Well, the day has come. I’m on my way to Kenya, where I’ll be serving among people living in the sprawling urban slums of Nairobi. When I take a step back, I can’t believe this is happening! This was never my plan. This was never anything I imagined I would do. I was supposed to be running the Parks and Resorts Division of the Walt Disney Company! (Maybe not yet… But, y’know, in a couple more years…)
But, here I am. There are a number of things that had to happen exactly as they did in order for me to get here. This isn’t anything I could have ever orchestrated myself! At the same time, I’m both in awe and in disbelief of the path my life has taken to get me here.
I’ve met so many wonderful people along this journey, and it would be impossible for me to mention all of them. But, today, as I’m preparing to join a new team of people in Nairobi, I wanted to reflect back on and highlight some of the previous teams I’ve been a part of, and what they have meant to me along the way. (Note: Click any of the pictures below to see larger versions.)
From 2000 to 2007, I worked in the Guest Services Department at the Indianapolis Zoo. I started as a front line, seasonal employee and worked my way into various supervisory/management positions. My final (and most favorite) responsibility there was overseeing the Attractions Department. My claim to fame is that, from around 2002 to 2012, I was either the main narrator on the train ride, or at least had a cameo voiceover. Throughout all seven of my years at the zoo, I worked with the same core team of five people. I was the last one to join that team, and the first one to leave. But, I’ll always cherish the times we had together (both the good and the bad!). The picture to the left is of the five of us plus our department director and our VP, taken on my last day of work there.
I had the opportunity to do an internship with IAAPA (International Association of Amusement Parks and Attractions) for one week each during their annual conference and trade show in Orlando in 2003 and 2004. I had known for a while that I was a bit of a theme park nerd, and not many people ever fully understood my obsession with that industry. That is, until I met all of the other folks who I would be working with that week! We were called “Show Ambassadors,” and our job was to be the front line people, providing the best hospitality possible to some of the biggest players in the hospitality industry. I got to rub shoulders with some of the biggest and most well-known designers and executives in the industry! But, more than that, I got to know so many great people who were also serving as Show Ambassadors, and who also share the same passion for this industry as I do. Several of these folks are still among my closest friends to this day. I can’t imagine them NOT being a part of my life! I can’t seem to find a picture from 2003… The picture to the right is of the group from 2004.
From 2007 to 2012, I had the pleasure of serving on the Visitor Relations team at the “Biggest and Best” children’s museum in the world – The Children’s Museum of Indianapolis. Our team faced many challenges, including a total re-thinking of how the department functions from top to bottom. We were tasked with developing processes and procedures that would reinforce our efforts to provide quality and consistent levels of service throughout each guest’s experience. Pictured to the left is our team on an excursion to Walt Disney World where we were learning about industry best practices in our never-ending quest to be the best we could be. This is the team that I left-but-never-really-left until now. After leaving full-time employment, I returned as both a volunteer and as an occasional paid staff member to assist during busy periods as well as provide some frightful entertainment during the annual haunted house. Going to Kenya is like leaving them all over again!
In 2012, I made a major career change that would ultimately lead me to where I’m going today. Joining the Child Sponsorship team at CMF International, I had no idea what I had just gotten myself into. I jumped right into the middle of a program that was both thriving and floundering at the same time. The program was so successful and had grown so quickly, that everyone was always running to catch up. I had to make a lot of changes in a short amount of time that resulted in new processes, new responsibilities for folks, and new faces on the team. What we ended up with was a close-knit group of people who were all extremely dedicated to our common goal. While things got a lot better, we still had our “Red Alert” moments from time-to-time, and we would always come together to get through whatever the challenge was.
For four weeks this past February, I attended an intensive training at MTI (Mission Training International) out in Colorado. It’s hard to explain all that I experienced during those four weeks, but I can tell you that all of us attending the class formed a very close bond. We came from all over the United States, and we’re bound for countries all over the world! Few of us knew each other beforehand. But, during those four weeks, we laughed together and we cried together. We even laughed until we cried together. We learned together and from one another. We were stressed out together. We got sick together. We had deep conversations together. We ate bacon together – lots and lots of bacon! In short, many of us arrived as strangers. But, we left as family.
Now, I’m preparing for a new adventure. As I ponder what’s to come, I can’t help but think about my favorite British TV show: Doctor Who. Personally, my favourite is the 10th Doctor. (If you don’t know what that means, don’t worry. It’s… complicated. Very complicated.) Throughout the show, he has a phrase that he likes to say over and over again, and I feel like this phrase is appropriate for how I’m feeling right now. Have a look:
I’m heading to Kenya and will be joining a new team of people that I look forward to getting to know more and bonding with just as I have with these previous teams in the past. It’s always sad to say goodbye, and I don’t want to discount that. At the same time, I’m excited to get going in Kenya with a new team and new challenges ahead. It’s going to be hard. It’s going to be outside of my comfort zone. It’s going to be fun. It’s going to be scary. It’s going to be exciting, and it’s going to be an adventure!
And so, all I can really say is… Allons-y!
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