There comes a time when everyone experiences that tug to do something big, something wild and extraordinary. An opportunity to do something different, maybe something that leads you in a direction you hadn’t considered, or just an idea creeps up on you and that urge to leap sets in. My time came about two and half years ago when my eldest son had his heart broken just after his first year of college. He had just recently (literally the week prior) traveled across the county for an internship between semesters and no more than gets settled and -BOOM- here comes the heartbreak, breaking up with his girlfriend of three years. So upon hearing the news, this mom jumps in the car the next morning, points it north, and prepares for a very long journey across the United States.
I call him (hands-free) every few hours to check-in. I was worried sick; this was no normal heartbreak. I have raised too many teenagers (and have had my fair share of disastrous relationships) to quickly dismiss this big first for my firstborn. She had been ‘the one.’ He had bought the promise ring, they had made plans, and they were waiting to eventually start their life together after college, of course. As I proceeded into approximately the third hour of my drive, I started to question myself… Am I crazy for doing this? Should I be going? He is a young, mature, responsible man now…Should it be time for me to let go? Was this why I was driving? Was it because it might be my last chance to be grand and bold for this child of mine? Well, in the end, the answers didn’t matter — I kept driving.
In a desperate attempt to not appear as though I had been the one who was dumped and gone completely insane, I decided to use a little bit more of my remaining phone battery to call my sister, Tiffiny. Wow, was I in for a surprise! I get her on the phone, and I am telling her what I am doing (driving across the country, alone!) and she says, “Good, this gives me time to tell you about my ‘MASTER PLAN'!” My sister doesn’t come up with master plans, she simply makes a plan and has the uncanny ability to follow through. But this plan wasn’t an ordinary plan.
“So,” she said to me, “We have decided to sell everything we own and buy a fifth-wheel and live in it!” I simply laughed. Seriously. This is the most ridiculous thing that I have ever heard come out of her mouth.
Not because it was a stupid idea, or that I don’t applaud the action of thousands of people across the world who have decided downsize, but for the simple reason that my sister is the most materialistic person I have ever known. Well, perhaps, besides myself. Not materialistic in quite the Madonna sense for either of us, but we both have an attachment for things passed down through the family, like blankets made by our mother and grandmothers, plates and pictures, not to mention all of the little bits and pieces that make it through childhood. We both also have the distinct ability to return from otherwise benign errands with clothes and trinkets, and armloads of books. I don’t think either of us are in danger of appearing in a televised intervention, but each of us have accumulated a modest lifetime’s worth of stuff. The thought of my sister adopting this kind of minimalist approach within the reduced size of a roaming home was mind-boggling.
She went on to matter-of-factly explain the details of her plan that had full support of her husband and kids, and that I should expect this to happen in about the next year and a half. Her tone and the conviction in her voice pulled me away from my amusement, and I began to actually imagine her taking on this new role. Still thinking of my rugrat in the back of my newly-blown mind, I decided to add him to our conversation via conference call. I knew the last thing he wanted to do was sit and listen to his mother and aunt yammer on the phone, but this conversation might spark his curiosity a little, or at the least take his mind off things. I get him on the phone, and Tiff and I catch him up.
“Now, tell me how to survive and make money!” Tiff plead of the two of us. I brought up an old idea I had (really a wishful thinking plan) of traveling from location to location, residing about 3-6 months, and just doing this or that, finding those jobs in the communities that needed to be filled and follow the work wherever you wanted to be.
She didn’t bite on that idea, so I moved on. “Well, then start a blog. No wait… start a magazine!” I laughed. “You can start a magazine and share stories of you and the hubby volunteering in communities.” At this point, I started rolling with all the ideas that were racing through my little brain at nearly the same speed as my little car on the interstate.
Tiffiny and Daltyn each threw out ideas here and there, but really we all were just laughing. I was still choking on the idea of my big sister selling everything she owns! But then a funny thing started to happen. We, Daltyn and I, were starting to be convinced and buy into this Master Plan of Tiff’s. And the three of us were able to extend this idea into new shapes that none of us could do alone.
Then, it happened! As I am rambling away, excited for the possibilities that my sister might open up for herself and her family, I was boldly interrupted by the pair of them. They both, at the same time, announced that this is what I should be doing. And then it started again — the laughter, but only through my speakers. Over the course of a few hundred miles and several hours of battery life, which was only living off the charger plugged into the car, I had somehow created what a short time ago seemed to be a joke about my sister into an ambitious life-plan for myself.
Even though I had just hit the double-digit mark in terms of years in college (and still had some to go), I deeply felt that this was an idea that I needed to jump on immediately. It’s okay if you think that I’m more crazy than ambitious for going all in while simultaneously attending graduate school. But I only had the opportunity to be this ‘save the day mom’ because the next morning happened to be the first day of spring break. I didn’t leave thinking that I was going to change my life in the span of one road trip, but I had been feeling the weight of anxiety and fear growing as the end of my academic path grew closer. A little over ten years before to this car ride, I was in an accident while overseas in the military. A fall compressed the five lower vertebrae in my back and thoroughly damaged my tailbone in a couple places. I wasn’t in a war zone; I was in Korea. Specifically, I was in Korea training soldiers on how not to get hurt in the scramble of combat. Within the year I was no longer wearing a uniform, and had left my short-lived career feeling a bit useless.
But I tightened the bootstraps that I no longer wore and started college classes online. I also applied to have my college paid for, only to be rejected based on the idea that between my bodily injuries coupled with the onset of migraines, I was unemployable. At the time, I tried to prove them wrong. I came up with every scenario I could think of, only for it to fall flat. But I kept taking classes, and I completed my Bachelor's in General Studies because frankly I still hadn’t found a job I thought I could do. However, during my last semester of classes, I took a sociology course, and THAT has had a lasting impact on my life. The course was based on the study of culture, identity, and social class structures and the ways that those forces influenced a community, city, or even a nation. Hands down, it’s been the best class I’ve ever taken.
I hadn’t planned on continuing school when I started that course, so I hadn’t done any of the usual preparations that other graduate-bound students do. But after making a few calls, I ended up enrolling in the Community Development Graduation Certification program. And this is truly where it all began. I loved this program. I loved learning how to help others in so many ways that sprouted even more opportunities. I felt that I needed to know more than just the scope of the program, so I kept taking more and more classes and learning everything I could. This has accumulated to (as of next May) receiving my Masters in Public Affairs, an equivalent degree in Sociology (if only I would have technically enrolled in the program) with an emphasis on culture, social class, and identity studies; and five graduate certifications ranging from grantsmanship to non-profit organizations. Through all of my time taking classes, I wanted to do something, anything, that made a difference in people’s lives, although I still had no idea what that would be.
Until now. In this car, somewhere between the midwest and the east coast. As I sat behind the wheel of the car and thought about the real possibility of taking a leap and just seeing if this was something we could do, I honestly couldn’t say no. It was a good plan. Well, what the two of them made of it, anyway. Not to mention, I had Tiffiny and Daltyn both inspired as well.
We spent the rest of the drive laughing at ourselves for plotting a Master Plan by speaker phone and tried to hash out some of the details that would become the architecture of our mission. In the end, I agreed to review the idea and think about it, but only if they joined me. I was met with a resounding “YES!” all around.
Slowly, I started doing research and trying to figure out how we were going to do this, create a magazine. It wasn’t just writers, photographers, and employees we needed. It was how to apply the concepts that I love to help someone else. How do I create a scenario to truly help others? How do I inspire people to create real change in the world that actually allows them to see and feel the impact of that change? How do I employ others like me, who want to also feel like they are making a difference, but might also be disabled? And most importantly, how do we create a scenario that allows all of us to help those that are already helping others in communities we visit?
This didn’t happen overnight. It took a good deal of counseling, coaching, and a few paradigm shifts, to come up with the mechanisms that would turn this lofty idea into a functional and successful enterprise. We wanted to fully envelope ourselves in a community to find what new ideas were working underneath and to taste the flavors that made that one part of the world unique. We wanted to throw the spotlight on the people who are changing the world one small patch at a time, but we also wanted to bring extra support to enhance these causes while giving our readers and fans useful knowledge to strike out on their own. Ultimately we developed Immersion Connection into three sub-categories: Enhance, Elevate, and Empower.
This is it, the magazine! We created Enhance Magazine to use as our platform to share the information and stories about the communities we visit. When we visit a community, we want to highlight people or projects we find that create community enhancement and/or economic development. In addition, we want to feature the local businesses by making our advertising exclusive to that particular area. Simple, elegant, and to the point. By sharing these stories, we hope to give all of you at least one idea that you love, whether it be something a person has done, or a project that would work in your own community, or a place that creates a ‘feeling of home’ for you that you would like to see where you live. Lastly, there is our cares section, “Immersion Connection Cares.” This section highlights what we were able to do to assist in enhancing the communities we visit.
Elevate is a store we created to continue to support the economic status of the communities we visit. We do this by selling items on our store page that are a result of a connection we made within the community. It may be something as simple as buying products and reselling them on the site, to a more in-depth connection like selling our own homemade goat’s milk soap we learned to make on this trip using the milk we buy in Atchison. I also get to hire a few people to actually make the soap from my own community. This was a win-win for us all the way around.
This is another store on our site, but with a very different mission. Empower has been created to support those we meet who already contribute to the success of others. In this store you might see anything from a campaign t-shirt for a cause, or items made locally in the communities we have visited. The portion of these proceeds then go to a local charity or chosen cause. Giving back by connecting forward!
So, here we a few years later, and as your reading this intro, I am holding my breath. The two and a half years since the road-trip that set me on my new path has been a time of tectonic shifts as this dream gets closer to becoming reality. Ironically, I am the one with the minimalist lifestyle at the moment as I slowly build my new house in the town I grew up in. Sometimes things come full circle at the same time they are branching out in unexpected and ever-changing ways. My team and I sincerely hope you come to love our organization and especially our magazine as much as we do. So sit back, relax, and read a story that has the ability to create real change.
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