“The idea actually came to me in a dream and I have been working since then to make it a reality.” Kai, a 17 year old imaginator from Boulder has been developing a firearm that would require an authorized user’s fingerprint in order to fire the gun, a concept he began thinking about after the mass shooting at the Aurora movie theatre in 2012.
I’m sitting on a wall looking out over Galveston Bay, reflecting on the last five years of my life and the dream that I’ve been living.
In 2010 I returned to my hometown, taking up residency with my parents after the end of a ten year career in the motorcycle industry and having dissolved a reckless drinking habit that had been causing me ill effects.
That first December, I was searching for what was to come next in my life. And then I had a dream. The idea was to cheer up a few kids at Christmas, originally planning on putting together a dozen shoe boxes or so, brightly wrapped, with stocking stuffers in them. With the help of friends, it quickly manifested into a ‘free toy store’ in downtown Bend where I scheduled appointments with 153 families who needed a little extra love. During that month, I wrote down the names of 405 children who were shopped for, complimentary, by their parents.
The following year, friends would ask me if I was going to do it again. My response was always delivered with uncertainty, not sure if I would be in a similar place, able to give my time. I was feeling a pressing need to hold down a full time job to support myself.
The second year, there I was, once again decorating the donated space inside the St Clair Place building in downtown with green and red. I was creating, Elf Shoppe, continuing the mission. And that year I wrote down the names of over 1100 children who might have otherwise gone without the wonder and amazement, the gift, that so many other children experience on Christmas morning. I kept being encouraged.
Maggie, a first year recipient would reach out to me in the third year with a desire to open a store in Salem, which we did. And also by request, we opened another ‘free toy store’ in Redmond and one more La Pine. Keeping a tally, since our inception five years ago, we’ve written down the names of nearly 10,000 children that we’ve had the pleasure of partnering with.
I was watching a Ted Talk not long ago, a woman presenting on the topic of social entrepreneurs. She said that she has always been amazed when meeting founders of nonprofits who have a tremendous impact on their community with very limited monetary resources. I could humbly relate to her discovery.
Two years ago I was sitting in Jeff Eager’s office, having my first discussion with our former Mayor. At a time when I felt like throwing in the towel, he mentioned that my story was similar to that of other founders of successful nonprofits. He told me that there’s always one guy extremely passionate about the mission, volunteering their time, making every sacrifice possible…for five years. That’s been me.
Jeff introduced me to Chris Telfer at that same time. She’s our former State Senator who is also a CPA specializing in charitable organizations. I’ve consulted with her since on the administrative process and record keeping, two of my weaknesses that I desperately needed help with. What Jeff had said to me, and what I heard the woman via TedX say, rang true when Chris closed out our tax year, showing how we’d accomplished our mission last season with only thirty two hundred dollars. The reality of having distributed some 50,000 gifts is a testament to the outpouring of love by countless individuals who have been placing new-unwrapped gifts into the Operation Elf Boxes scattered throughout their communities.
Steve Stern is another friend of mine whose life here on earth is being effected by the symptoms of ALS, Lou Gehrig’s Disease. While it’s extremely challenging for him to speak a single word in his current condition, he mustered up these two, sharing them with me during a recent visit at his home in Bend. He said, “your purpose”, confirming for me that the path that I’m on in my life is divinely inspired, guided, and rooted in love. I left his side that day not knowing if we would ever share another visit together. But the words he offered me I will hold onto forever as I go forward in my life, fulfilling my purpose: creating a brighter Christmas for children.
I don’t know what else I would have done if it wasn’t for the dream I was given, the desire to be of service to others via Operation Elf Box. I believe the mission I’m on is responsible for saving my life, giving me something positive to work toward at a time when I was grasping for something to live for.
The interview that I watched on YouTube, where, Kai Kloepfer, the young dreamer and doer from Boulder Colorado, who’s mission is to try and save a life, closed with this, and I will too…
“Anyone can have a positive impact in the world if they’re willing to throw themselves into something. All you have to do is find something that you’re passionate about, put the time in, and put yourself out there. So, just start.” ~ Kai