“Never look down to test the ground before taking your next step; only he who keeps his eye fixed on the far horizon will find the right road.” – Dag Hammarskjold
We didn’t travel much or far from home when I was growing up. Travel was viewed as something of an extravagance. The elusive nature of going beyond one’s borders of comfort may have been part of the allure, but ever since I was a very young man, I have longed for the road.
Just after graduation from high school, a friend and I hitch hiked from Lansing to a small town in Wisconsin, where my sister and her husband had just had their first child. We met kind strangers, surly drivers, and fellow wanderers as we thumbed our way to Lake Michigan – then spent the majority of our travel budget to book passage on the ferry from Ludington to Manitowac. We had to walk for awhile after disembarking, but caught a long ride afterward that dropped us reasonably close to our destination. We rang the doorbell for a surprise, walked in and collapsed on the sofa – sleeping until the next day, and dreaming of the next adventure.
Road trips continued through the years of young adulthood – St. Louis, Daytona Beach, Boston, Washington, DC, Charleston. My wife also loves to travel, and road trips with our two sons became a family tradition as well. East to the Adirondacks, south in search of sunshine and ocean breezes, westward to follow the trail of Lewis & Clark; and then the grandeur of the Rocky Mountains, and finally the allure of the Pacific.
When I started working for MARO in 1995, one of my primary responsibilities was to travel to member locations to conduct training sessions and site reviews associated with workplace safety. I thoroughly enjoyed exploring parts of the state I had never visited – and more importantly, connecting with the individuals and organizations that would inspire my commitment to a working life dedicated to the people we serve. Smart, positive, compassionate, committed people all over Michigan – those who were providing services, and those receiving supports – sharing the mission to promote community access and inclusion, and increase quality of life; this, coupled with my inclination to spend time on the road, kept me coming back and heading out again as Project Director for nearly 15 years. Over time, on occasion, my family accompanied me for these tours of the state. While home for the recent holidays, I asked my sons for their favorite recollections of traveling with their dad.
Both recited memories from trips through Northern Michigan, accompanying me from town to town – with occasional adventures in historic hotels, a camping overnight thrown in here and there, being near the Great Lakes with all their majestic powers. I am humbled that appreciation was also expressed for the mission of MARO, as they witnessed a small snapshot of my working life. They also spoke of lessons learned when waiting to move on to the next destination; or while on long stretches of highway between locations – aligning expectations of continuous adventure with the experience of mundane travel, the unexpected joys one can encounter if open to the experience; and appreciating what we have, while making the most of the current situation.
All of these lessons hold true for the journey that each mission driven business that is a part of the MARO network has embarked upon. Aligning expectations with what is feasible; the pleasant surprises that intersperse with the challenges of transformative change; making the most effective use of available resources.
Much of my work now revolves around policy, particularly disability employment policy. We take pride at MARO in creating value through a marketplace of ideas, with the best and most timely information available, and the highest level of connectivity – with colleagues, policy-makers, and subject matter expertise. But we also work hard to stay directly connected with our members through leadership development programs, policy workgroups, Regional Meetings, and the recently implemented Skill Building Best Practices Tour. Sometimes these initiatives involve a road trip, which refreshes the spirit, reconnects with the “why,” and refines the purpose for what we do – support our members in successfully achieving their mission.
We work to shape public policy in a manner that optimizes independence and inclusion for individuals served through our member organizations; develop and enhance collaborative relationships leading to improved service delivery outcomes; cultivate, nurture and retain the next generation of servant leaders; and focus on increasing MARO’s capacity to deliver on our mission, and sustainably achieve our vision.
We are moving forward as an association with “eyes fixed on the far horizon.” The “right road” will not be the same for all; there will be challenges associated with the regulatory complexities that make determination of immediate next steps frustrating. However, we are confident that the commitment to the people we serve, and the spirit of innovation and inclusivity that pervades the members of our network, will result in an improved service arena, truly reflective of a person centered, self determined array of supports.
To all MARO members: I look forward to working for you in 2018. And to the road trip that lies ahead.