I wanted to tell you something about the Do Something Awards and someone very dear to me, and how the two are intertwined. Art Feeds has the best volunteers. The very best, I know that. Every day the office is buzzing with young and passionate interns, educators and volunteers. Each giving of themselves for one reason- our kids. One of the very first of our high school volunteers was Will Norton. Every time he came to our office it was with someone new, telling everyone about Art Feeds, coaxing them into buying a shirt, telling us about opportunities. He created video like nothing I had ever seen for his age, gave his time and talents to Art Feeds. There are a million descriptions of him: incredibly talented, thoughtful, funny, talkative, joyful and wildly passionate. He inspired me to be better. In Spring of 2011 an organization that had helped me greatly in the startup stages of Art Feeds, DoSomething.org, opened an application for the Do Something Awards. I had followed finalists in years previous and been had been incredibly inspired by their work ethic and causes. I decided not to apply because I didn’t feel Art Feeds was yet up to par. Will thought differently. Every time I saw him for about a month he would encourage me to apply. He’d bug me in person, on Facebook and on twitter. “Did you apply yet? I think we have a really good chance to win this”, he’d say. At his persistence I did apply for the Do Something Awards in 2011. To both our disappointment, nothing came to fruition.
On the 22nd day of May, in a tragic story we know all too well of a reckless, indiscriminate tornado that changed everyone’s life, Will did not survive. Since that day I’ve been more driven than ever to inspire people the way he did, reach every child in Joplin I didn’t know that night, and give the little ones of Joplin the tools they need to express, communicate, move and heal past the trauma they have faced. It’s been an indescribable year of pain, resilience and growth.
This Spring, the Do Something Awards application opened again, as it does annually. I avoided it. A few weeks before the application closed I was cleaning out my email inbox of its mess and madness and saw a subject heading “Will Norton replied to your tweet” I was so excited at seeing Will’s name in real time, when I realized the tweet was from over a year ago. My heart sank. I read on- I had posted something last spring about just submitting my Do Something application to which he said “Good luck you have a really really good shot!” and I remembered how hard he had pushed me to apply the previous year. Somehow, even after death, there he was, still pushing me to be better. So I applied.
In May I was announced as a semi-finalist and practically broke my desk jumping up and down for excitement. I kept thinking of him. It was so emotional when Jason Dundas of Vh1 told me I was a finalist for the Do Something Awards. I couldn’t wait to tell Will’s wonderful family. I wanted to take him so bad. He would have loved the whole red carpet experience and celebrities. I know that I woudn’t be in this position had it not been for Will and his persistence. I felt so honored to be carrying on his legacy in a way.
Will’s family, Sara, Trish and Mark I have grown to love. Each time I’m with them I’m fully aware of why Will was such an extraordinary person. Bits and pieces of him shine through each of them. Trish and Sara have become a vital part of Art Feeds programs in the past year, as Art Feeds educators with our youngest 3,4 and 5 year old artists. Trish with the same vivacious and friendly attitude she gave Will, brightens up the days of our little ones. Sara with the same sweet, quiet and calm inclusiveness she had to have taught Will, became a class favorite. All the little ones asking for “pretty Miss Sara”. I’m so blessed by Will and his family, now more than ever.
Two years ago on August 19th Will gave Art Feeds his Birthday. He told his fans not to give him presents but to instead give Art Feeds votes for a grant we were in the running for. I’m so honored to have Art Feeds as a part of his last birthday, a day most 18 year olds wouldn’t want to give away- that’s just who he was.
This year on what would have been Will’s 20th Birthday I will be in a place that he pushed to get me to- I will be in L.A for the filming of the Do Something Awards. When I realized these dates coincided I couldn’t stop shaking. This is the day where 1 of the 5 finalists, a group Art Feeds is honored to be a part of, will be announced as the winner of the Do Something Award and a $100,000 grant. A grant that will allow us to reach every child in Joplin and expand our programs nationwide. On August 19th 2012 Sara, Trish and Mark will join Art Feeds at the Do Something Awards, and we will be doing exactly what we should be doing on that day- celebrating Will’s amazing life, which is making a bigger impact than ever on all of us.
This is for you, Will. I wouldn’t be in this place without you, we all miss you so much. Thank you for showing me how to reach for the impossible and for always choosing joy.
Love Naively. Give Generously. Be Foolishly Compassionate.
Be persistent about the Do Something Awards by voting at www.artfeeds.org/dsawards