The Character Movement

The Ripple Effect

By Joe Cavanaugh, Founder and CEO

More than 20 years ago, I was leading a Youth Frontiers Wisdom Retreat for Kennedy High School in Bloomington, Minn. For me, it was a typical day at work. I met some great students. Along with the other YF staff that day, we led the 12th-graders through the retreat as they slowly left their comfort zones. They listened to our stories of overcoming obstacles, discussed their school’s challenges in small groups and, eventually, shared carefully chosen words of responsibility and commitment in front of their classmates at the end of the retreat.

Fast forward to this past February. I was leading a Youth Frontiers Leadership Conference in Minneapolis. We were hosting 20 different schools from around the community and helping 243 11th-grade student leaders create action plans to help make their schools better places.

When the conference ended, a teacher came up to me and introduced herself. Her name was Jen Waller and she told me that she was on Kennedy’s Wisdom Retreat decades ago. She said it was one of the best days of her high school experience. She’d even kept the puzzle piece souvenir from the retreat as a reminder that she is a crucial part of a bigger picture. Today, as an educator at Burnsville High School, Jen is an advocate of Youth Frontiers’ work and has dedicated her life to being a community-builder.

For me, personally, this reunion was a humbling reminder of the important lesson in Mother Teresa’s quote, “I alone cannot change the world, but I can cast a stone across the waters to create many ripples.” In life, we cast many stones that cause ripple effects. We cast stones with the actions we take. We cast stones with the words we use. We cast stones through the interactions we have with others and with the way we decide to spend our time. Sometimes we cast stones without even noticing and those ripples continue to expand for days, months or even years.

For Jen Waller, Youth Frontiers cast a stone for her decades ago, on the day of her Wisdom Retreat. That single event created a multitude of ripples that now influence the students she works with and the community she serves. Re-connecting with Jen was a reminder that we all play a role in crafting a person’s story through the stones we cast in their lives. We must remember how significant those stones can be and the powerful ability we possess to affect the lives of others in remarkable ways.

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