One year ago today I left Baltimore for Tacoma, Washington on my bicycle. I remember pedaling away and spending my first few days in those Pennsylvania mountains reflecting on all we had accomplished and wondering how the future would unfold for The 6th Branch. It was hard to let go of all the responsibilities I had always held so closely. There was enormous uncertainty surrounding Operation Oliver and the survival of the organization. Our board was stretched thin, we had no paid staff, and no money. Eight months before I left, I received this message through our website:
Date: September 17, 2011 – 7:05pm
Subject: Getting involved
Hi folks. My name is Dave Landymore and I’m a Marine veteran. I live in the city and attend UMBC full-time on the G.I. Bill. I just heard about your program and it seems like a great idea. I’d like some more information on how to get involved. Thanks.
I received messages like that all of the time and most were from people that never followed up. A few days later I met Dave at the Americana for a beer…or six beers…..or eight beers and some shots. Anyway, we had a good conversation and I could tell he was full of energy. Within weeks he was filling the role of project leader and volunteer manager. Around the same time the board was growing worried about my departure, knowing how difficult it would be to find someone who wanted a challenging full-time job that didn’t pay a dime. I kept telling them I would figure something out.
On another evening at the Americana (a pattern of behavior is developing here), I was listening to Dave tell somebody else about The 6th Branch and what we were doing in Oliver. I could feel how passionate he was becoming about it. So impulsively and without consulting anybody, I told Dave I wanted him to be the next Executive Director. He immediately said no and something to the effect of “I’m a better Platoon Sergeant than I am a Platoon Commander.”
I began telling the board that Dave should replace me. There were some who said that Dave hadn’t been around long enough and didn’t know the ins and outs, and there were some who said they weren’t familiar enough with Dave to be confident in his ability to lead. I asked them to trust me. Asking them to trust me hadn’t always worked out so well, so this time it took some arm twisting. Hell, I wasn’t totally sure either but I just had that gut feeling that this was the guy. Boy was I right – for once.
The questions of survivability and sustainability quickly faded as Dave implemented a project tempo that made the previous one look like we weren’t doing anything at all. There was project after project, event after event, new partner after new partner. There was now a free farm stand in Oliver and a new partnership with Gather Baltimore. There were new supporters in the business community including T Rowe Price, Under Armour, CareFirst, BGE, and Constellation Energy to name a few. We went from occasional high visibility service projects to daily efforts that began making a real impact. We went from throwing spaghetti at walls to developing plans and getting better organized. Then came official support and endorsement from Baltimore City. Then came the Bethel St. Playscape. Then came the Baltimore Lightning. I could go on, but it is safe to say that this past year has been our best by far – and it’s no coincidence.
Some people find it difficult to make time in their schedule to volunteer once or twice a month. Dave found an entire year and put in some overtime on top of that. Now, thanks to him, there are tiny seeds of change all over Oliver and within all of us who have the pleasure of working with him, and that impact is more far reaching than he likely realizes. He is, without a doubt, one of Baltimore’s best.
I guess Dave wasn’t bullshitting when he wrote “getting involved” in the subject line of that first message he sent – funny how things happen.