Sunday, May 4, 2014

Pep Talk: "My Name Is Stekos!"

“We love this school and moved into the neighborhood just so our kids could attend it.”

These words flowing from a woman’s mouth and being received into my heart speak volumes about the power of a community coming together and taking a stand. In this case, to stand in the gap.

A long time ago, a Denver parochial school lost a third-grade teacher. His name was Mr. Frank. The fathers at the school were especially thrilled with the man’s excellent teaching skills. The young teacher, at the time, was the only male educator at the school’s elementary level.

I was one of those fathers. It was a relief that our sons had a dude around in case a young boy had a dude issue that needed to be addressed.

Sadly, after just two years at the school, Mr. Frank departed. It was not an easy decision for the man. I can still vividly recall, with tears streaming down his cheeks, a painful confession: “Mark, I love it here but I’m making $19,000 a year and have a chance to teach in the public-school system and make $30,000.”

Mr. Frank was gone, but the moment was not forgotten. It started a surge of parents willing to stand in the gap. The Good Shepherd Foundation was born. Since its inception, the mission has been “Caring For Our Kids’ Mentors.” The effort has been quite successful and has played a significant role in the school’s continued success today.

It all started with an issue. Attracting and retaining quality teachers. The foundation’s role in assisting the school and parish leadership in creating a warm, loving and nurturing environment for children, teachers and families to thrive speaks to the power of a group of people rallying behind a common goal.

Dressed as Miami Vice’s Don Johnson (There was an ’80s theme to the party where I was talking to this woman) it was my job as host to encourage the large throng to have fun and spend money. Occasionally, in the brief respites, I kept thinking of another moment in time.

It was several years ago and I was blessed to have been asked to present a Pep Talk to the Mountain Vista High School football team, its coaches and parents. Located in Highlands Ranch, Colorado, I’ll never forget walking into the school’s cafeteria and into a sea of black. Everyone, players, coaches and parents were wearing black shirts that across the front shouted, “Stekos.” Across the back, in bold white letters was: “Stand in the Gap.”

The head football coach explained the meaning. Long ago, when folks lived in walled communities to protect themselves from the enemy, there was a special group of forces - think Navy Seals - whose job was to protect the community when attackers tried to punch holes in the fortress to gain entrance. These were the Stekos warriors. When there was an issue, it was their job to stand in the gap.

Where is life calling us to “stand in the gap?” I think of the Denver Rescue Mission and our quest to encourage the men living there to embrace the value of physical exercise in their challenging task of bouncing back from addiction to alcohol and drugs. We’re trying to stand in the gap.

What about you? Where is opportunity knocking for your time, talents and treasures to be utilized in healthy and productive fashion to help a school, non-profit, neighborhood, business, or community cause?

We usually do not have to look very far to find a cause that could use some Stekos warriors. Are we willing to stand in the gap? It’s tough. We’re all busy with the demands life brings our way. Families, jobs and other responsibilities. Try anyway.

The spirit born from a group of people uniting for a common cause can be transformational. What’s the ol’ saying? “It’s amazing what can be accomplished when nobody cares who gets the credit.”

Let’s be that type of person this week. Maybe it’s volunteering at a retirement facility where so many residents rarely get visitors. Go say hi. Who knows where the need is located? What is needed is a warrior mentality and us.

Let’s stand in the gap. Let’s never grow weary of doing good for others. What the heck, when introducing yourself this week, have some fun with it and proudly proclaim, “My name is Stekos!”

Have a good one!

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