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“It seems impossible. I mean, every child, as in EVERY child,” she said the filled-to-capacity room of therapists and social workers who make up the Tennyson Center’s Community Based Service (CBS) corps. The weight and possibility of the big bet, driven by urgency, was settling on all.
Tennyson is generally known as a Colorado-based residential treatment facility for children experiencing trauma from abuse and neglect. And while we do have beds for kids whose families have disintegrated, our programs transcend that narrow definition, led in many ways by our CBS team.
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CBS is made up of exceptional therapists and social workers who meet loving parents in their homes and at their schools to help kids remain locally integrated. CBS sees the kiddos they work with as part of a larger community, and they understand firsthand how big the problem of abuse, neglect and mental illness are throughout the state. Demand for our services is growing as educators, parents and local first responders see the impact of our work, and my colleague, in her emphasizing every, knows that a commitment to every child means a lot of children.
She paused after taking in the totality of our commitment, and looked at her colleagues before saying, “But that is why I dedicated myself to this profession. I want to be part of a broader solution that helps every child, not just some children. And I believe we can do it. In fact, I know we can.”
Her colleagues nodded approval, and the meeting rightly shifted to how we can succeed rather than if we should even try.
I have been here before, and it’s a magical moment when staff shift from fear and transactional mindset to a big, bold move designed to address a fundamental problem at scale. In other words, when an organization decides to Be Fearless.
I served as CEO of Water For People when we launched Everyone Forever, which reimagined the way we, and in effect the international water and sanitation sector, operated. Instead of installing projects in a random assortment of villages—choosing some and bypassing others—we decided to unleash our ambitions in a new, bolder and more scaled way. We were making a big bet in hopes of making history. We targeted all villages in districts and cities across the world, saying we would not rest until every family, every school and every clinic had access to water and sanitation services and never needed international aid or philanthropy again.
People scoffed, saying it was not possible. This was expected, as we generally live in a world of small thinking and caution, where bold mission statements about solving problems are not matched by the programming needed to actually solve them. Everyone Forever tapped people’s deep desire to actually solve the problem, stated our ambitions starkly and unashamedly, and put our reputation on the line with a commitment to verify results for 10 years after the work was done. We were not interested in helping somevillages or installing a water point and having it fail at a later date. We were committed to solving the problem, boldly, fearlessly and permanently.
But to our surprise, many people and organizations actually came along with us on our fearless journey. In some ways they had to—what is the alternative? The urgency for a solution pushed us and others to conquer our fear. New districts not part of the original Everyone Forever push demanded similar support, donors started funding along more ambitious lines focused on full coverage and demonstrated results over time, and sector work started to shift from village to district-wide interventions with a plethora of actors who all had a role in solutions.
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