I was finally able to procure a copy, through inter-library loan, of a book I’ve been wanting to read since I first heard Bill Strickland speak at the Housing Colorado NOW! affordable housing conference a few years back. At that time, I heard that he would be retelling his inspiring story about building a craftsman/job training center, Manchester Bidwell, in an upcoming book.
Bill Strickland has to be one of the most innovative social enterprise thinkers working in the non-profit world today. In sum, the book describes one man’s desire to create inspiration in inner-city Pittsburgh through arts, music, and job skills, imbued with personal passion, plenty of high-culture references, and philosophical and practical thoughts, all while relaying his own rise from inner-city single-motherdom to struggling college student to nonprofit founder to pilot to larger-than-life nonprofit celebrity.
For those that have heard Bill Strickland speak, the first chapter will bring back (verbatim) memories of his slides and the stories he tells in an hour-long journey, full of wonder and amazement at how he’s turned job skills training into life-turnaround-experiences.
I was reminded that, for me, there was something almost too good to be true about his inspiration—that perhaps in his passion to provide nourishment for others’ souls, somehow his own has been forgotten along the way. Without a doubt, his ideas about turning abject disappointment into a land of opportunity have been overwhelmingly successful for many participants, and given Manchester/Pittsburg a reason and a place to celebrate.
The economic driver behind many of Manchester Bidwell’s corporate partnerships, are, as Strickland admits, perhaps questionnable to some in the non-profit industry. However, “If you can’t beat ’em, join ’em” still goes a long way toward making an impact. Mahchester Bidwell seems almost solely built on partnerships with corporations who need specific employees, or on start-up programs that fulfill niche markets–be they orchid-growing or medical paraprofessional training.
This low-tech book is a good reminder to not only go back to the basics, but to really examine the desired end result of a project in order to be sure that you’re not just following the tried-and-true. I’ve in no way done it justice, so I recommend reading Making the Impossible Possible as the best way to be inspired to apply the Manchester Bidwell lessons in your own world.