Every September, IBM Tucson spends a Wednesday or Saturday to help out local non-profit charities. The event is orgnaized the the local United Way. My first one was packing boxes of food for the [Community Food Bank of Southern Arizona] on September 12, 2001, the day after the [tragic events in New York and Washington DC]. The mindless activity of putting a bottle, bag or can into one box after another helped us cope with the shock and awe that week.
So, it seemed fitting on the 10th anniversary of that event to go back to the Community Food Bank and help pack boxes of food. The facility received nearly $200,000 in donations in response to the [shooting of US Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords]. Her husband, astronaut Mark Kelly, suggested that dontaions go in part to the Tucson Community Food Bank, and with the money they were able to expand operations, dedicating a portion as the [Gabrielle Giffords Family Assistance Center] to bring together food handouts with the [Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program for food stamps, and the Women with Infant Children (WIC) program. One-stop assistance!
This year, nearly 500 Tucson IBMers to complete 22 projects at 17 nonprofit agencies. We were not alone, we were joined by volunteers from Bank of America, Texas Instruments, Tucson Medical Center, Geico Insurance, University of Arizona, Cox Cable TV, Desert Diamond Casinos, The Westin La Paloma Resort and Spa, the Arizona Lottery, Community Partnership of Southern Arizona (CPSA), Pizza Hut, Arizona Daily Star, 94.9 MixFM Radio, BizTucson, and News 4 Tucson (our local NBC affiliate).
In a bit of competition, our team, Team B, of 14 IBMers, competed against another team, Team A, of 20 people. Despite having fewer people, we were able to pack 746 boxes, representing 20,000 pounds of food, beating out Team A which only packed 18,000 pounds. (I have chosen not to identify anyone on Team A, no need to rub their noses in it. This was all for a good cause.)
Each box contained cereal, canned evaporated milk, canned vegetables and fruits, fruit juice, rice, and dry beans. My job on the assembly line was to put two half-gallon jugs of grape juice in the box and move it down the line.
What lessons can a team of people learn from an activity like this?
This was a great day for a good cause. The Community Food Bank qualifies for the Arizona [Working Poor Tax Credit] program. For every dollar the Community Food Bank receives, they can give 10 dollars of food to someone in need.
Special thanks to Greg Kishi for being our team leader for this event, and to Carol Tribble for taking these photographs.
Regardless of what you do, it is important to keep your finger on the pulse of what is going on around you. Let me recap the different jobs I have had within IBM:
It was in this same concept that US Representative Gabrielle ("Gabby") Giffords launched a series of "Congress on your Corner" meetings. These were open air townhall meetings that allowed her to present her priorities and plans for the future, and to get feedback from her constituents. Last Saturday, at one such event here in Tucson, she was shot in the head. The shooter then proceeded to shoot another 20 rounds at others before being tackled to the ground by two volunteers. He had another 70 bullets left, so it could have been much worse.
Congresswoman Gifford survived, but six died, including a US Federal Judge, a Pastor at a local church, and a 9-year-old girl, who ironically was born on Setpember 11, 2001, the date of another US tragedy. The girl had just been elected to her student council, and came out to learn what government was all about. Another dozen people were wounded.
The last time I saw Gabby in person was last October 2010, at a charity auction to benefit the local Boys and Girls Club of America. She was shaking hands with everyone. I wished her good luck on her re-election campaign, which she won a few weeks later by a slim margin of some 4,000 votes.
(People have asked me if I knew her in high school. Gabby and I both attended University High in Tucson, rated one of the top 25 high schools in the USA. She would have started her freshman year months after I graduated, so I don't remember ever crossing paths.)
Having spent much of my childhood in Central and South America, I have witnessed my fair share of gun violence, military coups, and government take-overs. Of course, in a democratic government, there is a more peaceful way to resolve your differences. In my younger days, I was a lobbyist for local and state government here in Arizona for various causes and issues. I have met and dealt with many politicians. While many people are still in shock and awe over Saturday's tragedy, consider the following:
While everyone immediately was quick to blame this tragedy on everyone from [Sarah Palin] to Mexican drug lords, it appears the shooter was merely a frustrated college student, acting alone, and is now in custody awaiting trial. He was attending Pima Community College and had his run-ins with the college police there as well. He had applied to join the US Army, but his application was rejected.
In the early 1990s, to help me prepare to become a public speaker, IBM loaned me out to teach at the local schools. I did four semesters of high school, and then taught a year of Computer Science 101 at Pima Community College. (Yes, I have all the teaching credentials to do this.) I found this experience to be great training for me to practice my speaking skills. However, I took a lot of abuse. I had disruptive students, angry students, frustrated students, and students that would threaten me if they did not pass the class. One by one, they would drop out of my class, leaving me with only nine students finishing my class with a passing grade.
Sadly, community colleges across the country carry a stigma that they are not as good as a full four-year University. The students I met at Pima Community College were here because they could not find decent employment with just a high school diploma, weren't smart enough or rich enough to attend the University of Arizona, and just didn't know what to do with their lives. Some who graduate manage to get jobs as technicians and medical assistants, while others use this as a stepping stone to transfer over to the University of Arizona or other specialized training program.
I am sure there is much more to learn about this incident. Politicians can expect to take some abuse for the decisions made, their actions or lack of action on various issues, but nobody deserves being shot. Congresswoman Giffords was just trying to put her finger on the pulse of her district, to understand the concerns of her constituents so that she could represent us properly in her third term in office. Instead, we have doctors at the University Medical Center keeping their finger on her pulse. So far, things are hopeful, she is able to respond to commands such as "wiggle your toes" or "hold up two fingers".
I wish her a quick recovery.