Some people make you smile just by walking in the door. I don’t know how they do it, but they are always in a good mood, and always thinking about others first.
John Wyckoff is one of those people.
In all the years we go back, I can’t recall a single time I’ve ever seen this guy in a bad mood or have an unkind word to say about anyone. Even when he was going through a major battle against cancer a few years back, his thoughts remained centered on the wellbeing of others. While I could see the weariness in his eyes from the surgeries and treatments, the smile and compassion never left his face.
One day last week as I was beginning my day, the executive director of the Ellis County Children’s Advocacy Center Gingerbread House paid me a visit to discuss an idea to help others in our county.
While I do my best to always be cheerful and helpful, I admit, since we made the switch to a morning edition (and the newsroom works until the paper goes to press late at night), I’ve not been a morning person. I don’t bounce out of bed bright and bubbly and ready to take on the world when I arrive at work at 8:30 a.m. I’m one of those people that need to “ease” into the day. I’m usually not fully awake until I’ve gone through my emails and finished my cup of coffee.
That morning, I don’t think I had even turned on my computer when John sat down in the chair next to my desk and began talking.
He was enthusiastic, as always, talking 90 miles a minute and excited about this great idea he wanted to share.
For the record, it was a great idea.
I just wish I didn’t have to try and stop myself from yawning mid-pitch.
But I was awake enough to listen.
And get excited about John’s idea.
John had asked if I had read Dave Lieber’s column in the Dallas Morning News about an organization that raises $10,000 for a Metroplex nonprofit organization. The group, known as “100 Men Who Give a Damn” gathers for one hour a year and invites nonprofits to give a 5-minute pitch on why they need funding. At the end of the presentations, the “100 men” take a vote on which group is most worthy, then all write a check for $100, netting a $10,000 donation for that organization.
“Neal, don’t you think we could find 100 individuals in Ellis County who would be willing to get together once a year and write a $100 check?” John asked. “Think of what that could mean for the communities in Ellis County.
“Neal,” John said again, making me wonder if he said “Neal” again to make his point or if he was making sure I was awake.
“Neal, you know what the needs are. There are so many wonderful organizations that are doing everything they can to try and meet the needs in our community,” he said. “Can you imagine what an additional $10,000 would mean to any of those organizations?”
John stopped talking for the first time since he sat down, but only long enough to hand me a folder filled with research he had done on the Dallas organization.
I opened the folder and scanned the pages.
“So, what do you think?” he asked. “Do you think we could find 100 individuals in Ellis County that would give one hour of their time a year and write a $100 check?”
I think I was nodding my head in an affirmative manner when he asked the next question.
“OK, let’s say we get 100 people who want to be a part of this. Where could we have a meeting that would seat more than 100 people when we asked all the agencies to come in and give us their pitch?”
I’m pretty sure I took my glasses off at that point and rubbed my eyes before answering.
“That’s a good question,” I answered. “I think it’s going to be a lot easier finding 100 people willing to donate an hour of their time a year and write a $100 check.”
“So you think this is worth pursuing? You think we could actually do something similar here in Ellis County?” John asked the two questions back-to-back.
“Absolutely,” I responded. “This is a great county filled with people just looking for ways to help others and make a difference. I don’t think you’ll have any trouble getting this off the ground.”
At that point, John pushed one of the stacks of paper covering my desk toward the center, placing his arm in the only bare spot on my desk before leaning towards me.
“Neal,” he said, leaning in close as his voice hushed to a near whisper. “What do you think we should call it?”
“John,” I said in a much louder tone. “I haven’t had my coffee yet. You can’t expect me to come up with a name for an organization that doesn’t yet exist until AFTER I have my coffee.
“Come on,” he said. “You’re great at this. What’s your first thought off the cuff?”
I know I took my glasses off at that point and rubbed my eyes before answering.
“I don’t know,” I said. “What about ‘100 Givers?’ John, I don’t start hitting my creative stride until about 2 p.m. and by the time we’re in full deadline mode around 8 p.m., I’m on fire. The best time to sit down and spitball names is after we put the paper to bed, but that’s usually after 10 p.m. I’ll tell you what, let me give the name some thought and we’ll figure out a way to get this project off the ground.”
John stood up, shook my hand and said he would come back next week.
I asked, if at all possible, if he could come after 10 in the morning.
“And bring coffee,” I quipped.
He gave me one of those trademark John Wyckoff smiles that warms the heart and makes the morning blahs just disappear.
“You’re a good man, Charlie Brown,” he said, then turned and began walking toward the door.
For those interested in helping John get this group of Ellis County givers off the ground, I know he would like to hear of both your support and suggestions. John may be reached at the Gingerbread House at 972-937-1870 or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Neal White is the Editor and General Manager of Waxahachie Newspapers Inc. His recent novel, “Crosswinds” published by The Next Chapter Publishing, is available at Amazon.com. Contact Neal at email@example.com or 469-517-1470. Follow Neal on Facebook at Neal White – Waxahachie Newspapers Inc., or on Twitter at wni_nwhite.