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I Have a Story For You: Musings of the Moodivator

By Carole Bertuzzi Luciani

TRI Publishing



I've already got my New Year’s Resolution. In 2010, I'm ramping up my speaking engagements. Need a keynote speaker, panellist, master of ceremonies, resident expert, workshop facilitator or opening act? Call me. I’ll be anything you need.


I'll talk to anyone about everything because I want my family to have an extra special Christmas next year. A Christmas they’ll always remember. A Christmas that my great-great grandkids will talk about.


Now, I'm not looking to charter a jet and fly my family to that tropical island owned by business tycoon Richard Branson. Nor do I plan to book a two-week stay at the Grand Floridian Resort in Disney World with the premium meal plan.


I've got a different dream.  A dream of hosting the Mother Of All Christmas Games. My grandmother started this family tradition. After we spent all of 15 minutes eating a Christmas dinner that took my grandmother three days to prepare, she got her revenge by having us gather around a pile of wrapped gifts from the dollar store. She'd deal us a deck of cards. When she called your card, you picked a present. When the presents were all picked, you walked over and stole presents from one another. And that's when the kids would start crying and the grown-ups turned nasty. 


To my grandmother, nothing said Christmas like fighting over a deceptively wrapped toilet plunger, a package of hair rollers or fruit-shaped fridge magnets. And those were the really good presents up for grabs in the Christmas game.


By hitting the speaker's circuit, I can skip the trip to Dollarama and amass a small mountain of similar yet slightly more upscale gifts. In the past few years, I've received travel mugs, coffee cups, road safety kits, reusable lunch bags, flashlights, pens, pen-flashlight combinations, t-shirts, golf shirts, ball caps, self-published books, a lawn chair, a clock radio paper weight and vinegar in a wine bottle. My favourite all-time gift is a single winter windshield wiper blade that I received after talking with a service club in early May.  I was never invited back to get the second blade.


Author and self-proclaimed  "moodivational" speaker Carole Bertuzzi Luciani can relate. Back in 1985, the Oakville resident spoke to a sales group from the Mary Kay Cosmetic Corporation. As a parting gift, she got a book on Mary Kay and an empty cosmetic case. On the way out, someone from the audience stopped Bertuzzi Luciani and told her she was a great public speaker and should charge money.


So Bertuzzi Luciani decided to do exactly that. The next request came from the Salvation Army, a group that she'd spoken to for the past three years.  She worked up the courage and said she was now charging a speaker's fee. No problem, said the Salvation Army. We'll gladly pay a $15 honorarium. And so began CBL Presentations and speaking engagements across North America for slightly higher fees.


While she describes herself as a talker and not a writer, Bertuzzi Luciani`s put her life stories to paper.


There's the time she spun the wheel on Wintario and resisted the urge to laugh, when she ran in the Olympic Torch Relay and went on her annual volunteer adventures, that have taken her from a Catholic Mission in Belize to the YWCA dorm in downtown Hamilton.


She's drawn on 57 years of watching, listening and participating in life as it`s swirled around her.  She says her father used to incessantly nag her and her brother with "if you just stop and pay attention, damn it, you just might learn something.


"So learn I did and continue to do," says Bertuzzi Luciani. "I`ve learned that stuff happens and it`s how you react to it that`s important. And I`ve learned that funny is everywhere. If you look for it, you`ll be sure to find it. It presents itself in a multitude of forms and situations. The key is to stop and recognize it for what it is."


If you're looking for a workplace resolution for 2010, here's one. Instead of inflicting death by PowerPoint or issuing all-staff missives that require a jargon-busting decoder ring, tell us a story instead.  Make us laugh. Make us think. Make us pay attention and remember what you said. And if you've forgotten how to tell a good story, give yourself an early Christmas present and buy Bertuzzi Luciani's book.




Book review: Bill Strickland and the Manchester Bidwell story

A TALE OF TWO CITIES with guest speaker: Bill Strickland. Nov. 30 at Hamilton Place Theatre Doors open at 6 p.m. Program begins at 7 p.m. Admission is free; tickets are limited or call 905-667-6230.

Make the Impossible Possible: One Man's Crusade to Inspire Others to Dream Bigger and Achieve the Extraordinary

By Bill Strickland

Bill Strickland's coming to town Nov. 30 with a pretty cool story that our business and civic leaders really need to hear.

Strickland is president and CEO of Manchester Bidwell, a community arts education and job training centre. Located in one of Pittsburgh's poorest neighbourhoods, the centre's cracked the poverty-to-prosperity code.

The centre's Manchester Craftsmen's Guild gives at-risk kids after-school courses taught by established artists and skilled instructors.

The private-school calibre courses ignite a creative fire that keeps kids off the streets, in school and on to college. More than 90 per cent of youth at the centre earn high school diplomas, and 85 per cent go on to postsecondary education.

"Our students stop defining themselves by what they can't do and get the first glimmer of what a meaningful life might feel like," says Strickland .

The grown-ups get state-of-the-art training for in-demand and ahead-of-the-curve jobs at the Bidwell Training Centre. Unlike other training centres, Manchester Bidwell steers clear of preparing people for work in stale industries or overcrowded fields where there's stiff competition and few real job prospects.

Instead, the centre develops cutting-edge programs in partnership with companies in need of highly skilled workers. Those partnerships pay off. Nearly 80 per cent of adults complete their vocational training, and 86 per cent get hired for meaningful work and good jobs with paycheques that lift entire families out of poverty.

Strickland calls poverty a cancer of the spirit. He says you can't cure it with an all-too-common approach of defining the poor as people in need of help or by dreaming up social programs to fix everything that's broken in their lives.

"You cure poverty by understanding that poor folk are human beings before they are 'poor' and by providing them with access to the fundamental spiritual nourishment every human heart requires: beauty, order, purpose, opportunity — the things that give us a meaningful human existence."

That motivated Strickland to move Manchester Bidwell  from a rundown warehouse to a new home back in the early 1980s. Even though meeting payroll was a challenge, Strickland met one of Pittsburgh's leading architects and shelled out $10,000 for a scale model of a $5-million dream home. Strickland then took his model on the road and started selling his dream of putting the Manchester Craftsmen's Guild and Bidwell Training Center together under one roof in a new home complete with a fountain in a courtyard and hallways filled with art.

"Everywhere I went, I met with the same dubious stares," says Strickland. "'You want to build this in Manchester?' someone would say. 'Isn't this a little elaborate for a poverty centre?' someone would ask. 'It's not a poverty centre,' I'd answer. 'It's a centre for success.'"

Strickland persisted, and enlightened corporate and civic leaders bought into his dream. The fountain and the museum-quality art on display throughout the centre was never meant to be window dressing, says Strickland. It was intended to deliver a powerful and much-needed message.

"You can't show a person how to build a better life if they feel no pleasure in the simple act of being alive. That's why I built this place and why I fill it with art, and sunlight, and quilts and flowers. We put them in a beautiful place, give them a small taste of what a decent, dignified future might feel like, and that makes all the difference.

Strickland also fills Manchester Bidwell with jazz. He built a concert hall at the centre in 1987 that brings the world's greatest jazz musicians together with sold-out audiences. The concerts, in turn, have spawned a Grammy-winning record label for the centre.

"Jazz was such an integral part of my life that I knew I had to find a way to make it a part of Manchester Bidwell — and not just as background music piped in through the PA system. It had to be woven into the cultural fabric of the place so it could do for our students what it had done for me."

Running through the jazz concerts, the arts programs and the job training is an underlying and unifying philosophy.

"Every human being, despite the circumstances of his or her birth, is born full of potential," says Strickland. "And the way to unlock that potential is to place individuals in a nurturing environment and expose them to the kind of stimulating and empowering creative experiences that feed the human spirit."

And Strickland hasn't stopped dreaming. He's looking to build 100 centres like Manchester Bidwell across the United States and another 100 around the world, all fine-tuned to meet local needs.

There are National Centers for Arts & Technology in Cincinnati, Grand Rapids and San Francisco.

Groups in Cleveland, Columbus, Philadelphia and New Orleans have secured the $150,000 US preliminary grants needed to get new centres off the ground. Chicago, Los Angeles, Reno, New Haven and Charlotte are also working hard at getting early funding and moving to the planning stage.

So while Strickland's talk on Nov. 30 at Hamilton Place is free of charge, thanks to the Jobs Prosperity Collaborative, here's hoping a local business leader steps up, parts with some hard-earned cash and makes a down payment on replicating Strickland's magic here in Steeltown.