1IN700 - 2016 recap
If you would have asked me at the beginning of this year I would have told you that I would be wrapping up my tour for 1IN700 and everything would be going perfectly. I would have said that by now FOR SURE I’d have all the money I needed to complete the photo book project. I would have been certain that this journey was close to an end.
This year I was extremely optimistic.
This year I learned what being humbled feels like.
For a while I was getting so incredibly frustrated at the money aspect of this project. Mostly just that there is one at all. It’s so hard putting a price tag on your art. It’s my least favorite part about all of it. People often ask what it is I need to complete this and the only things that I can think to say are things that I absolutely have coming in regularly. Yeah, more donations, better camera equipment, etc would be nice, but I have people like Michelle Tonacchio that keep me organized and precise (definitely have no idea what I would do without her). Ultimately the support, the emails of encouragement, the messages from all around the world that I receive on a daily basis…those push me to work harder. To put in days, nights, and weekends. One way or another the photo book will be accomplished, but I’ve learned that it is not something to rush.
As I look back on this past year, I am realizing that so much of 1IN700’s future was aligned with my own personal goals. 1IN700 is not only going to provide awareness for the cleft community but also empower all humans to feel a part of something special. I needed to find the resilience within myself (that I knew I had) for anything related to this project to move forward. I know that what I finally want to do with my life is in front of me. I know that I want to make a positive difference in people’s lives on a wide scale and now I have the platform. I also know that this is much, much bigger than me. I am a tool in a grand scheme and I think I have finally realized what exactly my function is. We, at our best, understand that the compilation of experiences that bring us to where we are now shape us to do our part in bettering society. That’s what I believe anyway. I feel like I was born with this voice in the time of political turmoil, social inequality, and a severe lack of empathy for a very specific reason. As I continue on this philanthropic journey and meet peers that feel the same pull, I keep my head up and eyes forward and see that WE are here to fulfill a purpose far beyond just one individual. We are performing a balancing act; our paths of societal service, are the weights to tip the scale into harmony. That means sacrifices, bags under your eyes, and nights spent at airports around the world. No one ever said change came from an easy place and let me assure you…something THIS rewarding could ever be simple.
One of my favorite memories was landing in Minneapolis and meeting everyone who showed up for the very rainy picnic. I found out that one boy dropped out after he won the drawing to shoot with me because he told his mom he wasn’t up for it. I felt like this exact moment was an opportunity to make a difference for this little guy. I identified so much with him. If you would have asked 7 year old Zack, I would have politely turned you down if you asked to take my photo. And if that didn’t work, I would’ve ran and hid behind my mom. I was speaking with the boy’s mother and found out that he is actually kind of into photography. So naturally, I strike up a deal with him: He can take my camera and snap my picture, if he will let me take one of him. He took a second, glanced at the camera around my neck, looked me into the eyes, cracked a smile and said “Ahh OKAY. ONLY ONE THOUGH!” I did as he said (luckily I am a quick shot and he is a super photogenic kid because I didn’t need more than a frame or two).
In that moment, I knew I was just granted access to something not a lot of people will reach with my buddy, Asher. I knew that it wasn’t that he didn’t want to have his picture taken, but he didn’t want the photographer to stare at his camera after multiple clicks to figure out a “better” way of capturing him. He didn’t want the photographer to tell him “Smile bigger!” because sometimes you just can’t (am I right or am I right clefties?). I asked him to let me show him the way I saw him. I’m sure he probably also didn’t expect to like the picture, agreeing was more of a way to appease mom and dad who were both excited about the project. Look at this handsome guy!
I gotta say, little victories like this revive my thrill and love for this project. Each step, each encounter, lessons learned and hearts touched. Thank you Eichmeyer Family! And thank you Asher for being a true success story and for reminding me why I began 1IN700.
Another personal favorite part of this year, was my spontaneous trip to Orlando, Florida just a week after I got back from Denver’s event, Dash For Smiles. At the beginning of this year, I received a message from a woman in South Florida showing off her beautiful son, Colton. She went on to explain that she has been following the project from the very start. Since I released my very first (and very funny, in my opinion) campaign video. Then her message shift moods when she told me that the reason this was so special to her was because she wasn’t sure she would be around to help teach her son when he got older on his cleft lip. You see, Melinda is a fierce advocate for the cleft community and when she was diagnosed with stage 4 lymphoma, her desire to educate only grew. I didn’t know what to say. At the time, I wasn’t able to just drop everything and buy a flight as much as I wanted too. So I messaged back, and this organic friendship began to bloom. She once told me: “Whether I am around to see it or not, I really do hope Colton can be in 1IN700.” I just responded: “He will be and you will be in some photos with him. I’m coming.”
As the year progressed I went to Denver and she followed along, always vocal on social media to show her support. Sending me messageds of encouragement. I had just arrived in Colorado for the second time when I started to see updates on her health and how it was declining. My heart sank. I felt so helpless. My phone started going off constantly, I was in a group chat with these incredibly intense and amazing women/mothers. They were on a mission to get me to Orlando. They wanted to see if we could create a fundraiser to pay for everything and then take the Bly’s to do some fun things. In 3 hours they raised $1,000 to send me there. And 9 days later, off to Orlando I went.
I reserved a condo with a huge play ground, pool, and a jacuzzi tub in the master (which was Melinda’s obviously). We ate deep dish pizza and I cooked us breakfast. We went to the Crayola Factory and had too much fun. At a couple points throughout the day you could find just Melinda and I on some of the colorful contraptions with Colton watching. Haha, that woman is such good energy you can’t help but have a blast around her. We faced the heat of mid day to take photos for a bit and sweat more than I have in years. We stayed up late and talked about life. She has a way of making you feel so comfortable. It’s probably her infectious laugh combined with her lively spirit. Whatever it was, this woman just became very special in my life. She taught me that life is so much more than reputation and rules. It’s about the few and far in between moments of laughter so hard it’s painful, of late nights and long talks, and of loving as hard and as freely as you can.
I am ecstatic to announce that, quite literally as I type this, Melinda is receiving a stem cell transplant from her brother. This is such a big deal because this gives her a fighting chance to kick this for good! This is a day that doctors told her she most likely would never reach. But she is still fighting and now she is winning. No words. Just gratitude. So much gratitude.
I was unaware of the amount of parents out there that need someone to lean on when it comes to discussing their child’s cleft. I am strong and able, friends, you can lean on me now. Even if just for the few hours of our encounter. These mothers and fathers need someone who has been through this to look them in the eyes and tell them that this will all be okay. I think as kids we hold our parents on these pedestals, like they are the strongest people on the planet and they fear nothing. But when it comes to you…their kid, their child, their baby; well everything changes then. They fear everything; what happened in the past (and how that could have possibly effected you), what is happening now, and what MAY happen in the future. 80% of these things are out of their control and for the most part, they lock those fears away and become the warrior you need to brave hospital overnights, hundreds of stitches, and nasty comments. Where I can come in now, is to be that rock for those I meet. If I can look parents in the eyes and tell them that it is more than possible for their child to grow up “normally,” I will. But I will preface that by mentioning just how special each cleftie is. I will tell parents never to forget, by being 1 in 700, this baby can change the perspectives of the many uneducated citizens they will encounter. Discrimination won’t at all be a part of how this child views the world (which already makes them exclusively charmed in a way). I have learned that this community is a one of a kind, resilient, generous, and supportive group of people; all of which seem to fully comprehend and implement empathy into their person-to-person interactions.
Aside from me being my own worst critic, I am proud of the moves 1IN700 has made. It is absolutely crazy to me to think about what has been accomplished within 1IN700’s first year.
Over 20,000 miles traveled.
Applied for a non-profit certification.
Photographed 45 people.
Established brand partnerships.
Access to workspace.
4 press/media appearances.
Countless smiles encouraged.
Not too shabby for someone who knew nothing about running/owning a non-profit a year ago. I was still learning how to make dinner for myself let alone balance a business account and expenses. But this all felt so easy to dive head first into. I didn’t know what the hell I was doing at first, but I knew that I loved the cause enough to figure it out. I have spent hours editing videos that I never used, designing websites that never go live, and just simply discovering all the technical abilities of the equipment. What else is experience other than one giant class room? So, now I am here a year later organizing the stack of photo release forms from all over the nation, thinking to myself…what’s next? I have maybe another couple of stops I want to do state side and then I am going to need to cross some pond and begin my foreign adventures, more partnerships, lots more photos...
But maybe we will save those plans to be made and announced first thing 2017.
From myself and 1IN700 I want to wish you all the HAPPIEST HOLIDAYS <3 Stay tuned for huge things coming in 2017!