3 a.m. Collect call from SF Jail. Hey Coach Jim… #Storytelling

Ever since I was a young boy at YMCA Camp Becket in the majestic Berkshires of Massachusetts, I have always wanted to serve the youth of our community in a positive and proactive way.  When I decided to bifurcate my career into two paths – consulting and community service, little did I realize how they would intersect dramatically in the pathways of my life.  

My Bachelor’s degree at Trinity College was in Psychology and Economics with an emphasis in Child and Adolescent Psychology.  I have often said that this emphasis makes me highly qualified to work with executives!  Not wanting to be a research psychologist, I turned my attention in business school to the study of Organization Behavior and Development at The Wharton School in order to go into social work as a leader.   But alas, social work didn’t pay well (even back then) and I opted for one of the “c’ words (coaching, counseling, consulting, etc.) to begin my career.  I became a consultant.  Having felt like I “sold my soul” I committed to be involved in community work at the same time, and for the past 40+ years I have served on boards of YMCAs, and Big Brothers/Big Sisters.  I started our local premier soccer club, currently serve on the Board of the local symphony (which has a brilliant youth orchestra) and am involved with a sports for social change organization, Street Soccer USA.  That’s enough background and context for this story.  

I had the privilege of managing and coaching an elite soccer team from the time the boys were 9 to age 21.  Over 40 boys went through this program and most went on to college and all are (at the age of 25) productive and integral members of the communities in which they live.  I am very proud of all these young men and maintain contact with many of them.  

But one night I got the call any parent, mentor, friend, etc. would not want to receive.   It was 3 a.m.  And in a wakened stupor, I was asked, “Will you accept a collect call from the San Francisco jail from Ralph (name changed)?”  Of course I accepted the call.  Let me stop here and say that Ralph had done nothing wrong; but at an event in SF that he was attending, there was an incident and the police rounded up everyone at the event and put many of them in the drunk tank.  Again, Ralph had not been driving, had done nothing wrong, but was in the wrong place at the wrong time and candidly was probably racially profiled.  

So as I understand it, when you are in the drunk tank they take away your phone, remove the battery (so you can’t make random calls), and then eventually give you access to the pay phone to make your “call.”  Ralph got his opportunity to make the call, and because he didn’t have access to the phone numbers from his cell phone, he went with the only number he remembered — not his mom, not his brother, but Coach Jim!   

As I was driving to pick him up my emotions ranged from “OMG, I can’t believe this” to “I am truly amazed that I have had such an impact on this young man that he could trust me and rely on me as a mentor and friend to support him in his time of need.”  In all of the work that we do, we have the opportunity to positively change communities and individual lives around us.  That is the essence of being an advisor, a friend, a colleague, a mentor and a consultant.  Edward Everett Hale said it best: “I am only one, but still I am one; I cannot do everything, but still I can do something. And because I cannot do everything, I will not refuse to do the something I can do."

We can make a difference one person at a time… In our work and in our communities… Even at 3 a.m. in the morning…

Written by:

Jim Finkelstein