CHARLY ARNOLT/CARUSO: Hello, everybody. Welcome to this inspirational new podcast series entitled This Is How We Planet, brought to you by Nestlé Waters and iHeart. I'm your host, Charlie Arnolt, also known as WWE personality, Charlie Caruso. So, the question, how do we planet? And why is it important? I’ll tell you why: because Earth is it. It is our only address. There is no other home we can just skip off to if this one doesn't quite work out. It deserves and needs the best from us, all of us, and the only real way to help protect, preserve or change it for the better, is to do it together. Now, each episode takes an in-depth look at the people and the organizations that make our planet a better place in ways big and small, in our communities, across our country and also around the world. We'll focus on areas such as disaster response, children and health, water stewardship, recycling and so much more.
We’ll also recognize PLANET HEROES in each of these areas whose work goes above and beyond. And the best part: you, our listeners, will even have the chance to nominate your own PLANET HERO to possibly be featured on a future episode. So, welcome to this episode, focused on making an impact in our communities. We'll discuss what can happen when businesses and individuals work together to make a positive difference. We'll also learn how even small actions can reap very big rewards. So, let's get started with our guest introductions. Join me in welcoming my former World Wrestling Entertainment colleague, Michelle Wilson. Most recently, Michelle served as WWE’s co-president, where she led day-to-day operations. Michelle is currently the board chair of Make-A-Wish Connecticut. Since it was launched in 1980, Make-A-Wish has transformed the lives of thousands of children in need. Michelle has made an impact on every level of Make-A-Wish, having also served as a board member and a generous donor. On the national level, she was a Make-A-Wish corporate advisory council member and a trusted advisor for the World Wish Day campaign. So, Michelle, welcome to This Is How We Planet.
MICHELLE WILSON: Thank you, Charlie. It's great to talk to you. Great to see you again. And I'm really excited to be part of this very positive discussion.
CHARLY ARNOLT/CARUSO: Always excited to see you.
MICHELLE WILSON: Thank you.
CHARLY ARNOLT/CARUSO: Our next guest is Sky Beard. Sky serves as the director of No Kid Hungry Florida and is honored to lead a dedicated team focused on such an important mission. No Kid Hungry works with school districts, community organizations and a wide variety of partners to increase participation in federally funded school nutrition programs, afterschool and summer meal programs, as well as advocating for initiatives that feed hungry kids. Sky's going to talk to us about the work that No Kid Hungry has done in the state of Florida, especially during the COVID-19 pandemic. Sky, welcome to This Is How We Planet.
SKY BEARD: Hi there. Thanks so much for the invitation to participate. Excited to have this great conversation today.
CHARLY ARNOLT/CARUSO: And our final guests will show us that even high school students from a small town in Texas can make a big difference in their community. When a swarm of bees appeared outside of the Ozarka Hawkins bottling facility in Texas, the factory's quality manager collaborated with the local high school’s agricultural science department and the Future Farmers of America program to launch the 4G beekeeping project. The 4G beekeepers started with four dedicated female students from Hawkins High School in Hawkins, Texas, who worked closely with Matt Byrd, the school's agricultural teacher. The school's first beekeeping program ended up rescuing the bottling plant from the swarming bees, and the team has made quite a buzz since. Please join me in welcoming Matt Byrd, the school's agricultural teacher and the 4G beekeeping team - Brooke, Rachel, Emma and Chloe. Hello everyone. Welcome.
MATT BYRD: Hi Charly. I’m so glad to be here. I've got the girls here with me.
4G BEEKEEPING TEAM: Hello.
MATT BYRD: I appreciate the opportunity. We're excited.
CHARLY ARNOLT/CARUSO: Okay. Well, everyone, let's get started. And I want to direct my first question at Michelle and ask you, Michelle, what are some of the ways in which people can use business and culture as forces for good?
MICHELLE WILSON: So, Charly, in my intro you had mentioned that I'm currently serving as the board chair for Make-A-Wish Connecticut, which again, for those of you who aren't familiar with Make-A-Wish, our entire mission is about granting wishes to kids who are dealing with life-threatening or critical illnesses. So, we bring those wishes to life and bring happiness and hope to these kids who need it at the most critical time when they're fighting an illness and their entire family’s fighting an illness. So, I've had the honor to chair the board here in Connecticut and participate nationally. But what's interesting, is that the nonprofit role that I play is really with my personal time. And interestingly, my career has been predominantly in the for-profit world with corporate America. And I've been very blessed across my 30-plus year career - I'm older than everybody on this podcast - to really work for organizations where community is really an important part of the culture. So, I've experienced firsthand how corporations can partner with other organizations and nonprofits to do tremendous work. And for me personally, wherever it is that my career takes me next, I really want to make sure that giving back is really part of the DNA of a company that I work for. And again, I'm now personally volunteering my time with Make-A-Wish because of the magic that they bring to so many families across the United States. So again, a lot of people think corporations are all about the bottom line, and I've been privileged and blessed to see the power of collaboration between the for-profit and the nonprofit world. It's important to me personally, and again, when I'm making career choices, I make sure that it's a company that cares about giving back.
CHARLY ARNOLT/CARUSO: Money, obviously, is of the utmost importance when it comes to most businesses, but it does seem like even more so now companies are using that power to really make a difference.
MICHELLE WILSON: Exactly. And I think, you know, it's such an amazing platform when you think of WWE as an example - it's broadcast in countries all around the world in 25 languages - and so, what we can do for nonprofits like Make-A-Wish or Susan G. Komen or all the organizations that we work with, is we provide a platform to really build awareness, and there's a huge benefit to those partners in that. And what we get out of as a company: one, as an employee, you feel great. I mean, it matters. People want to work for companies that do good things, and it makes you feel good as an employee.
SKY BEARD: It's a great question. And I think you'll hear the word collaboration probably mentioned. It'll probably be the buzz word of the day. Lots of discussion about that in the nonprofit world, for sure. And as Michelle mentioned, the collaboration with the nonprofit and the corporate space is just so key to our work. And probably we would all say today, as well, that none of us can do our work alone. The scope of our missions, the scope of our work is vast, and it can feel every day like, “Oh, how are we going to tackle some of these really, really challenging issues?” But they're solvable, and they're solvable if we can come together and collaborate and use each other's strengths and figure out what do you bring to the table? This is what I can bring to the table. That happens every day, I know, in the nonprofit world. And we surely couldn't do it without the long list. I know on the No Kid Hungry side of partners, from school districts to policy makers and legislators and other nonprofits, and, of course, the corporate world. And sometimes partnerships and collaborators are those that you kind of think about when you think about solving child hunger, there are some organizations that just naturally come to mind. You think about food banks and you think about schools and that's great. But sometimes it's the nontraditional partners that really help on the corporate side and looking at who else is in communities that can step alongside you and help you achieve your mission. None of us have the capacity to do it ourselves and, really, nor should we. There is so much to learn from sitting in a room, maybe on a Zoom call these days, and just talking about what the challenge is and thinking outside of the box and being pushed by a partner, a collaborative organization to say let's try it this way. So, I think there are so many ways to collaborate and it's really just foundational to those of us that have a mission to accomplish.
CHARLY ARNOLT/CARUSO: And you use the word foundation. I think that's something that I was going to get to next. You know, it's not just about attacking the problem as we see it. You have to start looking at things from the foundation and where they grow from. So, what in your experience do you think is the most important way of attacking the problem? Is it getting to those very baseline problems? Or is it starting at the top where you say, okay, a kid is hungry. They need food. Let's start there. Or do you attack the problem from down under?
SKY BEARD: The answer is yes to all of those things. You know, I think because some of these issues are so complex, some multigenerational, some related to economy, some related to, as we were talking about, communities of color and historically underserved populations. That is not a one solution, check that box, we got that taken care of, approach. It really takes all of those things. It takes looking at, as you said, deep systemic historical concerns in communities. It takes policy change, and it takes connecting families to resources that are likely already there. One of the things that we often say about child hunger is really, particularly in our country, it's not an issue of lack of food. We've got lots of food in our communities. It's often connecting those that need it most to what's already there. And that can happen a variety of ways.
CHARLY ARNOLT/CARUSO: So, Matt, I know that since right now you are in the room with four members of our younger generation, I think this question is best fitted for you. I think collaboration isn't just about adults and companies working together because, as we see here, the 4G beekeeping program is an example of a youth initiative comprised of high school students. So, why is engaging these young people in community initiatives so beneficial?
MATT BYRD: Well, I think it's big. I think that's a huge issue. Our students are exposed to so many things now. And through social media and they've really got a platform for themselves that they all can connect to. And engaging them in our community I think is one of the most important things. Through the FFA, our mission is students building premier leadership and personal growth and career success. And I think so we've got the recipe there to really help them at an early age connect with individuals within our community and do something that benefits not only them, but we've been able to connect with the corporate world, so to speak, with Nestlé and Ozarka right here in our own community. And they had a problem there, then they reached out to us if we could help solve it. And I think through the FFA, we have students solving real world real-world problems daily. They had the full support and through Ozarka, it's been a great connection. So, from where they started to where they are now, and they've done such a great thing, not only helping one of our local companies or businesses, for them to grow that into a business. And there's not many students or youth that get that opportunity. You know, when we got into beekeeping, I'll be honest, I had no clue. We knew the importance of bees to agriculture. Probably just never took an in-depth look to the way we see it now and really brought an awareness I think to everyone, the importance of bees and what it does for our nation's food supply. And so, now they can share that story with other young people. They've been able to share with other school districts. We've had other school districts reach out to us that are wanting to start a beekeeping program. That's been neat. It's been fun to watch that grow, and they do it all. They build the hives. One thing that we do differently, most beekeepers use pine, yellow pine boxes for their colonies. And we're using an Eastern cedar, which is a juniper wood. And what we're seeing is, we don't have the mortality rates in our bee colonies. We're also training them. They're learning automation now. And we have a CNC wood router machine. Before, we were having to build hives. They had to learn to use table saw and just general hand tools to build those hives. And now we have a computer-automated machine through the help of Ozarka. And so, you know, having that partnership through a company that really invested in them, I think that really hit home. And it hit home with our other students. Our program has grown tremendously. We're real excited about it and the future. You know, the sky's the limit. There's lots of opportunities here that's coming their way. But to know that they're making an impact in a positive way and share that story, I think that's highly important (in) this day and time. Even in the midst of a pandemic, they still found ways to be motivated and have some success with it.
CHARLY ARNOLT/CARUSO: Absolutely. I mean, the younger generation, they're our future leaders. So, it's awesome to see them already doing big things at such a young age. I mean, you see a lot of kids just afterschool going straight to the TV or on their phones. You girls are really making a difference and that is so cool to see. So, I'd love to hear from one of you about what impact you've seen your work have on your local community, and also what impact it's had on you and maybe what now you're striving to do as a person, maybe how you see your future being morphed as a result of these experiences.
4G BEEKEEPER BROOKE: Okay, this is Brooke. For me, seeing our community come together, it really brought awareness. You know, we're a part of the national FFA organization and that's our job to bring out and speak about our agriculture, because I mean if agriculture ended, our world would end. Agricultural don't stop. And like Mr. Byrd was saying, throughout this pandemic we have found ways to safely get our work done and continue building hives and making honey, harvested honey and selling it. And for me, just seeing the community come together and support us and trying to learn about all of the facts of how to keep bees safe. Because if bees died, within four years our country would just shut down. All of our agriculture production would stop because they have such a large pollination resource. And so, just seeing our community really support us and come together and learn about everything has really changed how I see things.
CHARLY ARNOLT/CARUSO: And what about on you as a person, as far as how you feel you've grown from this experience?
4G BEEKEEPER BROOKE: Yes, I feel I've grown tremendously. I mean, not only have I learned such great leadership skills and speaking skills, as he was saying, it's taught me so many ethical things, to give back to your community and always try to keep things running, because without young leaders today, there's not a lot of people that would do this. And so, stepping up has really changed things for me.
CHARLY ARNOLT/CARUSO: Absolutely. I think when we started the podcast, we said we only have one home. That's Earth. This is it. There's nowhere else to go. So, thank you for taking care of our planet.
MICHELLE WILSON: If I can just jump in, I'd like to commend Mr. Byrd for being such a great role model. You know, we need more people, more teachers like Mr. Byrd, quite frankly. Because I know when I was a young girl and you have role models like that, it really does, from a gender perspective, make you realize that it doesn't matter, you know, what gender you are, the color of your skin, that anything's possible when you work together. And a lot of times it takes a person like Mr. Byrd to be the catalyst to make that happen.
MATT BYRD: Thanks, Michelle. Yeah. You know, we were talking the other day, a little fun fact: National FFA started in 1928; females were allowed into the FFA in 1969. So here we are 50 years later, and they are just dominating the organization. And it's funny, we do have a lot of male students in our program, but when this opportunity came about, it was all of our girls and that's where 4G came from, so that's kind of where it started.
CHARLY ARNOLT/CARUSO: Oh, I didn’t even realize that! 4G! That's cool.
SKY BEARD: Charly, if I can also just add I think that's a really amazing example of when we create opportunities for youth to shine, they will take it. And even when there aren't opportunities, they'll kind of blaze their own path with that. And I think it's up to every community to look, to see what opportunities are provided. I know at No Kid Hungry, we have a youth ambassador program that's just thriving where we take youth and match them with organizations who are fighting hunger in their communities and support them as they learn about what that work means and kind of creating that next generation of people that are going to step up and change the world. And back to what Michelle said when we started this conversation about the corporate side, I think a lot of corporations have seen that workplace giving and that philanthropic side is changing with a younger workforce. Our younger workforce, they want to be engaged; they want to be involved. They want to see where their donations through the workplace are actually going. So, I would say anybody can look not too far within their own communities and find organizations that have a mission they're passionate about. And there are ways to have our youth become engaged and change the world.
CHARLY ARNOLT/CARUSO: Michelle, I want to ask you, how has the pandemic affected your work and community?
MICHELLE WILSON: So, for Make-A-Wish, it was really tumultuous when it first happened. I would say the organization here, we were probably two weeks out from our largest fundraiser where our donors come to an event in person around a lot of people, hundreds of people in a ballroom. And that's one of our great fundraisers and it was in early April and we obviously had to make the very difficult decision that we couldn't do those fundraisers. And I would say the immediate reaction was despair. And you know, how are we going to grant wishes? Kids can't travel; they can't go to large gatherings. So, I would say for Make-A-Wish, it really became a time where we really had to reimagine everything that we do. And then, what was so amazing is, we basically said, “You know what? We're an organization about hope and hope is what gets us through everything. We're not going to let this stop us.” And so, while we took maybe a day or two to be distraught, I think we quickly changed that energy into positivity and said, “How are we going to survive this pandemic and still make sure that our Wish kids are getting what they need?” So, while we can't do travel wishes, we had to really think about how do we keep these kids who are stuck at home generally anyway, because of an illness, now they really can't go anywhere. How do we keep hope alive? Some amazing things really happened. I get emotional because we felt like we couldn't do it, and now we've done amazing things, like the fire department will do drive-by parades and I've seen lines of cars. I actually saw one where the fire department actually went up on the ladder to the window of a sick child and delivered gifts from us, obviously with masks on. And it really showed the power of the community that we could reimagine how we kept hope alive for these kids. You know, out of the kind of despair came great hope and optimism that we can still make these kids happy. So, I know we use the word pivot besides collaboration. I know we talked about the word pivot, but it really required our entire organization, from the doctors to the families themselves, to our volunteers, to our staff, to kind of pivot and rethink how you deliver hope. And I'm really proud of everyone that came together to kind of rethink how we do that.
CHARLY ARNOLT/CARUSO: Yeah. I think it's been really tough for everyone to adjust to this new normal, but like you're saying, it's really incredible what we can accomplish when we put our minds and our resources and our hearts together. Sky, what about you?
SKY BEARD: So, like Michelle, I think there was this collective gasp that we all had when we realized, as you said, Charly, the new normal and what lies ahead. And for us, after we took a deep breath, we really knew that organizationally we were made for this work. We were positioned to do even more and be more innovative and charge ahead because the mission doesn't change. Child hunger existed pre-pandemic. And that work that we were doing in communities across the country really was just amplified by the pandemic. Places that maybe hadn't faced the reality of hunger in their communities because maybe their own families were okay, their close circle was okay. Now we're finding, you know what? We have hungry kids right here where I am, right in my child's school, right in my own family now. Families who never saw themselves standing in line at a food bank or applying for SNAP benefits were now in a position of having to face that reality. So, for us, definitely pivoting. It is a word we use often and looking to see how do we come alongside communities in this new normal? Still remain laser focused on eliminating child hunger. But really having to evaluate what does that look like now and how do we do that in a way that meets the needs of where families are, which is different than maybe where families were months ago? So, for us, some of those pivots, we're looking to see. Previously, we did a lot of work with school districts and increasing participation in school breakfast programs. Probably in Hawkins, you guys have access to school breakfast. And we see a lot of really amazing school breakfast programs that are incredibly important to so many students. We have so many students who, those school meals are their primary source of nutrition. And when schools closed, there became just a huge concern about where are kids going to eat? And these school districts across the country, I know in my state of Florida did unprecedented work to find innovative ways to feed kids during those closures. It was packing up meals and having parents drive through car loops and getting meals that way. It was packing meals on buses and having those buses go out and deliver meals that way. So, we really held onto our core value of innovation and stayed laser focused but had to really think about what that means now. And really, for us, the work is just more important than ever.
CHARLY ARNOLT/CARUSO: Chloe I'd love to ask you, things are changing. We're seeing different things happening every day as a result of the pandemic, but you girls have remained steadfast in your mission and what you're trying to accomplish. How have you become more resilient during these crazy times that we're experiencing?
4G BEEKEEPER CHLOE: I think we're going to come out stronger because during the pandemic. We were together more. We got to build more hives. We got to focus on that. So, I feel like now that we're coming out of it, we're going to be stronger because we did, and we worked on it. Because me and Emma were new, and we didn't really know what was going on and how to do it, and then I feel like that time being off, we learned how to do it.
CHARLY ARNOLT/CARUSO: So how do you think that has created a tighter-knit community? Whether it's just within the 4G beekeeping team, but also within your entire community there in Hawkins?
4G BEEKEEPER RACHEL: We've all had to readjust to the new normal, I guess you could say we had to take precautions do things differently, but still stay together, work together, work harder. This has given us more time to actually come together as a community and be there for each other during this hard time. Then our community has still stood beside us and supporting our local small business. I think that's just really what's been the main point for over the past few months. I mean, we haven't had school, towns were shutting down, businesses were closing, but all in all, we all still stood together and worked hard to achieve our goals and keep on pushing forward.
4G BEEKEEPER EMMA: I feel like it has definitely brought us together more as a community because some of the things we've done, like the farmer's market, which we just started. We started selling honey at that. And even though during the pandemic, we're still having to take our precautions, we still had a lot of people show up from the community.
CHARLY ARNOLT/CARUSO: That's great. I didn't even know there was a farmer's market. That's so cool. So, you're selling your honey at the farmer's market, and what are people saying about it?
4G BEEKEEPER EMMA: Well, we have a lot of people that do come to the farmer's market just to buy our honey.
CHARLY ARNOLT/CARUSO: That’s incredible.
4G BEEKEEPER CHLOE: Yeah. This pandemic has given us lots of time to come together. I mean, there were mornings we're out there at 4:30, you know, plugging off hives to relocate them, coming in at 11 o'clock at night to pick up some swarms that were out there at the loading docks. So, it's just like a constant thing, but we enjoy it. We love doing what we do. So, it's nothing that's really dreadful. We don't dread it. We love going out there. We love helping each other out. We love being together. So, I think it's that really helps me and passionate about it. And then it's just everything about it. I think we all really enjoy it.
MATT BYRD: I'll jump in now. So, kind of where we're getting into now. They've got their honeybee business. We are expanding. We're wanting to get into pollination. And with that, we are trying to build 300 beehives before January to ship out to California and we're working, we're going to place them in the almond fields. And pollination is a very large business. It's kind of another side of what they've already been doing. It's going to help grow their business. And that's the other thing. All the money that we receive off of their sales goes right back into their program. So, we provided scholarships through that funding this past year, of course, being our first year. The two ladies that were seniors, they received pretty nice scholarships. Nestlé also provided scholarships to them, and those that remember when they were aired on the TODAY Show, that was a big surprise. We had no clue that they were going to receive $5,000 scholarships on TV. And so, that was really neat and all that just it's because it came from a phone call. I received the call about a year and a half ago from Cheryl Conway out here at our Ozarka plant. They had the problem with the bees swarming and the docks. And some of the drivers, I think, were getting stung, and they were becoming a nuisance. And because it is a bottled water facility, you're very limited on how you can control that. So, Cheryl had the idea of, hey, let's call the high school up and see if the FFA program would want to get involved and see if we'd come up with a solution. And the solution was to build beehives and put them out in the field to draw the bees away from the plant, back out into the field. So, it started, I think we had two beehives that we put out there and it seemed to be working. They didn't have near the swarms up there by the loading docks. And so, it just kind of grew from there.
CHARLY ARNOLT/CARUSO: Yeah. Brooke, this started as a small community program. You were helping a local bottling facility. Now you are looking to help California. Washington may be in the future. You were recognized on the Today Show, presented with scholarships. I mean, people around the country are taking notice of what you girls are doing. How does that feel and how does it really encourage you to want to do even more?
4G BEEKEEPER BROOKE: It's a crazy feeling. I mean, when we first started this, we were just expecting to have a few hives out at the Ozarka water plant, and we had no clue. And like Mr. Byrd said, it went national. Everybody knew our name. And I think that's what's keeping us really, really focused. You know, a lot of people are watching us, what we're doing. They're learning from us. And so, we have to keep a really straight head on what we're doing and continue it because now we're an inspiration to not only young people in the FFA, but young women, because it's an all-women's group. And so, they're really looking at us and I think that's what's keeping us going real strong is we we've shed such a large, large spotlight on the FFA and how young people can be in contact with huge corporations, such as Nestlé Waters, and be so successful in it.
CHARLY ARNOLT/CARUSO: Well, I think that's amazing. I think that's such a cool story. And hopefully, like you said, encourages lots of other young leaders to really forge their own path because I mean, what a world it would be if everyone would take action, like you did.
So, on that note, what would you say to people to encourage them to help, or in what ways can they be the most beneficial?
SKY BEARD: I think a lot of times it starts with awareness and starts with that personal deep inside intrinsic desire to do something to serve your community. And I think that's one of the things that the pandemic, as challenging it has been in so many ways, it has really brought to light some of the real challenges that were existing in communities. So, I think by people really opening their eyes to that and being aware to that and seeing what's really happening in their community as a first step. But you're right, like now, what do you do with that now? What do you, how do you, move that into action? And so much of that is really based on having their voice heard and taking that passion and making sure that it's heard.
MICHELLE WILSON: And I would just to add to that, it's so interesting having done volunteer work for so many years now, when new people, whether you're in a community or you're in a corporation, I find the biggest question that I get is, people are like, “I don't know how to do it; I don't know what to do. I want to do something good, but I don't really know.” And literally, I always say to my other board members we have to be so specific. You have to give somebody the first step. What I found is, when you can break it down into smaller things and it not seem so overwhelming. I have a lot of young professionals who say, oh, you do a lot of philanthropic work. Like, how did you get there? Like, what was the first step you took? And so, I always tell people, don't think about the big thing. Like, okay, you're chairing a board. Don't think about doing that. Think doing one small thing. And I always try to break it down. So, for Make-A-Wish, we've even set up where, if you're on Facebook or Instagram, how do you set up a page where for your birthday, instead of asking for presents, you can ask for a five-dollar donation instead of a birthday gift? And sometimes people just don't know how to do that or how to pick a charity to do that. And so, we've found that really finding small things that people can do. Or hey, there's a parade in Stamford, Connecticut for a 15-year-old girl who wasn't going to get her birthday wish, come be part of the parade. That’s really easy to do. And then once they participate in something or they do something, that action then feeds on itself. But a lot of times, young people don't know how to get started. People in corporate America don't know how to get started because they've waited so long into their career. And I always try to encourage people, let's think of small things that people can do. And then that small thing can turn into a bigger thing and a passion, like you said, Sky. It has to be kind of in your heart to want to do it. And I hear it in the girls’ voices. Like they didn't really know anything about beekeeping, but once they kind of got into it and somebody showed them one thing, it kind of grew into this much larger thing than they ever expected. And so, I always say, like one small thing really turns into a huge impact down the line. And I know at Make-A-Wish, that's how we try to think about it and how I try to think about it when people ask me how to get involved.
CHARLY ARNOLT/CARUSO: So, all of you have such incredible passions and hobbies that have turned into careers that you're all undertaking. I'm curious if there was a moment in time that really encouraged you to go full speed ahead with what you're doing now, if there was one moment that really sticks out that you can say, this was the turning point for me.
4G BEEKEEPER CHLOE: Well, it all got started with when we were getting ready to compete at the Houston livestock show and rodeo with our bee boxes and (inaudible). We won overall reserve grand champion and showmanship. And I think with us going out at the competition, bringing people in, telling them about our project, how it got started, and then receiving that award that we did, I think that really kind of motivated us to keep on trying, to keep on practicing, to keep on doing what we're doing, to get better at it. And not even with that, that helped us gain our speaking ability, I guess you could say, it allowed us to get out there. And then after that, it was more of the leadership. We had to keep on going, even after the competition. It wasn't just something you stop. You have to keep on building; you have to keep on sharing what it's all about. And even with all of that, I think it's really brought the attention from our younger kids at the school, we’re inspiring just the kids in our community that it's possible to go out and do something so that’s considered small at first and that can turn into something big. It's more of an inspiration. And it doesn't have to be beekeeping. It could be anything they could ever want to do. Just start out with a small little piece of it and then add on with it. And I think that's really great that we're the four here doing that, inspiring the kids that we’re around every day. That honestly motivates me to want to be a better person, to be a better leader, to show other kids that it's okay to step out of your comfort zone and do something that's not exactly considered normal.
CHARLY ARNOLT/CARUSO: Michelle, was there a turning point for you where your career in corporate America really encouraged you to say, okay, I want to be more than just a businesswoman? I want to be someone who gives back to my community and makes a difference.
MICHELLE WILSON: Yes, you know, it's funny. It was a WWE experience that was kind of my turning point of not just doing it professionally with the companies that I work for, but me personally, with my personal time and money. And it was at one of these large fundraising events for Make-A-Wish Connecticut. And there was a little boy there. His name is Evan. I'm going to try to get through the story without crying, but it was so inspiring. So, Evan was probably nine years old at the time, and he has suffered an illness since he was a baby and multiple surgeries. But when you meet Evan, you would never know that there's anything wrong with Evan. He’s such a happy boy. I happened to be at the event with some of our fellow WWE superstars, the Big Show, who's like seven two. I had Naomi with me, and I think Natalya, one of the WWE female superstars. And so, Evan came running up to me and he was like, hey, you know, I know you're the woman with WWE. Can you introduce me? Like, I can't wrestle. I can never be a WWE superstar because of my physical limitations, but I know I can be an announcer. So, I don't know, Charly. He may still come steal your job someday.
(Charly Arnolt/Caruso jumps in with) I would love that. Send him my way.
(Michelle Wilson continues) And so I just saw him so excited talking about WWE and he wanted to talk to them. And interestingly, we had given a prize package to go to WrestleMania, which is our Super Bowl. And one of the other donors at a table nearby, literally there was like a bidding war for this WWE package. And I think he ended up spending $15,000 to win this trip to WrestleMania, backstage tour, meet superstars. And at the end of the night, the gentleman who had donated $15,000 for the package came up to me in the hallway and he tapped me on the shoulder, and he said, do you know the little boy? And you're with WWE, right? And I said, yeah. And I said, oh, it's Evan. Yeah, he's a huge WWE fan. He said, well I bid on this package for my family and I just spent this money on it. But I have a feeling that it's going to mean a lot more to that Wish kid to get this prize. And so, I'm not going to take it. I want to give it to him. And so, can you give it to him? And in that moment, I saw what the power of hope and how people can come together and do great things. And it was such this amazing, like I was in the middle of this great, really amazing emotional event, and so, I was able to go tell Evan that he was actually going to WrestleMania or Summer Slam and like, literally, the tears to this day, I'm still in touch with Evan's family. He's now 14. He started high school. He's healthy and thriving. He's still a WWE fan. I think he wants to audition at some point to be an announcer. But at that moment, it really inspired me when I saw the generosity of a donor, and not just with the dollars, but with the heart, that you can really make a difference in people's lives. And at that moment, I decided personally to spend more of my time when I wasn't working to volunteer for Make-A-Wish and to be part of the organization to change lives and impact. And it was all because of one little kid and one donor who had a big heart. And it is, like you guys said, it's one little thing that now I've spent a lot of my time raising money for Make-A-Wish and raising awareness because of that one little event that happened in a hallway at a fundraising event.
SKY BEARD: Yeah, it's interesting question to reflect on all of those little moments that have probably impacted our course in many ways that we probably can't even recognize. But I think I just personally was destined to do social services in some way - where that comes from, who knows? But I think where child hunger really showed up for me a couple years ago was in my children's school. My daughter, who is this year a senior in high school, a couple years ago she would come home and talk about how some of her friends at school had no food or her friends would express to her that they were going home with no idea where dinner was going to come from that evening. And so, we ended up with a lot of people at our house for meals. We ended up sending in extra snacks before I really recognized that my children were doing it. It was one of those very proud parent moments where your children kind of understand the world around them and want to do something better. And these are families that we've known for a long time who are experiencing a hardship that any one of us could face at any given time. So, it was really through the eyes of my children. My son had similar experiences in elementary school with peers. And seeing their concern for their peers and other students really helped me see the issue in every community and feel compelled to do something about it. I think we talked about awareness before, and for me, when you know that families and children are struggling, when you know that there's challenges in your communities, it becomes really hard to look away. And then it becomes, what do I do about that? What's my place in making sure that I'm part of a solution? And that led me to No Kid Hungry.
CHARLY ARNOLT/CARUSO: I think that it's incredible to hear the moments because I think a lot of people think that, oh, these people just, this is what they do. You know, it's not something that you just fall into. There's a moment. There's something that happens that really encourages you to move in a certain direction. And I think that it's nice to know ‘cause I think there's a lot of people out there who say, what can I do or how can I get involved? And it's not just something that you have to completely fall into immediately, you know, it's step by step. And it's just not the big things that you do, but the small things that you do that make a huge difference and then really turn into something much bigger. So, there's just so many different things you can do. And I think that it's really encouraging to hear from all of you who come from such different areas, but all are doing such big things to help out our communities and society as a whole. So, thank you so much.
SKY BEARD: Thank you.
CHARLY ARNOLT/CARUSO: Is there anything else that anyone wants to add or things that might be important for the discussion, things that listeners might want to know or could benefit from?
MATT BYRD: You know, one thing about what we tell our students when they enter that doorway, and whether it's an FFA program or athletics or band, is to get involved and, in some form or fashion, is to find a fit. We have so many students and they enter our doorways, they may seem a little bit lost at times and they just really hadn't found that fit in high school. Especially for freshmen, that's such a weird year for them. And, you know, maybe their friends have changed and maybe their goals have changed and maybe they just really haven't found a home. So, we encourage that is to find something that interests them, just like these four young ladies sitting beside me. I mean, when they entered the door for the first time down here, I don't think any of them, including myself, ever thought we would have a beekeeping program and be sitting here today having a discussion with you all. So, it's funny how one door leads to another, but it took them making that commitment. And I that's what I recommend students for, is to commit to something and see it through and find a fit.
MICHELLE WILSON: I would just add to that. People ask me a lot, oh, it takes a lot of time and how do you find the time to do it? What I will say is to anybody who is starting, even if you do something small, and I know that the four girls from 4GB would agree, that what you put into it, you get out like ten times. And you know, I have so many of these Wish families come up and thank me. And I'm like, no, no, no. You know, thank you. You’ve shared your family with me. You’ve shared your hardships with me. You get so much out of it - life lessons and friendships. And so, it's like don't underestimate when you put in hard work, you actually get so much back. And I always tell people that. Don't be afraid of volunteering because it'll be the best thing you've ever done. Or work hard on something because you'll get it paid back to you so many times over. And, you know, that to me has been the most surprising part of volunteering is how much you get out of it personally.
SKY BEARD: Yeah, I think it's real easy, especially in the life that we're all living right now, to let the need in our communities just overwhelm us. It can feel just, where do I even start, and am I even really going to make a difference because the needs are so great? And I think recognizing that projects that each of us work on, it's all doable. It's all solvable and it's possible. But it takes communities coming together to do that. It takes, as we talked about today, collaboration and flexibility. But it's not impossible. And I think sometimes it's real easy to get stuck in impossible and overwhelmingness and not really have the faith to kind of take the next step into action. So, I think supporting people that you know that are maybe considering getting into some of their passions is taking that first step. And even if, like we talked about, even if it’s a teeny one, it's doing something. Because it does make a difference.
CHARLY ARNOLT/CARUSO: Well, thank you to all of you for being so open. Thank you for doing what you do. Thank you for helping to make the world a better place. I know I appreciate you. I know our listeners appreciate you. And I just want to thank you so much for your time because this has been a very, very eye-opening and insightful conversation. This episode has touched on just a few of the dedicated organizations and the individuals that have with others to make lasting impacts in their communities. So, I hope they've inspired all of you as much as they have me. And now we would like to single out a very special individual whose personal commitment, and that of his Bullard Family Foundation, provide college educations to deserving student athletes - and so many more. I'm honored to feature our PLANET HERO, WWE superstar Titus O'Neil. A decade-long veteran of World Wrestling Entertainment, Titus is well known, both inside and outside of the ring, for his humanitarian work. Inside the ring, he's a fan favorite, the first-ever 24/7 champion and a community relations ambassador. But in the Tampa Bay region of Florida, where he lives and was a standout football player for the University of Florida, he is revered outside of the ring for his charity work. His Bullard Family Foundation donates to people in need and has helped more than 250 student athletes get into college. Titus also leads volunteers in reading books to kids in afterschool programs. The fact is, in or out of the ring, you can always count on Titus O'Neil to put a smile on people's faces. So, let's hear from this larger-than-life champion about why he is so passionate about helping others and what makes him a PLANET HERO.
CHARLY ARNOLT/CARUSO: Okay. So, Titus, how are you doing?
TITUS O’NEIL: Excellent. How are you?
CHARLY ARNOLT/CARUSO: So happy to see you outside of WWE. So, what do you say we get into some questions because you, Sir, are this episode's Planet Hero. Congratulations
TITUS O’NEIL: That's awesome. Thank you.
CHARLY ARNOLT/CARUSO: Absolutely. Okay. So, Titus, tell me, how did your childhood shape your desire to help others?
TITUS O’NEIL: Well, it's a very well documented that I'm a product of a sexual assault. And my mother had me at the age of 12 and there were a lot of difficulties that I had as a child. And if it wasn't for people that came from all walks of life, giving me an opportunity to become the man that I am today and completely eradicate the stereotype that was placed on me as a young kid, of being a bad kid, and give me a positive reinforcement and a positive environment, I would not be in this position today to do the same. And so, when people ask me, why is it that you do so much for other people? And my immediate answer is always, how can I not do things for people? Because people did things for me and invested in me when they had nothing to gain in return. And so, I will never be able to financially pay those people back. I'll never be able to even tell some of them thank you in person. What I can do is every day that I get up, have a heart full of gratefulness and a heart ready to give and a mindset ready to give. And to hopefully put someone else in a better position than they were prior to meeting me or prior to me learning of their circumstances. And because that's what was done for me and my family, and we live a completely different life than we probably could have.
CHARLY ARNOLT/CARUSO: So, Titus, obviously as a WWE superstar you are very immersed in philanthropy. So, talk to me about which causes you really love to support and why you choose to support those causes?
TITUS O’NEIL: Within WWE we have a great partnership with several organizations. And one that you know is very near and dear to me is with Susan G. Komen because my grandmother passed away in 1995 from breast cancer. And she was the rock of our family and someone that, when everybody else was telling me or others that I would never amount to anything, she would always be the one that fought in my defense. So, Susan G. Komen was very close to me, obviously. Also, I'm a Boys and Girls Club kid and alum and our partnership with them, as well, is very important to me, near and dear to me, as well, simply because I do a lot of work here in the Tampa Bay area locally with our afterschool program that I've implemented here at the school project that I've adopted, both at the elementary and the middle school, and have done tons of fundraisers to help continue those funds so that these kids can have these safe spaces to go to similar to what I had growing up. Special Olympics has always been very close to me. Even prior to coming to WWE, I used to work at a school that specifically dealt with kids with disabilities.
CHARLY ARNOLT/CARUSO: So, we're talking a lot about collaboration. You're working with an organization to help them further their goals and their causes. So, tell me why and how can collaboration impact community in such a positive way?
TITUS O’NEIL: Well, a lot of people have this mindset, some people have this mindset that their initiative and their way of doing things is the only way of doing things. And I feel like the only way you can actually grow in anything is to have great partnerships and relationships with other people outside of your own business or team or whatever it may be. Yeah. And so, when you have partnerships with the right people, it just makes your job that much easier, especially when you know the mission is the same. You know, I’ve always wondered why there are so many different organizations that do the same work and are doing the same event. So, if there's a small nonprofit on the left side of town that's trying to give backpacks away and there's a church that's trying to do the same thing, why do you guys constantly fight for these dollars instead of just coming together and making an impact together? You know, one of the reasons why we're in a position where in the country is because everybody's just looking at things from one lens. If we all try to at least halfway put ourselves in someone else's shoes, whether it's those in the lesbian and gay community, those in the black and brown community, those from another country trying to figure things out here in America, if we just try to put ourselves in those other people's shoes, we’d be a lot better off. And all the way that you can put yourself in somebody else's shoes is become partners with them.
CHARLY ARNOLT/CARUSO: Now, speaking of change. You talk about making transformational change versus transactional change. So, what do you mean by that?
TITUS O’NEIL: Transformational change is what helped me get to the point that I'm in right now. It’s people that actually did things over time. It wasn't a one-time occurrence. And so, a lot of times people around the holidays, they get together and they give out turkey meals and it's like, oh, I feel so good that I was able to feed a few families. And you feel good about yourself. And the other person feels good for that day. But they came to you in that situation, so that food or that meal box is only going to last for so long. And so, that's just a transaction to help get them to the next day or the next few days. Transformation is saying, you know what? I know you're hungry. Let's find out how you got into this position. And then try to see if there is a way that we can get you out of this position. So, did you graduate from high school? Do you have a trade? Do you have a job? Do you have a house? And so, I feel like people, corporations and community partners around the globe need to take a look at more effective transformational moments that they can have for both the giver and for those that are receiving.
CHARLY ARNOLT/CARUSO: That’s awesome, Titus. Now something else that you have said in the past, you say this, you either do, or you don't, you either will, or you won't, but there is no can't. Can you share why that's important to you and how you share that mindset with your two teenage sons?
TITUS O’NEIL: My kids say, hey dad, I want to be the best football player I can possibly be. Well, you will be that if you actually put in the work and what will that mean? That you'll be the best one in the country? Maybe, or maybe not, I'm not sure. But if you don't lift weights, if you don't study, if you don't do the things that you need to do, there's a pretty good chance that you won't accomplish any of the things that you want to accomplish. But can’t is not an option and it's one of the three rules that I have in my house. The first rule is to love and respect everybody that you come in contact with. You may not like some of those people. You may not get along with some, a lot of those people. But you love them, and you respect them. Rule number two is don't use the word can’t. It's for two reasons. One, I was told my entire life what I can’t do. And I ended up proving it to be a lie once I learned to apply myself and to accept the help from others around me that were trying to point me and guide me in the right direction. And then the other part of that is that I do believe in God and the Bible says that we can do all things through Christ who strengthens us. And so, if I say I believe, then I need to utilize that all throughout my life and in my faith walk. And then the third one is be your best. Some days that you wake up in the morning and if you got to take a test, you may get a D on that test. As long as you apply yourself and you do the very best that you possibly do, you or anyone else can never be disappointed.
CHARLY ARNOLT/CARUSO: Well, that's a great rule to live by. I think your whole trio of roles are great ones to live by. I think things that we should all be instilling in all of our lives. So, Titus, I guess my final question to you, because you're such a driven and motivated person, and I know that you just have a will and you have something inside of you that encourages you, something beyond your control to help others. Additionally, you do have a past that I think has shaped you and created something inside of you that makes you want to help others. But what else is it? Is there one other thing that you could tell me is the reason behind why are you are so passionate about helping others?
TITUS O’NEIL: I think that there was a plan on my life long before I was born. And despite the circumstances that I was brought into this world, I've always been special. And the moment that other people treated me opposite of what I was treated as a kid, they treated me as a special individual. I remember that every single day and I want other people to feel just as special as I did on certain moments in my life. And the only way that I can do that is actually get up and be a good human being to everybody. And hopefully, be able to put some of those smiles and some of that joy in some of those people's hearts and change the trajectory of their day or their life by just being a good human being.
CHARLY ARNOLT/CARUSO: You are truly a very special human being. I know that everyone in WWE feels that way. Obviously, a reason why you were chosen to be our planet hero. So, Titus, thank you so, so much. It's always a pleasure to speak to you and I, too, feel very special to know you.
TITUS O’NEIL: Thank you.
CHARLY ARNOLT/CARUSO: Titus, thank you so much for inspiring us to be our own planet heroes. And thank you to our guests for sharing the good work that they do each and every day. They truly do make our planet better for all of us. So, do you know someone who is a planet hero? How have they made your community or state a better place to live? We would love to hear about them and the work that they do, and you can nominate them at www.thisishowweplanet.com, and we may even use them and feature them on a future episode. If you would like to learn more about the people and organizations that we've just spoken with, you can also visit that same site www.thisishowweplanet.com.
We truly hope you've enjoyed the discussion. Thank you so much for joining us. And we look forward to having you with us again for future episodes of This Is How We Planet. Until next time, I'm your host, Charlie Arnolt, and This Is How We Planet.