier. More fruits when I have a sweet tooth.
4) Spend at least 30 minutes exercising daily.
5) Spend at least 30 minutes of quiet time (away from distractions).

Thursday, August 6, 2009

Flora, Illinois

It was surprisingly warm and muggy in the tent. I have no doubt that is in part due to the greater humidity coming from the lake 100 feet away from us and also the combined body heat of the two of us. It was warm enough that I could have slept without my sleeping bag. I was uncomfortably damp. I remember some sprinkles coming down on the tent cover overhead, either from the sky or dropping from the sparse canopy above. It was gentle.

I can't seem to sleep all night when I go camping. Tom was rustling around rather frequently and I was restless too. At one point, Tom was scratching in his sleep (probably his feet, he has some eczema that he scratches before bedtime), but he stopped after I simply said "Tom." Sleep was off and on all night and it wasn't good quality rest like when we stayed in homes, but it was what it was.

I woke up around 5am (on purpose; I had set my alarm) and went outside to pack, glad to be awake. It was cool and dark (not like night, though. Like the first light of dawn), but less damp outside the tent. In my sleepiness, I decided that my first priority lie in rearranging all the belongings I had because I stored the tent at the bottom of my bag and had to take everything out just to remove the tent. After contemplating the organization of my stuff, I rode my bicycle over to the camp's bathrooms because they were way too "far" to walk to. I completed my morning routine of washing my face and brushing my teeth and rode back to camp. On the ride back, I passed Carol's camper and noticed some signs of life coming from within, hearing the television and rustling inside. Carol was to provide us with breakfast, God bless her.

Tom woke up not long after I returned and emerged from the tent. We were on a mission to leave the grounds by about 7:30am since the campsite was so far from Carlyle's downtown and because we had to inflate our tires. I noticed my tires were looking flat (still with air, but certainly not the nice, round shape that is appropriate) the day before, but just continued, perhaps foolishly, for time's sake. That said, we had planned to start our day by inflating our tires at a nearby gas station.

We packed the tent and prepped our bikes and rode to breakfast. Carol brought out some cereal and apples and bananas at 7:00am and we chatted and enjoyed the morning. We were visited by a cardinal and two other birds who made their home under the pull-out leaf of Carol's camper. I had Cheerios and my apple and saved my banana for later.

And once again we were underway. The ride out of the park went very fast. I had plenty of energy and I felt like I knew what to expect. When we hit the first main road towards Carlyle we were slowed down by a headwind from the south, but at least the sun was out and covered the land with a golden glow. We passed up Wal-Mart (once again for time's sake) because I figured I could just use Tom's toothpaste, but stopped at the gas station as planned, filled the tires, and I went inside and happily found a small tube of toothpaste to purchase.

To be continued...