How did we get here?
It is crazy how certain events can happen in your life that can forever alter your path. Our response to these events is what is most important in determining what comes next. In September of 2017, I received a phone call from the Congressional Medal of Honor Foundation to notify me that I had been selected as the high school recipient for the Excellence in Character Education Award. This was the first time that the Foundation had done this award. There had been two categories, one for high school and one for middle school. Melissa and I were invited to spend October 6th-8th down in Los Angeles with members of the Foundation and members of the Congressional Medal of Honor Society. The Society is made up of the living recipients of the Medal of Honor. This felt unreal. Wake me up from this dream even though I don't want to wake up. We had no idea what to expect but we were both excited and grateful for the opportunity.
We flew down early on the morning of the 6th. I had a football game to coach the night before (which we won) and so we were both exhausted but full of adrenaline. The weekend would bring about so many incredible experiences and once-in-a-lifetime memories. Those stories are for another time. The night of the 7th brought the Circle of Honor Gala and the presentation of the award and a check. Out of everything, the check was what felt weird. Something that I had heard about on multiple occasions was the $5000 that would be presented as part of the award. It seemed as though that was supposed to be the major selling point. Melissa and I didn't really see it that way. We both believed that my use of the Medal of Honor Character Development Program and the stories of Medal of Honor recipients was something that was intended to honor the sacrifice and service of the recipients and the men and women that serve and have served in the United States military. Spending time with the recipients and their families was far more valuable than any amount of money.
Free money is never free. We knew we had to set some aside for taxes. We also used some to cover the expenses of the black tie event. After spending some time talking about it and thinking about it, Melissa and I decided that we wanted to do something to thank the two schools that we were involved with. The best answer to that was offering a scholarship at each school for $500. We then put it out there to our friends and family to see if anyone wanted to contribute. This brought in enough to almost double it so we kicked in the rest and made it $1000 at each school. It didn't take long to put the requirements together: pursue a career in education, 3.0 cumulative GPA, two letters of recommendation, and a personal essay showing how their life had demonstrated one or more of the core values that are part of the Character Development Program. The same core values that are part of this Foundation.
What happened next was something I never dreamed of. We decided to start a nonprofit, the Character In Life Foundation. We worked with Tracy Cutler and Steve Aguilar to put together a vision and goals for what we wanted in the short-term and long-term. We used the remaining funds from the award and some of our own money to get the process going. Filled out and submitted paperwork and waited patiently. On April 5th, 2018 we were officially recognized as a nonprofit by the Washington State Secretary of State. All of us would love to see the Foundation grow to have a greater impact on more students each year and be able to expand that to military veterans and their families and to teachers.
You have to start somewhere.