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A Day in the Life at REALITY Recharge

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This story comes to us from REALITY, a Schusterman initiative and a values-based leadership program that invests in young professionals, empowering them to enact positive social change in their communities. REALITY participants recently gathered in Dallas, Texas for a weekend of professional and personal development.  Brendan Lowe first joined REALITY in 2009. Brendan works as the Executive Director of Communications for Camden Public Schools in Camden, NJ. For more on Brendan's "DITL-Day in the Life" project, click here.

A couple Saturdays ago, I found myself in Dallas, roughly 1,500 miles from my girlfriend, friends and family. I was joined by a few hundred other people who had also decided to spend their President’s Day/Valentine’s Day/NBA All-Star weekend away from home, in a city few of us had visited before. We were gathered for REALITY Recharge, the biannual gathering of REALITY alums and supporters focused on furthering the journeys into Judaism and our own leadership that began with a trip to Israel. This is the story of a day in the life:

These gatherings are about recharging, but sleep is not seen as the preferred method. By 7:30 a.m., the group had dispersed to the Shabbat morning experience of their choice: yoga and meditation, running, prayer, or soccer with Ethan Zohn, the winner of Survivor season three and a former professional soccer player. After breakfast and time to meet with mentors and each other, participants gathered in the grand Union Station hall for the official welcome.

At the welcome, we tested two strategies for personalizing a group of 240 people. First, we did a rapid tournament of rock-paper-scissors (in which the 2013 winner somehow repeated as champ). Whoever loses the duel has to chant the name of the person who beat them, and then the person who beats them, until you’re rooting like a hooligan for someone you hadn’t met five minutes previously. Then we engaged in a series of blind conversations—after filling out an online strengths-finder survey, we were matched with four people who had similar strengths or opposite strengths. This round of six-minute, one-on-one conversations was beneficial—among others, I met a former teacher in Philadelphia, where I’m moving, who gives chocolate tours. Delicious!

Then it was time to hear from Lynn, who continued to motivate us by revealing that for her 75th birthday she had crossed off an item on her bucket list—she’d gotten a tattoo (really). Awed by the vitality with which Lynn leads her life, we applauded madly. Next up was Ethan Zohn, this time not kicking a soccer ball but sharing his story as a competitor on Survivor and as a cancer survivor as well as the founder and leader of a non-profit organization, Grassroots Soccer, that has served more than 750,000 children around the world. I was struck at how much Ethan had done already, and I wondered about the role the very positive (winning $1 million on Survivor) and very negative (getting cancer and having a recurrence) events in his life had played in motivating him and in testing his motivation.

In the afternoon, we dispersed again to the Jewish learning opportunity of our choice. I elected to learn from Rabbi Will Berkowitz, who runs the Jewish Family Service of Seattle. Will led an extremely stimulating workshop about finding your north star and leading a values-driven life. His session involved a read-aloud of a children’s book, The Traveler, and a discussion of Bob Dylan lyrics (“Dream”) and an excerpt from Mountains Beyond Mountains, among other sources. In small groups, Will encouraged us to be vulnerable with each other and make connections to the texts. Surprisingly (or not surprisingly given that it’s REALITY), it worked, and a girl I had never met before was telling me about the challenges she was facing in her school, the insecurities that were surfacing and her uncertainty about the road ahead.

Late afternoon brought an update on the future of REALITY and unstructured time to meet with each other or mentors. We gathered again for Havdalah before boarding buses and heading to the dynamic Dallas neighborhood of Deep Ellum. In a warehouse converted into a coffee shop-art gallery-performance space-cultural center, we dined on exquisite barbecue from Pecan Lodge and learned about the experiences of local leaders—one was seated at each of our 25 tables. The large group heard from a local restaurateur who’d been inspired to start an organization that teaches culinary skills (and all of the skills associated) to young people leaving jail. Some of those young people were serving dinner as part of their hospitality training—it was invigorating to learn of his leadership and their commitment to self-improvement. After a rocking concert from ROI alum Michelle Citrin and a nightcap at the hotel bar, I retired to bed. It had been a long day. I was tired. And recharged.

The Schusterman Family Foundation is proud to empower emerging leaders to explore their values, identity and new ways to strengthen their communities. We believe that as we work together to repair the world, it is important to share our diverse experiences and perspectives along the way. We encourage the expression of personal thoughts and reflections here on the Schusterman blog. Each post reflects solely the opinion of its author and does not necessarily represent the views of the Foundation, its partner organizations or all program participants.