Remember last week’s Wellness Wednesday message on Ubuntu…I am because we are. I love this idea, but what moves Ubuntu from an idea to an experienced reality? Ubuntu happens when gifts are shared…when your gift embraces my need.

For almost 20 years, our Top 20 team has frequently been inspired by teachers and educational leaders who have found incredible ways to help their students thrive and develop their potential. One of these special teachers is Lynne Jeske, the Work-Based Learning Coordinator at Irondale High School in New Brighton, Minnesota. Another way of describing Lynne is as an Ubuntu Coordinator. I asked Lynne to share a unique way she has made Ubuntu happen with her special education students.

“In the summer of 2008, I was preoccupied thinking about Soon Wai (pronounced ‘why’), an active student who was coming my way. As a student, I experienced a strong connection to my school community while in high school. I wanted Soon Wai and all my special education students to have the same experience. 

A way to make this happen came to me while attending a Top 20 Training session before the school year began. During the training, I heard phrases like Keep Your Day, Live Above the Line, and Confusion Rocks. I had a feeling that Top 20 could use buttons as a marketing tool for its phrases. My students could do this. I was clueless about button machines or the process of making buttons, but after researching, grant writing, and waiting patiently, the button machine finally arrived. After months of anticipation, we made some demo buttons and sent them off to Top 20. The wait wasn’t long before Paul called me back and the first button order for my students to work on was secured.

Over the past 12 years, hundreds of special education students have benefited by learning work readiness skills through this button making process and thousands of buttons have been handed out during Top 20 Training sessions all over the country. The connection with Top 20 has made me a better educator. Through buttons I was better able to engage all sorts of learners in meaningful ways. I have been able to reach some of the most at-risk students. Students with emotional and behavioral challenges became mentors to students with autism and cognitive delays. Not only did they mentor other students, they befriended and protected one another.

The connection to Top 20 Training built community for my students. Through the years   Top 20 team members have attended events my students have been part of. I am happy to report that 12 years later Soon Wai Wong has gone on to become an international artist who travels the world. Soon-Wai will have his art exhibited at the Minneapolis Institute of Art in December and the Minneapolis-St Paul International Airport in January.” 

Lynne’s gifts met Soon Wai’s need and the needs of her special education students. Her gift activated their gifts. Their gifts, shared through their button making and art, inspire countless others who attend Top 20 sessions and walk through the Minnesota Institute of Art and the Minneapolis-St. Paul airport. Because of our mutual connection and sharing of gifts, we are unique because of what we have made each other to be. Lynne, Soon Wai, and her other students are Ubuntu in action.

I have been inspired each time I visit Lynne’s class and watch how her students work together as a team. I leave her class believing that our government and society would be more effective if our politicians and citizenry observed Lynne’s class and operated the way her students do.

Let’s use Lynne and Soon Wai’s example to inspire ourselves to find new ways to build connections and flourish in what we do. Someone this week needs your gift.

Best wishes from our Top 20 team…Kevin Brennan, Willow Sweeney, and Tom Cody…who proudly wear and distribute the work of Soon Wai, the button guy.

Paul Bernabei, Director
Top 20 Training