My Hero: Ray and 10,000 like him


“Building a school for orphans. Laying the foundation grades and putting up the greenhouses.” Ray VinZant, 12/29/2015

In February I celebrate my 4th year as the Executive Director of Spare Key. It has been a remarkable and profound journey for me.

An organization that was founded 18 years ago by Robb and Patsy Keech as a way to pay it forward and serve families with critically ill and seriously injured children in the hospital has had its own remarkable and profound journey.

From 1997 to 2011 Spare Key served 1,376 families. From 2012 to today we’ve served 1,540 families.

None of this happened because of the efforts of one person. It happened because of the efforts of thousands.

From a passionate and committed staff of four – to an outstanding Board of Directors – to donors and partners and others – Spare Key is the sum total of the good people who are committed to helping people they will never know, but whose gratitude is immeasurable.

It began with Robb and Patsy who, in the midst of the sorrow of the loss of their son, Derian, gathered together their hearts, friends and family and began Spare Key. Today, it remains the living legacy to their son who passed away at 2 ½ years of age and continues to support other parents who are seeking light in the darkness and hope when it appears there is none.

Spare Key’s story is not unique in Minnesota. And, that is one of the remarkable things about this great state I live in. I am fond of saying that Minnesota has as many non-profits helping people as it has lakes.

It’s a slight exaggeration in quantity, but certainly not in quality.

Today, in making another silly Facebook comment about the joy of my new snow blower, a friend of mine, Ray, commented about the weather in Rwanda.

When I asked him what he was doing in Rwanda he responded with this, Building a school for orphans. Laying the foundation grades and putting up the greenhouses.”

This is the same Ray who decided to make his 60th birthday celebration a fundraiser for Spare Key. The same Ray who volunteers in so many different ways simply because it is the right thing to do.

There’s a Ray everywhere in my life. Men and women who inspire me. Move me. Challenge me. Empower me.

Some of them are Executive Directors for other non-profits. Many serve as Board Members for non-profits. There are those leading companies seeking a way to conquer cancer, or heart disease or Alzheimer’s. Others are volunteers for a variety of causes and beliefs ranging from homelessness to racial equity to criminal justice reform.

Each of them gives back to the community they live in. The vast majority of them for no other reason than because they believe it is the right thing to do.

There are those who work in the non-profit world because they believe it is not just a job, but a vocation. A mission, if you will.

Tens of thousands of our friends, family and neighbors who work to ensure others will have food to eat, a warm place to sleep, someone to represent their interests before the law, stand up for their rights to be equal under the law and a host and multitude of reasons and causes we can appreciate, understand and so many others that we may not, cannot or never will.

It’s easy to forget all of this if one views the world around them through the prism of social media – cable television – talk radio – or for that matter, the 24/7/365 non-stop chatter that can make one believe the world is going to Hell in a hand basket.

It’s not. It is changing, that much is true. It is always changing.

What one generation thought was inviolate or sacred is not viewed in the same way as the next generation.

There are things that remain constant, however.

Human compassion for those we know – and those we don’t – has never gone out of style. How we give back, how we help and how we stand for what we believe may change – but at our core, humans want to be – human.

We want the world to be a better place – for ourselves – and for others.

The world we live in is not a bad place. There are bad people. And, there are bad people who can make the world we live in seem like it is a dark and threatening existence.

I am a believer in good versus evil. I believe in Heroes. I believe that good vanquishes evil and that Heroes defeat Villains.

Every single day in Minnesota, and throughout the world, there are heroes like Ray performing acts of goodness.

They do it because they believe that evil comes in many forms – a hungry stomach, a cold sidewalk, aching poverty, a racist remark, an inequitable society, a tyrannical government, an ideological terrorist and the list goes on.

I don’t make New Year’s Resolutions. Yet, for 2016 I am committed to recommitting myself to living up to the standards of those heroes I know – and those I don’t — who are engaged in powerful acts of goodness.

I dedicate my 2016 to them.

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