I read this morning about the death of Stella Young, a disability activist in Australia. In her brief years, Ms. Young managed to make a very large impact on disability policy, and changed a lot of people’s ideas about the limits of those with disabilities. She did this in between frequent surgeries for her painful condition.
Reading her story made me think of some other people who have single-handedly made an oversize positive impact. Here are a few exemplars:
1. Tony Kerwin, founder of Destiny Rescue (destinyrescue.org). Tony is an electrical contractor from Australia. One summer on vacation with his family, he decided that the sale of young children for sex had to stop. So, he went back to Australia, sold his business, sold his house, roped a few pals into his nutty scheme, and founded Destiny Rescue. Ten years on, DR has group homes in Cambodia, Thailand, Myanmar, the Philippines, Mozambique, and is working on opening operations in India and the Dominican Republic. To date, DR has rescued and housed over 1,000 children trapped in sex slavery.
2. Ann Jernberg & Phyllis Booth (ok, they’re two people, but Ann died before she got to do all she wanted to, and Phyllis picked up the baton). Ann Jernberg worked in Chicago Head Start in the 1960’s. Her job as interventionist was to help kids with behavior problems. By herself. In Chicago. Being a smart woman, Ann quickly realized one person could never meet the need of thousands of preschoolers, so she set about creating a program of interventions that other speech-language pathologists, social workers, teachers, and psychologists could use. She called it Theraplay and today, The Theraplay Institute (theraplay.org) trains helping professionals around the world in developmentally appropriate interventions for young children with behavior problems and trauma. Interestingly, science is catching up with Ann, finally, and explaining how Theraplay activates the parts of the brain related to human connection and healing.
3. Jean Baker Miller- Was a one-woman crusade against the patriarchy in psychiatric medicine in the 1960’s and 1970’s. Jean was a psychiatrist, and she knew that the dominate paradigm of individualism, separation, and “standing on your own two feet” was unnatural and isolating. Despite a deluge of sexism, she marched on, publishing “Towards a New Psychology of Women” in 1976. Eventually, her ideas evolved into Relational-Cultural Theory, which informs the practice of hundreds of therapists worldwide (jbmti.org).
4. Soulaf Abas- Is a one-woman mission to tell the children of Syria that the world hasn’t forgotten them. Soulaf is an MFA student and visual artist living in the US from Syria. When the civil war broke out, her family suffered. When she heard that the children in the camps in neighboring countries thought the world had forgotten them, she scratched up some grant money and went to work. She gathered dozens of drawings and letters from local children for the children in the camps. And then she flew back to the region, spent 10 weeks in the camps leading art-based activities for the kids, and gave them the letters and drawings from the kids here.
All of these people are bright and passionate, but none are wealthy, exceptionally well-connected or superhuman. And this is only a set of four out of who knows how many people with similar stories around the world. Imagination is the only limit.
In the comments, please share stories of others who have made an impact.