The AT (Appalachian Trail) is a 2,100 mile footpath that connects 14 states from Maine to Georgia. The trail runs through privately owned land, farms, town, cities, hills and mountains. Without any hiking or camping experience, to decide to hike even a small portion of the trail is ambitious. When I decided in June on a 145 mile trek from Vermont through Connecticut to New York, it was no surprise the response I got back from most people was, “why would you do that?”, “Hmmm” I thought, “good question”. People that know me know that I didn’t grow up hiking or camping, but I had a burning desire to disconnect, yet reconnect with myself. I needed to hit the reset button, reflect, and decide on what my next move at BNT was going to be. Recently, I celebrated my 10 year anniversary with BNT on July 5. Growing with this amazing organization over these past 10 years has been the most rewarding, yet the most exhausting time of my life and as I looked toward my future with BNT. While hiking on the AT, I learned a lot of lessons that I associated with my work at BNT. Here are a few:
1. If the shoes don’t fit, buy new ones. Holy smokes, my feet were on fire from the first day I started my hike. Why? Because my boots were too small. The first three days were so painful; it hurt to strap up my boots and stand, let alone hike. Instead of giving up (although my inner voice was shouting STOP), I bought a new pair of boots (a larger size) and it made all the difference in the world. At BNT, it is never smooth sailing. I always fight that inner voice to STOP because everyday there are obstacles and challenges that threaten to derail our progress. However our determination is strong and we stay focused on the end result and get creative about solving problem. This has been the key to our success. We are always changing things up here at BNT and “buying new shoes” until the fit is just right to achieve the results we expect, not for us but for the people we serve.
2. Don’t sweat the small stuff. One day I woke up and planned to hike 17 miles and noticed that there was a thick fog at the top of Mount Greylock where I had stayed the night. I was discouraged and feeling anxious about setting out that day. I was worried I was not going to be able to see the markers noting the trail and that I would get lost in the wilderness. Much to my surprise, as I began the decline off the mountain, the fog started to lift. Within 15 minutes the fog was completely gone and I was successful in hiking my crazy 17 mile goal. It was amazing, nerve wrecking, beautiful, and scary all at the same time. Deciding to be in the woods is a decision to be vulnerable and let the universe simply take care of me. And it did. Similarly, at BNT we don’t get bogged down with the “small stuff”. Our focus is to serve as many people through our housing developments and homeownership education programming. Our clients are our customers and they matter most. When clients walk in through our doors they may be experiencing a little gray (fog) in their life and even feeling a little vulnerable. Asking for help is never easy but it’s the role we want to play, to provide a hand up to people that need it most. Sometimes we just have to believe and just take the first scary step forward and have faith that it will work out in the end. I did, and it got easier. I hope that BNT can be that place that people can go to and feel the same way.
3. Pace yourself. Each day on the AT started with the question, “to hike or not to hike?” And each day I hiked. In the end I fell short of my goal to hike 145 miles, I hiked 90. There were many reasons why I didn’t get there but frankly I missed the luxury of my “real” life and I missed my family so I cut the trip short. I have been back to the AT and will continue to do so until I hike the rest of the miles I intended to. Much like my work at BNT, we set out with stretch goals and often time have to take a step back, revisit our strategy and devise a new action plan. Plans are designed to change, and that’s okay. This approach to community building has led to our success in serving the families that need it most.
4. Expect the unexpected. I hitched my first ride after coming off the trail too exhausted to make it back to the hotel. I slid down (fell off) a rock and got hurt, but kept it moving. I dropped my last bottle of water too close to a cliff to go after it and still had 5 miles to go and boy, was it hot. Thirsty and tired and I still moved forward. I had no choice. I even ended up scaring a Moose, okay… it scared me. After realizing what I heard, I never moved so fast to get out of the woods. Other things scared me too, like the little itty bitty chipmunks that sounded like wild beasts in the leaves, especially when you’re alone in the woods. Most of the time it was me and the chipmunks out there on the AT. I spent my time running away from them and they did the same running away from me. I wasn’t prepared mentally to endure 9 days of hiking but I didn’t need to be. Each day I hiked, one step at a time, and mustering all the energy possible to “get through”. And in the end it was one of the most meaningful and amazing trips I have ever taken. Like my 90 mile journey on the AT, I didn’t have any idea what to expect when I started at BNT 10 years ago. How could I? Even if I did I would not have believed that over the past ten years, we would have developed 150 units of housing, created over 1,000 lead safe units, assisted more than 700 families achieve homeownership and helped 70 avoid foreclosure. Not bad!
As I reflect on the past 10 years at BNT, I recognize that many need to be applauded for their efforts in supporting BNT’s mission. There are too many people to name to give due credit to but I will mention my Board of Directors and the staff at BNT. And then there are my mentors, coaches, and consultants who support me to the best version of myself for BNT. And, of course, without the gas in our tanks (money) we could not have been successful so thank you to our funders, financiers, and other BNT fans/supporters. Thank you all for your constant help, support, and encouragement. Mad Love. BNT is the organization it is because of you.
Coming off the AT after 9 days was disorienting. Everyone and everything was moving so fast. I felt like I was moving in slow motion for weeks. Lol! I so much enjoyed hiking but I found it difficult to get back to the task at hand. But no worries, now, I’m back to normal moving 100 miles per hour and very much looking forward to the next ten years at BNT. Vroom, vroom!
Love me some Bridgeport and I look forward to the amazing, nerve wrecking, beautiful, and scary BNT journey that I am on to serve the families that deserve it most.