‘Empower’ is a word with a very specific, somewhat technical definition. To empower means to essentially grant someone or some entity the official authority, or legal power, to do something.
But that’s not how most people deploy that verb these days. They use it to describe how individuals and groups provide others with, well, whatever it takes to do something they couldn’t do before. To ‘empower’ means, generally speaking, to enable someone to overcome obstacles, reach higher, dream bigger, and accomplish more than they thought they could.
Again, that’s not the definition you’ll find in the dictionary. But it’s the one that works in most cases, and especially BusinessWest’s Difference Makers Class of 2018.
All of this year’s six honorees — both individuals and groups — are empowering others to essentially recalibrate and find a higher quality of life (See stories HERE). That’s a somewhat poetic way to knit these impressive stories together, but it works. Let’s take a closer look:
• Through his deep involvement in almost all things Springfield, Evan Plotkin is essentially empowering the City of Homes to reclaim some of its past glory and position itself for a better future as Millennials and Baby Boomers alike rediscover urban living. Plotkin likes to say his collective efforts are aimed at ‘activating’ facilities and attractions ranging from Court Square to the riverfront to the ill-fated Pynchon Park. And his success with projects like the annual Jazz & Roots Festival downtown are bringing people to Springfield and creating much-needed momentum.
• Girls Inc., a nonprofit that serves individuals in low-income neighborhoods, essentially empowers girls to rise above the many challenges they face and set the bar for their lives and careers much higher than they probably would otherwise. It does this through programming that introduces girls to careers in many realms, but especially the STEM fields, but also gives them the confidence to pursue them. As it says on the Girls Inc. letterhead, it inspires members to be strong, smart, and bold.
• Similarly, Crystal Senter-Brown, an author and educator, empowers many constituencies, but especially girls and women, to reach higher, overcome adversity, and give back to their community. She does this through children’s books, novels, a course she teaches at Bay Path University called “Leadership in Practice,” and talks to groups of women looking for direction and the inspiration to do what’s necessary to turn their lives around.
• The WillPower Foundation empowers individuals with different abilities and their families to find a higher quality life by filling gaps in the coverage of care for such individuals. A unique nonprofit, it provides grants rather than services, and many of these grants are for only a few hundred dollars. But what they lack in size they make up for in true meaning. Indeed, these grants fund equipment and forms of therapy (like horseback riding) that are not covered by insurance and thus often beyond the reach of families.
• Bob Bolduc, CEO of Pride Stores, empowers area nonprofits to do the important work they do by consistently supporting them not only with gifts of money, but, in many cases, with contributions of time, energy, and imagination. He received press coverage across the country and even around the world when he donated his share of that record lottery payout last summer to charities, but he’s been giving back quietly and effectively for decades now.
• As for Bob Charland, a.k.a. ‘the Bike Man’ and ‘the Bike Guy,’ he’s empowering young people to take a ride on a bicycle — in many cases, the first one they’ve ever owned. But that’s understating his impact on those he touches. Indeed, as he carries out his work in the community, he does so knowing that he has a terminal illness — and not knowing just how much time he has. His determination to make the very most of that time and find new ways to give back is inspiring and, yes, empowering others to do the same.
So there you have it, the Class of 2018, what you might call an ‘empowerful’ group of Difference Makers.