If Brandy and I could swing it, we’d give a Harrisonburg Action Figures™ award every month. Every week, even. Because the Burg just has that many awesome people going out of their way to improve life in our community. We’ve had an easy time compiling a list of worthy recipients; what’s been hard is deciding who’s next.
Ultimately we did choose; we hired an artist to make the one-of-a-kind trophy; we approached local businesses to donate prizes; we created an attractive certificate; we prepared a speech; we picked up balloons and party blowers and party hats; and we crashed a Thursday night board meeting at The Hub to surprise Brent Holsinger, founder of On the Road Collaborative!
On the Road Collaborative started (sort of) with a program Brent created called Beyond the Bell. It provided extra help and all kinds of enrichment programs to city kids after school for three years. But then the grant ran out and Brent had to put his thinking cap on. He didn’t want to discontinue the program and leave all those kids in the lurch. So he converted the whole thing to a non-profit which he named On the Road in tribute to the late Rita Pierson, a lifelong educator who believed “every kid needs a champion.” Indeed, and every kid deserves one, too. If you’ve ever had to do any kind of fundraising, you know what a roller coaster it is. I groan in agony every time my own kids come home with that Yankee Candle or designer wrapping paper catalog. Imagine that process times 1000. Asking people for money is hard. But Brent did what he had to do to save his program and continue to serve our city’s youth.
We marched into The Hub carrying balloons and tooting on party blowers! We handed out party hats to all the board members, who must’ve wondered who the heck we were, and I read a letter to Brent from all of us, thanking him for his courage, caring, compassion, and most of all, his refusal to give up. At the top I scrawled a “+2” and a smiley face in honor of Brent’s hero, Rita Pierson. Here’s the speech:
We see you. We see what you’ve been doing. We see the change you’re making. We see the role model you’re being. We see the example you’re setting. And today, we want to thank you for it.
Beyond the Bell was a beautiful initiative that helped a thousand kids get closer to their God-given potential. They performed, they created, they raised money, they cooked, they composed. But most of all, kids who maybe didn’t have a voice elsewhere were suddenly handed a megaphone. You listened.
When that bell rang for the last time, and with no grant to keep the program afloat, you adjusted course. There were more kids to serve; your work wasn’t done. The money was just another obstacle to be overcome. You scrimped and saved, you pitched and prayed, you maybe even begged and buttered up. You buckled down. And now look at what you have created!
On The Road. A program for the kids on the fringe. You understand that starting lines and finish lines aren’t the same for all kids. You understand that kids carry all sorts of problems that aren’t always their fault, and even if they are, you treat those kids with respect and help them get back on the road.
If life is a road and they’re on it, you’re steering. You’re steering because you understand that not everyone has a finely tuned luxury bike. Some bikes have bent spokes. Some have sketchy brakes. Some have a chain that won’t stay on. Heck, some are just lucky to have two wheels. So you sit up front, steering, traversing steep hills and shadowy valleys, doing the hard pedaling while your youngsters practice behind you. You teach them to slow down for curves, to watch out for potholes, train tracks, and miniscule gravel. You teach them to be focused and careful during storms, and to use their tools to fix up their breakdowns.
One day, all of your students will say, “Hey, can I drive?”
And you’ll ask, “Are you ready?”
And they’ll say, “I’ve been riding with you all this time. I think I know what to do.”
You’ll say, “Well, if you mess up, I’m right here.” And they’ll ride on down the road.
What’s down the road for you… is a day when your students come back as happy, fulfilled, socially conscious adults and thank you for what you’ve done for them. What’s down the road for you are scientists and doctors and teachers and community leaders whom you helped create. What’s down the road for you is not just a hope that they’ll be okay, but a knowledge that they’re thriving.
Brent, thank you for being a tether from the margin. Thank you for giving Harrisonburg students a way back to the circle to which we all want to belong. And for giving them the chance to be A PART of something, instead of standing APART. Thank you for being a Harrisonburg Action Figure™.
We were thrilled to hand him a gorgeous trophy made by our own Elwood Madison and sponsored by Jacktown, and an unbelievable bag of prizes from Beyond Restaurant and Lounge, Larkin Arts, Brothers Craft Brewing, and Lucas Roasting Company. A big ol’ community Thank You!
Harrisonburg has not become what it is by accident or by luck. It’s because of hard work. A desire to improve the community. A brilliant idea hatched between friends over a couple of beers that ultimately turns into action. This award celebrates behind-the-scenes heroes – people who have gone way, way beyond human limits to build something great for this town. People who have sacrificed in uncountable ways, who have lost sleep, time, money, their social lives, and possibly their minds to bring their idea to this side of reality, where all of us can enjoy it. These are Harrisonburg’s Action Figures. We’ll be memorializing all of them on this page of our web site. TODAY, Pure Eats is hosting Burgers With Benefits to support On the Road! You’re sure to see Brent there! When you see him, give him a hug or a high five. We can never repay all the hugs and high fives he’s given Harrisonburg kids.
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