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A Labor of Love

I spent awhile thinking about how this should begin. Should I just start spilling out all of the ideas that are scattered like constellations throughout my Google Docs? Should I list my heros in the Social Entrepreneurship Hall of Fame (Mary Gordon, founder of Roots of Empathy, and Muhammad Yunus, in case you’re wondering) and fade into the ways in which I think my ideas could ultimately multiply and take off like theirs did? Should I just hit you with the mission statement of my nascent little startup, The Great Exchange? Let’s be honest; I’ve thought about that mission statement a lot, and I’d love to share it.

But I probably shouldn’t do any of those things. I think all organizations, causes, art projects and entrepreneurial endeavors begin with a narrative that’s a lot simpler than that. So here’s mine:

Hi. I’m Meg, and that’s my little sister Martha wearing the blue overalls. I’m a little older now, and so is she. Here are some things you can tell from this photograph: in many respects, we display the sisterly dynamic you would expect to encounter. We adore each other, and I’m fiercely protective of her. In fact, “protective” is an understatement; at many points throughout my life, Martha has shown me glimpses of what it must be like to have children, an encounter with thick and nearly tangible love combined with a selfless but frantic sense of anxiety. It’s a truly profound feeling–not happy or sad, but just big.

Here are some things the picture doesn’t reveal: a few months after this photograph, Martha will be in a hospital bed, head shaved, scar crawling across her scalp like one of those giant centipedes in the Amazon Rain Forest. For the next 17 years after that, she will encounter a system of special education programs and classes that vary wildly in quality. And today, she’ll be 20, and my Mom, Dad, older brother and I will be initiating a series of conversations about how to plan for her future. Martha grew up brain-damaged and cognitively disabled, and because of this, she will never be alone.

And because of this–well, this combined with a fiery passion for entrepreneurship, an aversion to having a boss, and a creative drive that is best funneled into building large projects and systems–I’m starting a nonprofit called The Great Exchange. So here, then, what I’ve been waiting for, the mission statement:

The Great Exchange promotes self-advocacy among intellectually disabled adults by setting up pathways for them to network with nonprofits around Austin. In exchange for team-based volunteer work at each nonprofit, the host site will provide a list of ways they plan on fostering inclusion in their workplace or community. 

I just felt a little thrill, after pasting that from my web site. So what makes me qualified to run a nonprofit when I’m only 26 but, moreover, when it seems that everyone and their brother is taking advantage of the troubled economy by starting up well-intentioned but barely functioning organizations and duplicating one another’s efforts in the sloppiest of fashions? Well, hopefully this blog will get to that someday, but I think my most important credential is this one:

I absolutely adore making mistakes.

I’m hoping to use this blog as a means of documenting these mistakes, the lessons I learn, the triumphs the Great Exchange experiences, and to make my thought process as transparent as possible as I carefully determine how to move forward. I hope anyone following this journey can use the ensuing ups and downs as a resource as they build their own projects and write their own love stories.

So without further delay, my love story.


2 responses »

  1. Wow, thank you so much! This process has been exhausting but I’m always completely re-energized by kind words like yours. And yes, please do put me in touch with anyone in Austin who might be interested! I’m still fairly new to the city (I moved here from Portland in September), so I’m thirsty for mentors, feedback, volunteers, and friends of all kinds.

  2. That’s a beautiful love story Meg!

    I wish you untold success with your venture, The Great Exchange.

    I’ll be talking with friends in Austin about they they might help!


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