Dafna Michaelson pulls into the parking lot of Niko Nikos. She’s never been to Houston before, and she’s never met the man she’s about to interview-but she already admires him.
“Hi my name is Mike Feinberg, I’m one of the co-founders of KIPP, the Knowledge is Power Program…”
Less than a year ago, Michaelson got a wild idea—to travel all across the country, looking for the ordinary people who are solving problems in their communities. So she’s in Houston to hear about how Mike Feinberg started a rigorous, innovative charter school from scratch. At first, the parents he spoke to were skeptical about sending their kids to his school.
“And we would ask, ‘Well how many teachers have come to your home, sat down for an hour on your couch, listened to your hopes, dreams, and aspirations, and then begged for an opportunity to please teach your son or daughter’. And they would say, ‘You’re the first’ and then we would say, ‘So give us a shot’.”
On her website, Michaelson is collecting hundreds of stories like these from around the country. She hopes that when people learn about these creative solutions, that they’ll also try to make their communities better.
“I really believe that if we work together as individuals, there is no problem we can’t solve. There is no problem that we can’t solve.”
(sound of a bag zipping).
But the journey isn’t easy. Every week, Michaelson leaves her two small kids with their dad in Denver, and flies out to a new state. She’s dipped into her own 401k and worries about raising money in a down economy. It’s a bit of a gamble.
“I think about it a lot as I’m driving alone, across the country, and looking at beautiful prairie and ranches and farms, and what would I do if my daughter said, ‘Hey mom, I’m going to take this year long tour around the States,’ I think I’d probably lose my mind.”
But for Michaelson, the inspiration is worth it. Take Eve Lapin from Houston. A few years ago, her 8 year old son fell ill with ALD, a disease of the brain, and soon after, her 6 year old was also diagnosed. Even as she struggled with both sons’ illness, Lapin started a foundation to promote research into the disease. Here’s Michaelson:
“I couldn’t even comprehend…everything that must have been going through her mind and her body as she’s losing a child, and not sure if she’s going to lose two. That not only was it enough for her to do everything she could for her children, but she had to do everything she could for everybody else’s children. These are the kind of incredible people that really I’ve been very very blessed to meet.”
Soon, Dafna Michaelson will be off to another state. Another rental car, another strange room. Another problem solver to meet.
For more information about Michaelson’s journey, or to nominate a problem solver in your state, please visit www.50in52journey.com .
From the KUHF NewsLab, I’m Melissa Galvez.