Mike and I “birthed” Networks for Training and Development, Inc. (Networks) officially on November 12, 1992 driving to Harrisburg, PA to submit our incorporation papers. Two days later, we got married. “All balls in the air”, we liked to say! Little did we know at the time what a motto and mantra this would become for our journey with Networks and our life. We were skittish and hopeful, madly in love with each other and the dream of what Networks might be, headstrong, and yet careful.
In the beginning, even though we were fully incorporated as a 501 C3 charitable non-profit, we were supported under Horizon House, Inc’s wings for almost two years until we felt skilled enough to fully “fly from the nest” on our own on July 1, 1994. It was an invaluable time for us — a way to learn the ropes gradually ourselves and build an infrastructure that could last, all while doing our work and maintaining the contracts we had. We couldn’t have done any of this without the backing and support of Mike Covone and Kathy Sykes (from then Phila. OMR), Nancy Thaler (from then PA OMR), and my old friend, Wayne Chioda (then Ex. Dir. of Horizon House, Inc.). Jeff Willush and Mary Joy Kaiser Reinartz, of Horizon House, jumped in and helped us tremendously over those two years to hone our organizational skills, guide us to set up all the needed processes and protocols, and ready ourselves for the real work ahead on our own. Leslie and Alan Seese became our fiscal advisors and accountants. And loving friends Paul Bartolomeo, Mike Fittipaldi, Jeff Petraco, and Beth Barol became our first Board of Directors. All shared our hopes and dreams but also gave us the reality checks we so needed.
Over the years that ensued, we were blessed with amazing colleagues, partners, funders, and staff. We grew in contracts and areas of work. We spread our wings beyond Philadelphia. And we learned much. But we always tried to stay small, flat, and intimately connected to our founding values and mission. And we always tried to envision together an amazing future – of more fun, more challenges, more learning, and a time when Mike and I would be in very different roles…. or maybe not involved at all. We had always hoped that Networks would last beyond us, both literally and figuratively, and so always used creative strategic planning with our team to develop together possibilities and realities. Thank goodness we did this.
In early 2000, Mike and I travelled to Hawaii for two back-to-back conferences where we were presenting. From the moment we stepped off the first plane in Honolulu we knew this was somehow to be a part of our future. This was confirmed over and over during our two-week stay on Oahu and Maui. We came home to PA invigorated and immediately started dreaming of how to get back to HI, and how to help Networks grow in new directions that were less dependent on us. We spoke openly with everyone and shared parts of our own private “PATH”… a five-year plan where our roles would be somehow different, Networks would be honing new leadership, and our various services would be more autonomous and known. We tried to keep “the plan” ever present in our minds so we might not miss possibly connected opportunities. And, as so often happens, the universe was listening and more and more connections came to us.
Staff leadership skills were increasing everyday and some new extraordinary folks joined our ranks as staff, consultants, Board members, collaborators, and funders. In 2004 our son, Michael, got married and accepted a teaching position along with his new wife on Maui. Our connections were growing more obvious! Soon after, while visiting Michael and Megan on Maui, we stumbled upon an incredible opportunity to buy a condominium there, which “the kids” moved into as their home. Together, the four of us planned how we would gradually come more often and somehow eventually move there, too. Our grandson, Ethan, came along and added to the joy. It all just seemed like an amazing dream that was gradually falling together in a magical puzzle.
Contracts and incredible work opportunities grew and grew within Networks. Our staff were well known and our reputation and collaborations grew stronger across the country and the world. Some of us started a new wing of Networks, Wholistic Practices, and I started attending massage school in Maui when I was there and via distance learning when I was not. With this, I started coming to Maui more often and staying longer. Michael and Megan found their own home and moved out of our condo. Mike and I travelled to Maui in August 2009 to set up our own home. And unknown to most, I changed my drivers’ license and officially moved to Maui with the plan I’d visit PA now several times a year but otherwise live here. Mike would use the next year to gradually shift his roles and move to Maui the following September. As perfect as everything was falling into place, things shifted dramatically on October 4, 2009. I had just come home to PA and insisted we go to the NJ shore for a “last surf of the season”…. little did we know how true this would be.
Hours later we were at the emergency room and then travelled to the nearby trauma center. Mike had broken his neck while diving back out for another wave, was rescued by onlookers on the beach, resuscitated, carried off the beach on his beloved surfboard, and rushed to the hospital. I knew it was bad. Friends and family immediately assembled at the hospital. Calls came in from around the world. And Mike stayed with us for several days until his last gift could be made…. donating all of himself, saving the lives of 12 others, and greatly effecting the lives of hundreds more. We celebrated his life as he would want — at a friend’s wonderful restaurant with great food, wine, and beer and with hundreds of friends and family singing, playing music, laughing, hugging, and remembering this silly amazing man.
Immediately within Networks, our team assembled – Board and staff – and made plans to carry on, do the needed work, and to support one another as everyone grieved. Funders, colleagues, supporters, and even competitors reached out to us to offer their help, their love, and their support. Shauna Roman and Jill Gromen stepped up to the lead within Networks. And I stuck to our last plan, driving cross-country in Mike’s “surf mobile” and shipped it to Maui, returning home on Christmas Eve.
Somehow time passed, the work got done and well, contracts continued, new work and connections blossomed, and Networks shifted yet again into a new revised and strengthened organization. Shauna accepted the role of Executive Director and has carried it out with the grace and strength of someone born to lead. Other staff stepped up, too, taking on new roles, going back to school, stretching themselves, seeking additional certificates of achievement, and digging in deeper to their true selves. New partnerships have come our way, some old friends have parted company to pursue new adventures, and our work has deepened and expanded.
And who is Networks today? Are we the same organization started on a whim and a dream by Mike and I 24 years ago? In many ways we are the same wild and unabashed group of rebel-rousers refusing to play it safe or by the traditional rules. We still look to the cutting edge, the untried, and the “why shouldn’t we?” initiatives… especially when our passions and values tell us we must, show us that something is terribly wrong, or that others are not willing to try. That’s when Networks has always shined. We still do. But we are also a real organization that is almost a quarter of a century old. We have a proven track record of effectiveness, a group to turn to when you feel there’s no one else, and a well respected mature non-profit that has weathered and grown through situations some thought would end us. Not! And like many we support and call our teachers, these life lessons have instead enriched us beyond what we ever could have imagined.
I can’t wait to see what comes next for Networks, what our next chapters will entail, and how we will continue to grow! What a wonderful and amazing ride this has been….
With much love,