A few weeks ago, I was in Berlin facilitating a Startup Weekend during Global Startup Battle. It was a big weekend for me. My first time in Europe and first time facilitating internationally. Most of the events I Facilitate take place in the region I manage, the Midwest – USA. This trip was going to be an unforgettable experience.
While thousands of miles away, I found out through the waves of the internet, nearby where I grew up was destroyed by a series of F4 tornadoes. The next few hours of that sleepless night I viewed devastating photos and videos. A co-worker of mine was actually in the area facilitating an event in Peoria, IL. Uninjured from the weather, he said it was really bad in the surrounding towns, what was left of them.
Jake, one of the Peoria Organizers, reached out to me asking for any help we could provide, explicitly messaging their area took a major blow. I felt helpless to a place that’s so near and dear to my heart. Then the power of community took effect, with an altruistic effort led by non-locals who wanted to help.
Soon, I received a message from my friend Amanda runs a social impact startup in Chicago. She knew I was from Central IL, so she wanted to make sure everything was ok with my family. She sent me an email the next day explaining she rallied a group of co-workers and friends to make the trip down to the Washington, IL, area (about 10 miles east of Peoria) to help in any capacity. Shortly after that, Giveforward’s Co-Founder reached out to me stating they wanted to help crowd fund for families who lost their homes from the tornadoes.
This openness and selfless act of people to help others was incredible to witness. While in this moment, I realized how effective community really can be, personal and professional. This gets down to the brass tacks that people just want to help others.
I introduced the local organizers to the two groups who inquired to assist. Two days later, a group of Chicago startup folks piled into a car at 4:30am, and hit the road. Heading south for a few hours toward Washington, returning very late that night.
The next day, I received a very positive and gratifying email from the enthusiastic organizer, relentlessly thanking me for helping out. I was elated. I can’t fully explain the way his email made me feel. I was at a loss of words. A helpful bunch who were willing to drop everything and dedicate their day to assist others didn’t rebuild a town in one day. But what meant the world to me, was recognizing the need to help others, and committing such a selfless act.
I’m so glad that Jake actually did ask and state “they needed anything they could get”, just as much as Amanda stepping forward and saying “I’m coming and I’m bringing people with me.” It really defines community if you think about it. Identifying the need to help others before even being requested to do so. Give, give, give.
While this may seem like a trivial task, I can’t even fathom the effect this had on the city of Washington. At the end of the day, the game of life is way bigger than any sort of startup game. I’m overcome with joy and happiness and the positive outlook on things. A devastated town, left with nothing will only pick itself up to flourish from here.
Community matters. Building a product, an audience, a startup, or a new city – it can’t be done without a community.