|Posted on March 4, 2023 at 3:50 PM||comments ()|
I started writing Muddy Boots in 2013, shortly after I became executive director of Episcopal Community Services in Philadelphia. I wanted to write about the issues of poverty, my experience and lessons running the agency, and my thoughts on leadership, which I get to talk about occasionally. What started as a small following now has some 5000 readers and followers on social media. Ten years later, there have been some 190 articles. Some are published in magazines like Inc., some have become chapters in books like People Economics, and some have become Op-Eds in the Inquirer or Business Journal. All have received comments, some agreeing, some not, but all raised an issue or experience and asked people to think.
In October of this year, I will retire from ECS. It has been the privilege of a lifetime to serve my church and the City of Philadelphia, addressing the challenges of poverty. I have worked with exceptional people on my staff, our partners, and our board. More important, I have met some of the most resilient people I know who are ECS participants and their families.
What I have learned and the essence of Muddy boots is that you go into the field and ask two questions. How are we doing? What can we do better? You then lead your team to respond to the answers. This is how you deliver impact and drive system change. We learned at ECS that the sustainable way out of poverty is a job at or above a living wage with benefits and assets in the bank. That is achieved when one has access to opportunity and the environment to act on that opportunity. That goal is the essence of our program work, partnerships, and advocacy. Our model is to ask, design, do, measure, and tune. Then repeat.
I write Muddy Boots not only as a call to action but as a call with a plan and focus. I have strong views on the value of talent and how that drives the best results and impacts. I have strong opinions on speaking truth to power as access to opportunity is not a given in our country, and the issues of poverty, race, and equality will consume us as a society if we do not deal with it as a society. In the same light, I look to our environment and see a like call to action, but on a world stage. Will we put Grandchildren over greed?
What I have learned in all of this is how hard change is to create and sustain. If circumstances allow it, it is too easy to kick the can down the road. Real change, real impact, starts with a look in the mirror. What can I do? What can you do? History will look back and answer that question for all of us. You can talk, or you can act. One individual at a time can grow to be a movement.
Answer for yourself the Muddy boots questions.
How are we doing?
What can we do better?
Answer and act. Find like-minded individuals and organizations.
I will keep writing. I may be laying down the day job but not the mission.
Dave Griffith is the Executive Director of Episcopal Community Services and the Chairperson of the Academy of Natural Sciences of Drexel University.
|Posted on November 29, 2022 at 12:05 AM||comments ()|
We are in the season of Advent, a four-week time of waiting for the light of the Star of Bethlehem to announce the good news of the birth of Jesus. A light that continues to shine brightly, even in the face of so much darkness across the land.
In my tradition, we are asked to be Advent people. As I reflect on that challenge, I ask myself what it means to be a people of the light.
It would be easy to be overwhelmed by the darkness of poverty, of violence in all its forms, of environmental destruction, authoritarianism, racism, and unbridled greed. Depending on one’s background and resources, the darkness is often seen as someone else’s problem or ignored altogether as walls of privilege, circumstances, and greed give false security from the darkness.
In this season of Advent, we know there is a different option. To face the darkness and bring light into a world with courage, capacity, and will. To paraphrase Dr. King, darkness breeds when good men and women remain silent. It is time to first hold the line, to say enough, and them move with one voice to not only call for change, but to create change.
The movement comes when each of us owns the change and acts accordingly. Poverty ends with a living wage job and access to the opportunity of such work and the ability to build assets for all people. Help create such jobs. The environment heals when we change habits with how we use and produce energy, what products we buy, how we grow our food, and we bring such change across the globe, one individual and one community at a time. Authoritarianism falls in the face of free and fair elections and when elected officials and the judiciary put Grandchildren over greed. Racism and discrimination fade when people learn we are not different on what matters, and we are stronger together. Will we live our baptismal covenant or say the words without living them? It says every human being, not just some.
Darkness will consume us as a society if we do not deal with it as a society. In the face of no alternatives, people turn to violence in all its forms, both hard and soft. It is time to create alternatives. As we head into this season of Advent, waiting for the light, let us each consider the power of the light and not only wait for it on Christmas Eve but commit to creating it every day.
“It is better to light a candle than to curse the darkness” or accept it.
Peace in the season of Peace, Hope is this season of Hope, Joy in this season of Joy.
David Griffith is the Executive Director and Head Coach of Episcopal Community Services of Philadelphia. www.ecsphilly.org
|Posted on November 12, 2022 at 4:20 PM||comments ()|
The following letter went to the ECS Community today.
Thank you for being a supporter of Episcopal Community Services. The work of ECS to challenge poverty, to advocate for a world where opportunity is available to all, and to do so on the bedrock values of justice, dignity, community, and impact is work I have been honored to do for the last ten years. The team at ECS, both staff and board, are some of the most professional and dedicated individuals I have worked with in my 47-year career.
Ecclesiastes tells us, "for everything there is a season and a time for every purpose under heaven." I write to you today to let you know that October 31, 2023, will be my last official day with ECS. It is time for new leadership to take the agency and our work together to a new level. Working with the board, a search is underway for a new Executive Director, and by starting now, there is ample time to conduct a search that will bring an outstanding individual to the agency. Our plan is for me to work with our new Executive Director to make all of the introductions and have a smooth transition.
Poverty will consume us as a society if we don't challenge it with every resource to focus on transformational, data-driven solutions. The individuals we serve deserve our full measure. I am proud that our work at ECS is leading the sector. I will continue to support the agency with our faith’s traditional gifts of time, talent and treasure, and I hope you will continue to do so as well.
Partnering with the good people and supporters of ECS is a privilege. To answer the call to service and live our baptismal covenant with my brothers and sisters is and has been an extraordinary experience. I thank you, and please know that your support and generosity have inspired and moved me. So, while I may be leaving ECS day to day, I will not be retiring from its mission.
I will be forever grateful.
David E. Griffith
Executive Director and Head Coach
Episcopal Community Services
|Posted on June 6, 2022 at 4:15 PM||comments ()|
I have not posted for a while.
I suspect because the issues in front of all of us have plenty of press.
What strikes me on the sixth day of June is how divided we are as a people, both here and across the globe. Not exactly a news flash. But some thoughts.
There is a reason the military oath of office is to the Constitution of the United States and not an individual. There is a reason the founder’s crafted three branches of government. There is a reason they provided for an amendment process and the rule of law. They recognized we were imperfect as individuals, but understood the checks and balances backed by the right to vote of the citizens of the United States, a group that has evolved to include many more than at the time of the founding, would be able to govern from the middle and while not pleasing everyone would offer a process of debate and discussion with a solution evolved from compromise. That concept has been tested many time, but over the course of our history has provided opportunity and direction on many issues. I am reminded of the quote by Churchill that “Indeed it has been said that democracy is the worst form of Government except for all those other forms that have been tried from time to time.…”
It has been my experience that when you sit and walk in another’s footsteps and find common ground, differences tend to fade and solutions emerge that on balance work for both parties and you keep moving forward. My observation and of many others is that that practice is being replaced with confrontation, authoritarianism, and an unwillingness to find common ground with deadly consequences. Time is not our friend here. For example, guns, the climate, medical coverage, access to opportunity, choice, gender and racial equity, the right to vote, are all issues that left unaddressed will bring the nation to a boil and perhaps cross a tipping point if we have not already. We lived in Newtown, I would argue we have already.
Today is D-day. I point that out as we had a common enemy, thousands if not millions made sacrifices to meet the challenge and democracy prevailed, imperfect as it is.
Perhaps we need the same sense of urgency. Leadership matters, but so does the will of the people. Time to respect both and recognize that we are many people and we need each other to meet the challenges ahead. We will never be one America, but let us recognize that fact as our great strength if we can find our middle ground. Take a breath and let us find that common middle ground. What we are doing now does not work long term. Just look at the news.
Grandchildren over greed, if for no other reason.
|Posted on March 6, 2022 at 4:30 PM||comments ()|
If nothing else, the events in Ukraine remind us, and I quote, that "Freedom is not free."
Historically, the cost has been one of vigilance and, when necessary, sacrifice. The battle for freedom has many forms and scales, from epic battles etched in a nation's ethos to the individual act of courage as simple as seeking equality in where one sits on the bus. If one looks at the arc of history, the battle has always been with us and scales both large and small.
Bruce Springsteen, in his classic song "The Ghost of Tom Joad" based on the Steinbeck character of the same name, hauntingly writes:
Shelter line stretching around the corner
Welcome to the new world order
Families sleeping in the cars in the southwest
No home, no job, no peace, no rest ……
Now Tom said, "Mom, wherever there's a cop beating a guy
Wherever a hungry newborn baby cries
Where there's a fight against the blood and hatred in the air
Look for me, Mom, I'll be there
Wherever somebody's fighting for a place to stand
Or a decent job or a helping hand
Wherever somebody's struggling to be free
Look in their eyes, Ma, and you'll see me"
Well the highway is alive tonight
But nobody's kidding nobody about where it goes
I'm sitting down here in the campfire light
With the ghost of old Tom Joad
As millions flee an advancing army in the Ukraine and countrymen and women stand to face that army or as individuals in the grips of poverty battle the lack of opportunity and discrimination in our own cities, one has to acknowledge where the "highway" leads. Freedom is not free.
Freedom on a national or individual scale, be it on the plains of Ukraine or the street of Philadelphia demand a similar response. There is "no home, no job, no peace, and no rest" without freedom.
It is a response that comes at a cost, but more importantly, it acknowledges that a free and just society requires individual and collective investment, commitment, sacrifice, and vigilance. That we must recognize that our self-interest starts with our neighbors, all our neighbors, be they in Philadelphia, Moscow, Kyiv, or thousand other towns around the world.
Freedom is about access to opportunity, equality, a vote in the process of governance, and justice for all of us, not just a few. It is a universal challenge.
We honor the men and women of our armed services who defend the constitution. But the clarion call of freedom requires that "whenever somebody is struggling to be free," we all respond.
Freedom is not free. And the alternative comes at an unacceptable cost and consequence, but know it will come.
So when are we going to pay up?
|Posted on February 3, 2022 at 3:30 PM||comments ()|
The principle of Muddy Boots is straightforward. You put on your boots, go into the world, ask questions, listen, learn, and act on that knowledge. The asking is easy. It is listening that is hard. So too is the acting on the knowledge part. That thought is brought into focus from a quote from Thomas Edison I recently reread.
“If we did the things we are capable of, we would astound ourselves.” - Thomas Edison
Hold that thought and do a little bit of self-reflection.
How many times have you gone into an effort and doubted your ability to pull it off? As you look back and are honest with yourself, you have some examples. In my own experience and observations as a manager over 40 plus years, I have seen individuals exceed their own expectations time and time again.
The opportunity is how we inspire the leap, the stretch, to make an attempt and discount the fear of failure. In there lies the art of management both of ourselves and the individuals we lead.
If you create a safe space, support risk, challenge getting out of your comfort zone, your team will not only astound themselves, they will delight your customers and stakeholders. Do not miss the opportunity that even in falling short is the opportunity to learn and grow as scar tissue from such an event is often the best teacher and sets the stage for future success.
It is also the opportunity to coach. To be clear, coaching is not telling an individual what to do. It is often the questions you ask, testing the data, understanding the why of an approach, and the support and space to try. To be clear, there is a place and time to say no, but use that as a coaching moment by explaining the why.
History tells us that performance breakthroughs come from pushing the limits and often doing the uncomfortable. As I have said here, doing the uncomfortable is where I have learned the most. It is rarely fatal—granted, there are many ways to improve the odds of success, like collaboration, being open to a range of thoughts and experiences, data, pilots, etc.. All that, but in the end, you still need to take the leap: both yourself and your team.
As we come out of Covid and take on all of the challenges we face, we would do well to listen to Edison’s advice. We are capable of more in so many places and opportunities. Not just ourselves, but the people we lead and the customers we serve.
Time to astound ourselves.
|Posted on December 2, 2021 at 10:00 PM||comments ()|
We are in the season of Advent. Advent from the Latin, "adventus," means "coming," and during this season, Christians prepare for Jesus' coming. The four Sundays preceding Christmas are recognized for four virtues. The candles on the Advent wreath symbolize hope, love, joy, and peace.
As I get ready for my 9th Christmas working at ECS, I find the season of Advent a time of contrasts and reflections.
How do we experience hope, love, joy, and peace in this time and place? Are we prepared to acknowledge that our experiences are significantly different for many? Are we ready to realize why? Are we prepared to level the playing field in a meaningful and sustainable way? Are we prepared to create equal access to opportunity for all of us?
If nothing else, what I have learned in my nine years at ECS is that individuals experiencing poverty are some of the most resilient people I know. We have learned that given access to opportunity, they can overcome circumstances that would break many of us. Such access is at the heart of our work and advocacy at ECS, and we see it working every day.
If we are to be indeed Advent people, where we wish the blessings of hope, love, joy, and peace to our family, friends, and neighbors, we need to include all of us.
We are a diverse and divided nation this Advent season. We are on the brink in so many ways, and poverty is but one marker of the divide.
So we have a choice and a challenge. Can we make it real through our actions, deeds, investments, the gift of hope, love, joy, and peace for all of us, not just some?
Can we be Advent people year-round?
|Posted on October 10, 2021 at 6:55 PM||comments ()|
“Forum: a place, meeting, or medium where ideas and views on a particular issue can be exchanged.”
On this October 18th ECS will gather for the 8th time its annual Forum for Justice and Opportunity. Once again, we focus on the issues that impact the individuals we serve and explore and recommend solutions that drive transformation.
ECS, in its 151 year, has always run to the fire. Four years ago, we looked back on our history and drew inspiration to make a bet based on a simple observation. As we looked at the poverty landscape in Philadelphia and beyond, we outlined several conclusions. First, most of the work done in the social services sector maintains individuals. All be it valuable and necessary work given the statistic that 15% of Americans, 28% in Philadelphia, live at or below the poverty line, way more if you look at a living wage. Second, to break the cycle of intergenerational Poverty and move beyond maintenance, transformation to the work we did has to take place. We created a strategy in partnership with our board in several areas.
First, we searched for a better way to case manage and thus create transformational impacts for our participants. Working with Empath in Boston, we implemented a brain science-based methodology based on the notion that Poverty is a root cause of deep crises, which severely hampers cognitive function and an individual’s problem-solving capacity. By setting goals, coaching, and being in a relationship with our participants, and turning goal achievement into a reality, we can start the journey to economic mobility and, in time, break the cycle. The data shows that with each goal achieved, the level of crisis lowers, and in time, a participant can make long-lasting change reality on their own. We added a savings match to help build assets and set new goals so a participant can meet goals in housing, wellness, financial skills, education, and employment—each element with dedicated programs or specialists. Our work looks not to maintain the status quo but to support and create sustained transformation. The data suggests we are on the right path. Both the coaching methodology and our dedicated transformation programs MindSet and Rise are up and running. Our challenge post-pandemic will be the grow the numbers served and continue to respond to participants needs in new and place based ways.
Second, in our Out of School time programs, in addition to a strong STEAM core curriculum, we added a solid social and emotional focus for an age-appropriate coaching model, and again the impacts have been significant. We also grew the program to over 700 pre-pandemic students.
Third, we invested in a strong infrastructure to support our program teams. We created a learning and evaluation group to provide the data necessary to be a learning organization. We built capacity in our IT, HR, Advancement, Marketing, and Finance functions. In our current plan refresh, we are adding a recruiting process and creating a research and development capacity to monitor and rapidly improve our program offering as data and conditions change.
Fourth, we seek out partnerships with other agencies that share our values and complement our offerings to our participants. Some examples are behavioral health, Philabundance with our food pantry, Shift Capital, and wellness programs with several partners. These efforts will be significantly enhanced with the shift at St Barnabas from a shelter to a community resource center where we can partner with the local West Philadelphia community and be in an everyday relationship. We note that we can serve more individuals than we could as a shelter by adding significantly to our Rapid Rehousing units in partnership with OSH.
Fifth, we looked at our programs, our partnership and recognized that while significantly impacting our participants, we could drive a more significant impact by providing thought leadership through the Forum and through growing our advocacy efforts. Our goal is first to educate our stakeholders on the issues of Poverty and second to call for and invite our stakeholders to advocate for positive changes to public policy that directly impacts our Philadelphia participants. Issues like racial equity, a living wage, and cliff benefits are three examples.
We invite you to attend the Forum starting October 18th at noon and running at noon for the balance of the week. We begin with a keynote from Charles Blow of the New York Times, who will bring his unique perspective and start a critical discussion. Register at www.ecsphilly.org/forum.
Our mission is to challenge Poverty, and our vision is a world where opportunity is available to all. All that we do is shaped by our values of Justice, Dignity, Community, and most importantly, Impact.
If we are to thrive as a nation long-term, Poverty needs to be addressed and the cycle broken. It is one of the clarion calls of our times. Join the movement and answer the call to service. Imagine an America where 15% of the population currently living in Poverty is working at a living wage and off the social safety net? The work we do imagins such a time, such an impact, and such a transformation.
The work we do is a team sport.
We need you on our team.
So do the people we serve.
See you at the Forum.
|Posted on August 21, 2021 at 10:40 AM||comments ()|
It is early Saturday morning. I am sitting on the couch in my study, my laptop on my lap, and the dog asleep next to me. I have hit a wall, and so have many of the people I work with, and what I note is that wall is vastly bigger and taller for the people we serve at my agency in Philadelphia.
I have been through tough times before, and the lesson is always you come through, and the sun comes up on another day. Different than the one before, but the light and the warmth return. I reflect that each time I have learned, grown, acquired new scar tissue, and can move on. I have grown as a leader, and my biggest takeaway is what we all know as the "arena" lesson.
It comes from Teddy Roosevelt's famous quote, now again popular with the current class of coaches and leadership consultants. You have seen it in Muddy Boots on other occasions.
"It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat."
The credit belongs to the "person" in the arena. Ponder that thought as we hit our current walls brought on by pandemics, climate change, political culture wars, racial inequity, corruption, and greed. One can face the wall and slip into the darkness of the cold and timid souls of the sideline, or one can get into the arena and fight the good fight, whatever worthy cause that may be for you.
Leadership only happens in the arena. Magic happens when you are there with your team and focused on them and the mission. In times such as these, the danger is to sit on the sideline and rant on an internet chat site or, worse, do nothing. Remember, coasting is a downhill event.
We need to embrace being in the arena, where and whatever the arena is for you, and get back in the game. No one wants to be a cold and timid soul.
So, recharge, reload, put on your spikes, and get back to work. Vaccinated and with your mask, as that's what it takes right now. We have too much to do and it does not happen on the sidelines.
So, recharge, reload, put on your spikes, and get back to work. Vaccinated and with your mask, as that's what it takes right now. We have too much to do and it does not happen on the sidelines.
To paraphrase Jack Nicholson, “You need me in that Arena!”
Yes we do. All of us.
|Posted on June 27, 2021 at 8:10 PM||comments ()|
I spent a late afternoon in the pool with my grandson. It is June, and it is hot. However, the water is still cool, and the contrast to the humid and sticky air is delightful. He is learning to swim, and while he uses a noodle to float, it is way more fun to use it to redirect the return jets and shoot water at his Grandfather. So we take a break and, sitting on the pool steps, half in and half out, have a Popsicle. We debate which is better, ice cream or frozen Popsicle ice. He has strong opinions and suggests we ought to test both. Clearly, he has a future in sales.
I am blessed to be able to spend such time with him. It is not lost on me the contrast of his experience with that of other children around the world. And more specifically, with the children we serve in Philadelphia at ECS, where I now work.
If you follow Muddy Boots, you will know I often ask the question, actually more of a challenge, will we put grandchildren ahead of greed? This month an infrastructure bill will move forward in Washington. Already passed in multiple legislations are laws to address the Covid crisis and flowing funding to families. But much remains to answer the question will we put all our grandchildren ahead of greed.
What of climate change? What of education reform and funding? What of job training for the new economy? What of job creation at a living wage that ends the dependence of the social safety net with all its challenges and gaps? What support do we give to the pillars of economic mobility; Well-Being, Financial Management, Education and Training, and Employment and Career?
I suspect you could ask any parent in any country the question, and they would choose children and grandchildren. But, unfortunately, the clock is ticking, and time is not on our side. Climate, social unrest, inequity, greed gather momentum with consequence. Old problems now demand new answers and new approaches. The reality is the status quo is not an option. The result of doing nothing, and letting greed be the guide, is a generation or two from now, a fatal strategy.
We owe it to all our grandchildren to demand and drive different answers. Leadership matters, but it starts with our vision, our voice and our vote.
Grandchildren over greed?
It is time to not only make the call. it is time to answer it.