There was a touching story featured on the TODAY Show last week. Hoda Kotb was hosting a Bucket List segment in which the TODAY Show crossed one item off selected individuals bucket list. Here is the story from September 8th.
“Merrill Powers is the head of a Salvation Army Center in Chicago where he’s lived out his calling helping people change their lives for the better. ‘He wants people to feel loved,’ his wife Nancy told TODAY. ‘The person that maybe hasn’t had anybody shake their hand…he wants to shake that hand.’
Warren Peeler is one of the men Merrill mentored. At just 6 years old, Warren was drinking. He sold cocaine at 15, and hopped from shelter to shelter until he met Merrill. ‘He told me that, Warren, you are somebody. Don’t you ever forget that. God has got you here for a reason,’ Warren told TODAY.
While Merrill’s calling is to help people, his passion is barbecuing. He’s won ribbons for his mouthwatering meals, but he mostly cooks for those in need. Last Thanksgiving, he cooked 120 turkeys for the Salvation Army Center. ‘What he realized is that it really made people happy to have barbecue,’ Nancy said. ‘You haven’t seen somebody’s face light up who yesterday was picking out of a trash can, and today has pulled pork or brisket or barbecue chicken in their hand.’”
The TODAY Show surprised Merrill with an opportunity to meet his favorite celebrity chef, Bobby Flay, but the sweeter surprise was when the people Merrill helped walked in.
“Nancy lined up a few men whose lives Merrill helped change. They walked in carrying signs that detailed Merrill’s impact on them. ‘15 years sober. Thanks Merrill!’ one said. ‘4 years sober and business owner,’ another said. ‘I am going to college. Love you, Merrill’.
‘I am proud of each of them,’ a visibly touched Merrill told Hoda. ‘The beauty of being here is we see miracles every day.’
What makes this story so moving are the actions of one individual to impact as many lives as possible. No excuses. He gives of himself using the resources available to him. Sometimes it only takes believing in another individual or offering kind words of encouragement. Sometimes it is showing someone else what is possible.
The institution’s whose slogan once read, “education for the future,” has left 35,000 students in uncertainty and without options. Higher education has an opportunity to step up and put actions behind common buzzwords like “students first”. It is a chance to restore students’ belief in the value and focus of education designed for the common good.
While higher education is facing challenges that cannot be solved overnight, there is a population of students who could benefit from compassion and consideration. They are looking for institutions to come forward and extend a helping hand. Regardless of tax status or funding sources, we are all in the business of “helping people change their lives for the better.” The only way that happens is through reaching out, one person at a time to make a difference in hopes that one day, these individuals will be able to walk with a sign that communicates how we have positively impacted their lives. We may not always be successful, but sometimes the beauty is in the attempt.
For all those institutions who have already reached out to these students, thank you for letting actions speak louder and for showing what it means to truly put #StudentsFirst.