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On September 11-12, 2016, while most Americans were remembering the horrible tragedy that happened on our soil in 2001, I was lucky enough to be surrounded by an amazing group of people who are creating the future of an organization called The Front Row Foundation. This organization was the brain child of our friend Jon Vroman. As an avid concert goer himself, he loved the feeling of connecting with an artist he admired and wanted to give that experience to people, young and old, who are fighting life threatening illnesses. If Jon, as a healthy person, could gain so much joy from attending a live event, then how much more joy could a person who's life revolves around medical treatments and literally just surviving the next day? They can benefit so much from the departure of their day to day reality to have an incredible front row experience. Jon's vision was not only to give these patients something to look forward to and to remember in their final days, but that once they are no longer with us, their families had that truly joyous memory of their loved one and a community that continues to celebrate their life.
At the summit, we used an approach called Appreciative Inquiry to discover what we already love about the Front Row Foundation, to dream about its future, design that future together and then come up with ideas of how to deploy those designs. There were about 30 people in the room, but the energy and the commitment was truly amazing. At the conclusion of the meeting, we once again got to hear from Mr. Jeff Hoffman, a serial entrepreneur who has worked with Priceline.com, uBid.com, and Colorjar to name a few and a former board member of the Make a Wish Foundation. He shared with us the power of making wishes come true with Dakota's story.
At the time, Jeff owned a music company that was managing the NSYNC world tour. Dakota was a young girl who was born with a rare and painful disease and was running out of time. Her dying wish was just to SEE NSYNC in concert (not front row or meet them), just attend the concert. Jeff, in his generosity, personally handled this wish because of his unique situation involving NSYNC. He went very early to pick her up in a limo. He knew from previous experience that when you drive a limo into a small rural town, the whole town comes and wants to check it out! After the town was finished taking pictures, Dakota, her father, her sister, her best friend and Jeff departed to the "fanciest" dinner in town A.K.A. steak. After dinner, they proceeded to the concert venue. Dakota was in a wheel chair, so Jeff told her she would have to go through the service corridor to get to her seat, which pleased her. Dakota's disease was literally eating her from the inside out and other children often made fun of her. She was more than happy to not have to interact with other concert goers.
At one point, Jeff wheeled her and her entourage into a room. He told the group he had to go get the tickets and asked them to wait there. Shortly, he returned with the entire NSYNC band. In that moment, Dakota lit up. In her moments of intense pain, Dakota would write letters to the guys. Early on her father sent them, but after months with no return, he just started saving them in a shoe box. At their peak, the guys received about 16,000 letters a week, so there was no way they could possibly read and respond to them all. Having known this, Jeff asked her dad for the last few letters and had the guys memorize some parts of them. They asked her about her dog which she had written to them about and they knew the names of her sister and her friend "from the letters." Dakota felt so loved that her idols took the time to read her letters and that they "knew" her. Her father said, this was the first time in a very long time he saw pure JOY on her face. During the concert, she was in the very front row and the guys even called out her name on stage. That night every girl wanted to be HER! For the first time in her life, she felt like just another girl screaming along to her favorite band.
Believe in Yourself
At the end of the night, she turned to Jeff and said, "I can go now." Jeff misunderstood her and told her they couldn't go yet, because the car wasn't there yet. So, she explained herself, "I know I'm going to die soon, and it's okay. I can go now." Dakota only lived 3 more weeks, and her father said every day she watched the videos from the concert and looked at the photo book they made for her. Any time she was in pain, she would transport herself back to that joyous night. When she died, she was holding the book and had a smile on her face.
We often think we can't make a difference, but it's simply not true. Follow the advice of Mother Teresa, "If you can't feed 100 people, just feed one." Or a quote from the Dalai Lama, "If you think you are too small to make a difference, try going to sleep with a mosquito in the room." As Jeff says, "There is no they, WE are the they." If you'd like to help make a difference for someone going through a dark period in their life with a special Front Row Experience please click here to donate.
I am grateful I was able to be part of the change I want to see in the world. I'm grateful for the Front Row Foundation and the good work they are doing in the world and I am grateful for the lesson from Jeff Hoffman of the power of a wish. I'd love to hear your thoughts. Please comment below or join the conversation in our Facebook Community.