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Life is a Gift

Life is a Gift

Karen Pittman

Monday, August 12, 2013

Life is a gift. We all know this. But there are times when the juxtaposition of events makes us pause to remember it. Saturday was one of those days. 

Late Friday, I heard the news that one of the Forum’s newest friends and board members, Bill Henningsgaard, died in an airplane accident with his son. Bill and Max were visiting colleges on the East Coast when the plane he was piloting crashed in East Haven, Conn.

I spent Saturday morning reading the local and national coverage and sharing the news with our staff and board. Bill had just attended his first Forum board meeting in June, and had quickly made his mark. Everyone – staff and board – commented on his intellect, passion and, in particular, his compassion.

Having just had him come into our lives, it feels selfish to say that we mourn his loss. But we do. We got a taste of the potential difference his keen insights and press for clarity and courage would have made to our work. 

With e-mails and calls completed on Saturday, I sat down with a cup of coffee to reflect. The subject line of an unread e-mail caught my eye: “Good News:  Ready We Stand.” I clicked on the video to hear 10 YouthBuild members in Troy, N.Y., recite their daily pledge to learning, work and service, and talk about the progress they are making to transform their lives and their communities. Good news indeed. 

Something made me return to the beginning of the clip. Scrolling across the screen, as the YouthBuild members climbed out of the van with their tools and hardhats, were the names of young people who, like Maxwell, had their lives cut short: Deion Austin, Moses Berberana, Shawn Borter, Natasha Cannon. Twenty names – a list long enough that it needed to be alphabetized. 

The young people in the video were much less privileged and prepared than was 17-year-old Maxwell, but I expect they are no less excited about the futures they can now taste and touch because of their YouthBuild family. We know nothing about the young people whose names scrolled by. We know their names only because their YouthBuild peers choose to remember them. 

We do know that Bill was driven by the belief that all young lives are precious and worthy of investment and celebration.  Bill had just begun to live out this passion through Eastside Pathways, the partnership he founded and led in Bellevue, Wash., to “actively support every child, step by step, from cradle to career.” 


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