Friday, December 6, 2013

Jessica & Brandon Hahn - Embracing and Living a Legacy

Brandon & Jessica
What happens when on December 1, the person you love most in the world is not there to share the month which lies ahead? 

Awakening to this heartache, Jessica Hahn’s mind drifted to the previous Christmas season. Her husband Brandon, who passed away just a few months prior, was a person who epitomized a pay-it-forward lifestyle and value system. Jessica announced in a Facebook post that she planned to do kind deeds for others throughout the month of December in honour of Brandon’s memory and admittedly, to help ease her own pain. 

Within minutes of posting her status update, several supportive comments further inspired Jessica. She decided to create a Facebook page where others could also participate in and share the pleasure and joy of their own actions. Little did Jessica know how quickly the page would evolve into an inspirational beacon for many. At last count, there were over 700 individuals on board with more joining daily.

I would learn after joining the page myself that Brandon routinely found ways to help people with no expectation of anything in return. In fact, his gestures were often ones where the recipient never knew the origin. That is how he liked it. The personal fulfillment of doing or giving was payment in and of itself. Although often times Brandon’s and Jessica’s caring and sharing actions were discreet and under the radar, sometimes, one simply cannot go unnoticed due to the visibility of the actions taken. Brandon regularly cut a neighbour’s lawn because it was his personal way of relaxing.  During winter-time, neighbour after neighbour could look out their window to find happy-go-lucky Brandon cleaning the snowfall from their driveways and sidewalks. Just because he could. He and Jessica also traded in two guitars towards the purchase of a new violin which was then donated to a Veteran at Parkwood Hospital in London, Ontario. Brandon had viewed an appeal on Kijiji and immediately went to work fulfilling a need. This is a smidgen of the many kind and unassuming gestures routinely undertaken.

One particularly poignant story that Jessica shared with me involved an annual rendezvous overseas. Quite impulsively, they decided to travel to Cuba in 2009 and would come to discover a world where people may not have had much yet graciously opened their hearts and homes to Jessica and Brandon during their travels. Returning again and again to Cuba, the couple would bring along and hand out little gifts; to see a young boy hold a small toy with the same incredulity someone else might feel in clutching a million dollars brought a smile to their faces.

Although Jessica has chosen to focus her attention on honouring Brandon’s memory and goodwill spirit, I asked her if this was a value they shared, and indeed it was … and continues to be!  Brandon and Jessica met when she was only 14, quickly becoming friends and then life-time partners. Jessica felt that she and Brandon complimented each other in terms of their outlook on life but none-the-less respected each other’s uniqueness, which ultimately added richness to their relationship. Upon interviewing Jessica, a simple comment she made really resonated with me: “I found we were better together.” I basically interpret that to mean that two good-hearted souls coming together helps create an even larger and lasting legacy. But now, Jessica must move forward alone, or is that in fact true?
Jessica feels this event page serves many purposes, not the least of which is honouring Brandon’s memory and warm heart. This experience is also helping her move forward on her personal journey, with Brandon in her heart instead of at her side. She has noticed that many people on the site, who themselves have faced or are facing struggles, are finding peace and joy in the little things people ‘choose’ to do for one another. They share their thanks, while also finding little or larger ways to pay it forward. Jessica also reflected upon the fact that some parents are allowing their children to choose a daily ‘pay it forward’ action, thereby encouraging our youngest generations to embrace the importance of helping ... simply for the sake of helping. In seeing all this evolve within the community and beyond, Jessica has developed a camaraderie with others and feels that Brandon remains an integral part of her life. And ultimately, she feels less alone.
Jessica’s Forward Momentum Wish List:
  • Jessica hopes that paying it forward is embraced as a lifestyle foundation, rather than being perceived only as an isolated event. 
  • She also hopes that individuals recognize the incredible personal gift received simply through the gesture of giving and caring, without an expectation of receiving something in return. She reminds everyone that giving of ourselves does not deplete us; it is a simple and rewarding way to enrich our lives on a day to day basis.
  • Jessica knows she cannot bring Brandon back but is determined he will never be forgotten! She wants his spirit of giving to live on in everyone.
  • Jessica is looking into the establishment of a foundation to support youth who cannot afford to play sports. As an avid football player, Brandon wanted children to be able to find joy in their particular sport of choice, regardless of their parent’s financial limitations. Jessica has already been in touch with one of Brandon’s football coaches in order to brainstorm her idea further.
Jessica is a ‘living legacy’ to her husband, and Brandon will live on, both as a result of his own actions, but also through the actions of others, including each of us.  Pay it forward, each and every day. 
Facebook:  31 Days of Paying it Forward 
Youtube:  Brandon and the Cake Caper

Do check out my other blog topics while on here!  I love writing about people and what inspires them.  I also discuss various career and employee development topics, usually with a dash of humour or a grain of salt!

Catherine Stewart-Mott; Forward Momentum Services

Tuesday, December 3, 2013

Paws-itively Speaking! Celebrating Positive Reinforcement

It is perhaps rare that a person has the opportunity to cross paths with a celebrity, but I am now in a position to stroke that off my personal bucket list! That said, this particular celebrity does not speak fluent English, so I relied on the assistance of her highly capable interpreter and manager. It is often said that one’s choice of a manager or agent is important to a celebrity’s success within the entertainment world. Although the individual wishes to remain anonymous, I cannot write this story without showcasing this 'backstage' person's talents, as she is the foundation upon which the celebrity in question developed her public image. 

Nana in New York
First of all, who exactly is this mysterious celebrity?Let me introduce you to Nana, an energetic and delightful border collie who has become quite a YouTube sensation. If you look up Nana Border Collie on the popular website (or click on the link below!), you will come upon an entertaining variety of tricks by Nana and many of her friends. Nana doesn’t simply perform tricks; along with a team of four-legged and two legged actors and actresses, she stars in several theme based storylines. My favourite? Home Alone with Nana and Kaiser. Kaiser is a beautiful Bengal cat who is equally impressive. 

Their manager (aka my interpreter) has been busy training pets since she was ten years old and has become so highly skilled that she garnered the attention of television personality David Letterman. Nana also starred in a television commercial this past summer. Nana has suggested several website links below, as she does not mind sharing centre stage and is in fact an amazing team member who works well with her fellow cast members.
Famous and Kaiser

But every story has a beginning; it took gentle persuasion on the part of Nana's manager to convince her parents that fur-balls could be fashionable within a household setting. Although a pooch was the initial preference, a feline friend would debut as the first four-legged member of their family. Imagine a child entering the realm of animal training with a cat as a debut subject. But that did not stop this naturally talented individual from dabbling in what would become a life-long passion. As time went on, other animals would join the family and become skilled tricksters and actors in their own right, rounding out an amazing cast of characters, including dogs, cats, ferrets and even rats. 

Fast forward to the present day, and our interpreter is an accomplished clicker trainer who uses positive reinforcement to train and reward her many protégés. Upon meeting her in person, I observed confidence and composure balanced with modesty and practicality. She is currently deep in studies for an exam to receive her Wildlife Custodian Authorization, which will provide a foundation for voluntarily educating the public on wildlife habits, lifestyles and behaviourisms, which she feels are often misunderstood and unnecessarily feared. Her primary career focus is to train domestic and exotic mammals for the film industry, specializing in Procyonids (members of the 'raccoon family' which includes raccoons, kinkajous, and coatimundis), as well as other small to medium-sized exotic mammals.
 When I asked our clicker trainer (aka Nana's best friend) what tips she might suggest to youth, she preferred to have Nana share her thoughts and experiences. So let’s see what our celebrity has to say:  

1.      Nana appreciates that her trainer and manager is able to recognize and nurture her natural passion for entertaining. Her trainer identifies and then focuses upon specific raw talents within each of the family members.  Nana emphasizes that you too should be inspired to embrace and follow your particular passions and talents.  
2.      Nana also admires that her trainer and manager does not expect her to ‘bite off more than she can chew’.  Nana and her fellow cast members are provided with ample opportunities to learn each trick until they develop confidence in that skill. You too might want to set incremental and achievable steps for yourself.  A good strategy may be to establish ‘SMART’ goals.
3.      Finally, Nana wants to remind everyone that you get a lot further in life by utilizing treats and kind words, as compared to a sharp voice, hand or newspaper.  In other words, her trainer is an advocate for positive reinforcement. Nana is grateful that she has such a wise and caring manager and would recommend that anyone in a supervisory role consider using the same philosophy. For that matter, Nana would like you to consider the value of positive reinforcement when interacting with everyone you meet, regardless of your position in life or at work!

I want to finish by saying how much I enjoyed writing this particular story, and that I was honoured to meet both Nana and her human family member.  Now to embark upon my next blog topic!

Nana's Recommended Links:

Cathy's Suggested Link:
SMART Goal Setting

Do check out my other blog topics while on here!  I love writing about people and what inspires them.  I also discuss various career and employee development topics, usually with a dash of humour or a grain of salt! I welcome you to join me, and to leave a comment!

Catherine Stewart-Mott; Forward Momentum Services