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Can one person really make a difference?

Have you ever had a moment when you’re ready to throw in the towel?

For me, every now and then I find myself wondering if the work I am doing is having an impact and making a difference in people’s lives. I guess you could call it times of burnout, of maybe being in a slump or even a feeling of doubt.

More often than not, those feelings are erased the moment I glance up at a canvas that hangs above my desk, painted with the words, “Your spark can become a flame and change everything … Thank you for being our spark.” It was a gift I received from students, expressing their appreciation for helping them.

But can one person really make a difference? Time and time again the answer to that nagging question is reaffirmed especially when I learn of one person’s actions that triggered another person’s action, that triggered yet another action. Some call it, paying it forward.

Recently we received a donation, and a mother’s note explaining the purpose of the donation. This is her story. The names and locations have been omitted for privacy reasons.

‘My son was pulled over for going 25 miles over the speed limit. [He] is 17 and has only had his license for 10 months. [Officer] called me at the time to notify me and to tell me he was only going to give [him] a warning. He said he’s found educating kids and notifying the parents leads to better results. He told [my son] the ticket would’ve cost $260. At home we showed him videos of 70 mph collision, explained that impact on a body, told him how lucky he was to have been stopped and what lifelong guilt he’d bear if anyone was hurt (or worse) from his carelessness... along with lesser consequences of increased insurance rates and a ticket on his driving record.

It all became very clear to him what a gift he’d really been given. He wanted to pay it forward and honor [Officer]. He found your website and it resonated with his experience, hence the donation in [Officer] name for the amount of the potential speeding ticket. [Officer] was right, talking and learning about all of this and getting a second chance was really the best thing. Thank you for all you do on behalf of keeping teen drivers aware and safe!”

This moving and inspiring story reinforces my belief that the actions of one person can make a difference.

This teen driver did indeed receive an invaluable gift from someone who understands the risks that inexperienced drivers face, and the tragic consequences resulting from bad choices. Fines are sometimes an effective disciplinary measure, but often have a short-lived impact and do little to change behaviors.

There is no doubt in my mind that the actions of the officer made a powerful and lasting impact. More importantly, [his] desire to pay it forward is a testimony to the importance of parental involvement as teen learns to drive and eventually take to the roads. Parental involvement and leading by example will not only help your child stay safe, it is a reinforcement of the strong values that will continue to guide them in becoming responsible and respected adults.

We were honored to receive this donation and decided to include these funds in the scholarships we will be awarding in an upcoming campaign.

That decision prompted the following reply from mom.

“It is great for him to receive such a personal, strong and complimentary letter from you. I am hopeful that this whole sequence of events will inform his future driving choices. And yes, you may certainly use [his] story for your website! I hope many other new drivers will benefit from the good work of NFTSD!”

Making a difference requires work and at times the struggle to survive in the world of non-profit becomes a very heavy lift. Yet there is no greater reward in life than the feeling you get knowing you are doing good.

Now when I glance up and see that canvas, this inspiring story reinforces my belief that a small spark can change everything.

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