Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Changing the World One Child at a Time - Odyssey of the Mind

As I have mentioned before, I think volunteering is a great idea.  It feels good to do something for someone besides yourself and it is amazing when your help changes something for the better.

Tonight I had the chance to train a group of volunteers acting as coaches with the program Odyssey of the MindI love this program and have been involved for many years.  If you haven't heard of Odyssey of the Mind you are missing out.  It may be the best kept secret in education where I live.

To understand why I love the program I must tell you a little about it.  Odyssey of the Mind (OotM) is a creative problem solving program with a competitive component.  Students K-college are given open ended problems and asked to create a solution and present it to a panel of judges.  They are given a time limit, a budget and a set of guidelines.  Where they take the solution is up to them.  There is no right or wrong answer and they are limited only by their imagination.

I participated in the program while I was in middle and high school.  I also coached when I was in college and had the chance to serve on the State Board later on.  All in all this will be my 14th year involved with the program.  I currently serve as the school coordinator and help with my son's team.

I can honestly say OotM changed my life.  It taught me to stretch my thinking and question everything.  I learned that most limits are the ones we give ourselves and I can remove limits as easily as make them.  I learned to work on a schedule, follow a budget, do research, work within a team, and respect the ideas of others.  I learned how to carry my own load within the group and to speak up when I had ideas to share.  I learned to have confidence in my ideas and to be able to present them with clarity.

Lest you think I spent years training in a harsh and rigorous environment I will tell you I did not.  I learned these skills while laughing, brainstorming, sewing costumes, building sets, creating friendships and solving problems.  I loved the excitement of discovery and the thrill of competition days.  It was truly a life changing experience.  I became an engineer because of the skills I learned and the interests I developed.  I was a good engineer because of the way I questioned the norms and developed solutions beyond the expectations.  I started a business because I was taught to not fear the unknown.  I repeat again, it changed my life.

So now we are back to the group of volunteers I trained tonight.  They are amazing people.  They are parents who want to see their children grow in confidence, or gain the ability to work with a team, or develop their sense of humor.  They are parents who value unique opportunities and are willing to share their time to make it happen.  They are the backbone of programs like this.  They make it happen.

As I reported in a blog months ago, only 1 in 4 people volunteer their time in the United States.  A majority of these people volunteer with activities related to their kids.  I can only imagine what it would be like if 2 out of 4 people volunteered.  The world would see an amazing change.

The kids we have involved with OotM will experience some amazing changes this year.  They will make friends, they will learn new skills and they will redefine their ideas about goals, possibilities and expectations. I know, because I have seen it happen every year.  Many people talk about changing the world.  When we were young and idealistic we just knew we could make a difference.  Some of us may have abandoned our plans but not all of us.  Getting involved is an amazing way to change the world one child at a time.

So here is my heartfelt plea.  Please get involved.  Spend your time changing someone's world.  My coaches created an engineer, who was an exchange student, who started a business, who volunteered time working with kids, who introduced her children to the program and started the cycle again.  They made me who I am.  (Okay, my parents get a little credit too!)  Their time changed my life.  Please go out and change someone else's.  It is worth it, I promise.

Okay, here is the practical part.  If you are interested in learning more about Odyssey of the Mind, please click here to see their web site where they can direct you to a local group.  If you can't commit to coaching then volunteer your time to judge.  If OotM isn't your thing, then go with your passion.  Remember you can change the world.  At least I know someone changed mine.  (Thanks, Mrs Rouyer.)

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