You can’t fail to notice the billboards. They’ve been placed along all the major highways in West Michigan for several years. Each billboard features a picture of someone who is making a positive impact on our world, along with an inspirational message. They all end with these words, “Pass it on.”
Some of those featured are famous and immediately recognizable. Others are ordinary people making a huge difference in their small corner of the world. I am constantly on the road, visiting churches and pastors, and even though I’ve seen these billboards hundreds of time, I never fail to be motivated. Here are a few of my favorites:
- Jackie Robinson: the first African American to play Major League baseball
“Here’s to you, Mr. Robinson.” Character. Pass it on.
- 2 opposing college softball players carried Sara Tucholsky around the bases after she hit a game-winning home run because she injured her knee running to first base and could not continue.
“Helped injured opponent win.” Sportsmanship. Pass It On.
- For 43 years Carol McDonald served as a foster parent for 100 children, many of whom had disabilities.
“Fostered Good Will. And 100 Kids.” Love. Pass It On.
- Mike Massielo is known as the “Mother Teresa” of the automotive world because of his honesty and desire to use his mechanical skills to help others.
“Couldn’t Fix It. Refused Money.” Integrity. Pass It On.
- Erik Weihenmayer lost his vision at the age of 13 and has since redefined what it means to be blind.
“Climbed Everest. Blind.” Vision. Pass It On.
The billboards are sponsored by The Foundation For A Better Life, which is entirely funded by a $700 million endowment from billionaire Phillip Anschutz. The organization is non-profit, humanitarian, and does not accept donations. The sole purpose of the Foundation For A Better Life is to provide uplifting and encouraging messages to people going about their daily business.
The first campaign was launched in 2001 inTimes Square. Since then more than 10,000 billboards, signs, and posters have appeared around the country, promoting positive behavioral values. Both everyday and well known heroes are featured like Christopher Reeve, Kermit the Frog, Andre Agassi, Whoopi Goldberg, Desmond Tutu, Abraham Lincoln, Albert Einstein, Michelle Kwan, and the Dalai Lama. The Foundation For A Better Life also sponsors public service announcements on TV, radio, and in movie theaters across the country.
The billboard that has touched me most deeply is the one of Dick Hoyt and his son, Rick. “Dad’s Been Behind Him for 65 Marathons.” Devotion. Pass It On.
Dick and Rick travel the world as a team, participating in marathons and triathlons. As a result of oxygen deprivation to Rick’s brain when he was born in 1962, he was diagnosed as a spastic quadriplegic with cerebral palsy. Rather than institutionalize Rick, Dick and his wife Judy realized that Rick was quite intelligent and fought to mainstream him in the public school system. In 1972 an interactive computer was built for Rick so that he could communicate. Rick earned a special education degree fromBostonUniversityin 1993.
However, Dick and Rick are best known as Team Hoyt. In 1977 Rick told his father that he wanted to compete in a 5 kilometer benefit race for a lacrosse player injured in an accident. Not only did Dick push Rick in his wheelchair in that race, but he continued for the next 33 years. Rick told his father the night of that first race, “Dad, when I’m running, it feels like I’m not handicapped.”
In 1989 the Hoyt Foundation was formed. The mission of the Hoyt Foundation is to “build the individual character, self-confidence and self-esteem of America’s disabled young people through inclusion in all facets of daily life; including in family and community activities, especially sports, at home, in schools, and in the workplace.”
I first heard about Team Hoyt when I participated in the Boston Marathon 10 years ago. At one point I was running alongside Dick and Rick and was utterly amazed at Dick’s physical strength and determination as well as the look of pure joy on Rick’s face. One time Rick was asked, “If you could give your father anything, what would it be?” Rick replied, “The thing I’d most like is for my dad to sit in the chair, and I would push him for once.”
Rick says that if he can only compete in one race a year, it would be the Boston Marathon. Today, April 19, is Boston Marathon day, and I’ll be at the start line at 10:30 a.m. along with Team Hoyt. It’s their 26th Boston Marathon and my 8th. Dick is 69 years old and hopes to still runBoston next year when he is 70.
I hope I’ll have the opportunity to run into Dick and Rick again today, and if I do, I’ll express my gratitude for the many lives they have transformed, not because of all the competing they do, but because of their devotion to each other. They truly “pass it on” to all who witness their perseverance and fierce love for each other.
In truth, there are people in every one of our churches who could easily be featured in a Pass It On Billboard. Are any of these heroes in your church?
- Mae “Played the organ in church for 76 years.” Artistry Pass It On.
- Joe “Did the church yard work for 45 years.” Dedication Pass It On.
- Molly “Started a homeless ministry.” Compassion Pass It On.
- Peter “Led 15 mission trips to Nicaragua.” Selflessness Pass It On.
- Lola “Prayed Without Ceasing for 91 years.” Faith Pass It On.
- Jason “Brought 12 neighborhood children to VBS. They stayed.” Reaching Out Pass It On.
- Susan “Read Bible stories to countless toddlers.” Nurture Pass It On.
- Josh “10 year old sold his bike to contribute toward Haiti Relief” Generosity Pass it On.
Who are your everyday heroes? Who are the people you know who have, in quiet ways, brought in God’s kingdom on this earth? Who is passing on the faith, hope, and love of Jesus Christ? I invite you to share your billboards on the blog. Just click “Visit Leading from the Heart Blog” at the top of this page.
Perhaps more important, how are you passing it on? How are you inspiring others to live faithfully, courageously, and justly? What might that billboard on I-96 say about you?