He’s on fire

He’s on fire

Q&A with do-gooder-er Dave Aldrich

There’s burning passion. And then there’s Dave Aldrich.

In 2008, Dave founded Grab The Torch, a summer program that is turning high school students from across the U.S. into the next generation of empathetic, ethical “servant leaders.”

Dave has an impressive lineup of speakers at his camps and seminars, including the likes of Boston College’s Paul Schervish, Suffolk University’s Margaret McKenna, and Mary McFadden and Larry Stifler, founders of the Stifler Family Foundation and Boston-based Health Management Resources (HMR).

To engage the kids, Dave coaches his speakers to share not just what they do but why. Interestingly, we wanted to learn the same thing from Dave—not just what sparked the idea for Grab The Torch, but what keeps his personal flame alight.

 


 

XOCIAL:
Why did you start Grab The Torch?
Dave:
With the advent of the Internet and social media, I saw kids losing sight of the importance of relationships and loyalty and ethics. I’ll be the first one to admit that as a non-academic, I didn’t know exactly what I was in for back then. It seemed almost an unattainable goal during the worst economy in history. But when you have John Griswold from the Commonfund Institute telling you, “You’re onto something huge. There will be rough times ahead but if you stay the course it’ll be a success,” and Alan Hassenfeld from Hassenfeld Family Foundation and Hasbro saying, “This isn’t a good idea, this is an extraordinary idea,” you don’t really have a choice but to keep going.
XOCIAL:
What’s your elevator pitch?
Dave:
If I’m explaining Grab the Torch to kids I tell them that each and every one of them holds a piece of the greater good puzzle. Pieces come in many sizes, shapes and colors and until they take action and put their piece of the puzzle in place, it’s never complete. If you’re passionate about a project or mission the probability of success is much greater.
XOCIAL:
What gets you out of bed in the morning?
Dave:
I spoke to a donor about that just yesterday. We close every program with a torch ceremony. There’s a real torch and the kids are in a giant circle around it. I start it off by telling them how my life has been changed that week because of them, which it always is, and then the camp director calls on each of the students to say something. We were at the foot of Mount Antero in Colorado two weeks ago and a girl enters the circle and tells us that for the first time in her life outside her family she feels loved. That’s what gets me out of bed. I’m not the kind of guy who’s out there saying let’s help the downtrodden. I’m out there saying it’s about self-worth, opportunity and empowerment.
XOCIAL:
How will you know you’re making a difference?
Dave:
I already know we are. It’s the combination of people that speak, the global diversity of the kids, and the energy and excitement and thirst for learning. It all goes into this pot and gets swished around for eight days and true magic comes out at the end. If the kids are safe and they have a positive experience, everything else is a dividend. I didn’t have a Dave Aldrich in my life. I suffer from severe dyslexia, a language-based learning disability. I was a total academic failure. If anyone had done this for me, my life would’ve been completely different—but maybe Grab the Torch wouldn’t be here today, so I’m happy with my life’s journey. When you get invited to become part of John Hancock’s non-profit partnership for the Boston Marathon, your work is being embraced by one of the best corporations in the world and that’s when you really know you’re making a difference.
XOCIAL:
Can you share a wow moment from your program?
Dave:
Thankfully, there have been literally thousands of ah-ha moments, mini-epiphanies and wow moments. I think that when someone like Luana Nissan from Catalysts for Good or Nan Peterson, winner of the Service-Learning Practitioner Leadership Award, arrives at our program and within an hour students are completely engaged in the curriculum or workshop, which results in “they changed my life this week” comments, that’s the wow for me. It has happened over and over with all our speakers and students since inception.
XOCIAL:
What motivates you to give back?
Dave:
If you give unconditionally—to give and not to get—your life will be enhanced. I’m an apple-pie-eating, flag-waving, all-American guy. I love and believe in our country. I’m also worried about the current direction of the USA. If I can do something positive for my country I’m going do it until I can’t do it anymore.
XOCIAL:
What was your biggest learning experience?
Dave:
Taking risks. Absolutely. This whole thing was risk. Launching another location in Colorado—followed by Maine—was a risk. Engaging with new schools in New York City was a risk. Connecting with the 4H in Texas was a risk. Going to Washington and pitching the veteran’s organization Blue Star Families was a risk. It’s just taking that next big step.
XOCIAL:
What’s your advice to others with a dream?
Dave:
My best advice is to bring as many strategic partners and as much talent to the table as possible. Never step on the fingers of anyone while you’re climbing the ladder of success. Always leave your ego at the door. And let your passions drive your success.
XOCIAL:
Is there another organization you’d like to give a shout-out to?
Dave:
Absolutely. I’m huge into Paul Newman’s The Hole in the Wall Gang Camp. I always wanted to do a summer program and I remember thinking when I started Grab the Torch in 2008 that if Newman could do it as well as he did with sick children I could do something just as good through academics. Mr. Newman was very much an inspiration to me, as well as Jimmy Canton, who is CEO of Hole in the Wall Gang Camp, Founding Board Member Ray Lamontagne and Bob Forrester from Newman’s Own Foundation. I remember them saying, “Don’t ever let your work be about you, it’s all about the kids. When that changes, you’ve gone off course.” I really took that to heart.

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