The Ethical Edge
The Art of Integrity
Kids and Public Safety Heroes – A Magical Combination!
Team Kids, Inc.
I am blessed to have a treasured list of personal mentors and heroes who commit to protect and empower children. One man, OC Fire Captain Steve McHale, deserves a neon highlighter for teaching me that we adults, even fire captains, have a lot to learn about life from our youngest citizens.
I was preparing for our first Team Kids Program in 2001 when I read a news story about two Fire Captains working to save the life of a 3 year-old boy. Jeremy was coding weekly as he struggled with an extremely rare heart defect. I shared the story with our founding elementary school leaders who were participating in the month-long Team Kids Challenge service program. After a short discussion they stated confidently that they would raise money to fly Jeremy to Minnesota’s Mayo Clinic and save his life. Their innocent declaration had me a bit concerned and I worried about how to handle their disappointment if they fell short of their goal. Luckily for Jeremy the word impossible had not yet been written into the book of life of these passionate kids.
Many doubted this unlikely team of lifesaving heroes, and none more than Captain Steve. My enthusiastic call to Station 6 was met with an attitude of “how are kids going to help me?” By the end of the call, however, Captain Steve decided to give the kids a chance. Soon, we brought Jeremy to our kickoff assembly. Despite an admitted fear of public speaking, Captain Steve got on stage to congratulate the students for joining efforts to save Jeremy’s life. Then, he asked if he and his fire crew could be on their team. I watched as a second grade boy instantly sat up straight and squealed, “he’s on our team!”
The students decided to host a youth-led pancake breakfast, shared their commitment with the media, and ended up raising more money than any of us adults could have imagined. Their compassion inspired a wealthy businessman to donate his jet, pilot, and fuel to fly little Jeremy, the paramedics, and his parents to Mayo Clinic and back. The story of these young and powerful lifesavers even inspired a Hollywood celebrity to write an anonymous check to cover the expenses for his needed medical equipment upon his return.
A lot has happened since 2001. Captain Steve became Team Kids’ Founding Board President. Recently, he and I stood with the founding students and cheered as Jeremy graduated from the 6th grade. His leadership taught us an important lesson about the powerful influence public safety heroes have on our youngest citizens. Captain Steve sparked the powerful partnership with police and fire fighters that exists at the core of the Team Kids’ mission and has empowered more than 56,000 passionate young leaders. As a mentor, he taught me and others, an important lesson: community heroes can inspire every child to be a powerful leader. All they need is an invitation.
Julie Hudash can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org