Jul 18, 2019 34 min read

Awaken Compassion in Your Community - with Kory Wilcoxson

Quote from Transcript.

Episode 8, 43 min listen

Join the Compassionate Cities movement to awaken compassion in your own community. We'll interview Rev. Kory Wilcoxson and learn about how Lexington, Kentucky has done just that through their Lex Give Back program. We'll also learn what it takes to become a Compassionate City.


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Kory Wilcoxson:

[00:00:00] If we can bridge some of those divides with this core value of compassion, I think it makes the community even stronger knit.

Ame Sanders:

This is State of Inclusion. I’m Ame Sanders.  Welcome.  Today, we’re talking with Kory Wilcoxson from Lexington, Kentucky.  Kory has been instrumental in leading an initiative to help Lexington become a Compassionate City, and a program they call Lex Give Back.  We’re excited to talk with him and learn more about what it means to be a Compassionate City and how his city gives back.  So, Kory thank you for being here with us.  It’s such a pleasure to have you here to get to know you and to learn more about Lexington, Kentucky.

So, compassion is a word that we often use, but perhaps we don’t all share the same definition. Can you help us a little bit with that? What does compassion mean to you?

Kory Wilcoxson:

Sure.  Well, thanks for having me, Ame. [00:01:00] I really appreciate being on the podcast with you and having a chance to talk about Lex Give Back and Compassionate Lexington.

-Etymology of the word compassion

So, when I think of the word compassion, I’m a word nerd a little bit. And so, I love to dig into the sort of the origins of words and to sort of learn their roots.

Ame Sanders:

I’m a word nerd, too.

Kory Wilcoxson:

Yeah, and so compassion is a fascinating word to dig into because, you’re right, it has so many different meanings in our culture.  But if you dig into the roots of it, it means to suffer with.

So, -passion is suffer like The Passion of Christ and com- is with so compassion is not having pity, which I think is a lot of the ways it’s used in our culture today, but it really means to suffer with someone.  So, to be compassionate towards someone means to enter into their suffering with them.

So, you’re bearing their burdens with them, but it’s for the purpose of transformation.  So, you enter into their suffering with them in order to share their burdens to help transform their experience from one of suffering to one of joy, of hope, of [00:02:00] healing, whatever comes out of that.  But, you know, that’s a lot different than writing a check or just serving once a month at a food kitchen, or something.

It really means being willing to sacrifice some of your own security and comfort to enter into somebody else’s suffering. That’s why I think compassion is such a such a strong word and an important word because we tend to be so siloed or we tend to sort of build barriers around ourselves to insulate us from the suffering of others.

Whereas being compassionate encourages us and calls us to enter into that suffering.

-Engaging the entire community

Ame Sanders:

Kory, I get that you’re a minister and compassion and giving back, I mean, that makes a lot of sense for you.  They’re perhaps even expected.  I mean, I won’t say part of the job description, but…

Kory Wilcoxson:

No, it is very much part of the job description.

Ame Sanders:

The question I’ve been dying to ask you is:  how did you get a whole community to go along with you on this?

Kory Wilcoxson:

I mean, that’s a good question, and I don’t even know if I can fully answer it [00:03:00] because that’s one of the amazing things about this program was, we decided to do it, but we had no idea how it was going to actually work.  We were doing it as part of the Leadership Lexington program, and one of the things that they required for this project was that we show how the program was successful.  And, one of the things we quickly learned with Lex Give Back was we’re not going to have measurable outcomes.  Right, because no one’s going to report back to us and say hey, look I was compassionate on Tuesday from 3 to 4.  It’s that compassion is such an unmeasurable quality.  And so, what we did was we just publicized the heck out of Lex Give Back and tried to get people just to sign up to say they would participate.  Then we, just sort of, in spiritual terms, let the spirit do its work.  And so, it was very much like casting seeds to the wind and trusting the winds were going to carry them somewhere, where there will take root and blossom.

Here’s why I think it was successful. [00:04:00] We didn’t have numbers, but we had stories.  We had stories of people who had lived out their compassion, or people who had been the recipients of their compassion.  And, I really think, Ame, to get at your question, one of the things we learned and one of the things that I believe is true of everybody, is we have the capacity for compassion within us, but we don’t always have an avenue to live it out.

Right here in your community of Lexington, there are kids who are going hungry and there are mothers who are being abused and there are people who don’t have working smoke alarms in their house.  You can do something about it.  You can live out your compassion right here in Lexington and make a difference for people.  And, I think that’s what really touched people was here’s a chance to live that out.   And in a quick story about how I recognized this, one of the things we did to publicize Lex Give Back was we set up a table at the mall, right?  We’re in the middle of the mall with this table and our banner, and we’re handing out things.  And you know, Ame, if you ever go to a mall and just sit, it’s a fascinating study of the human [00:05:00] condition.  Because, people, when they saw us, and we would make eye contact with them, the first thing they do would be to lower their eyes and walk faster.  Right?  Because the assumption was you’re in a mall, somebody selling something.

Ame Sanders:


Kory Wilcoxson:

Right?  And, so my friend and I, who were doing this together, we realized we had to change our approach, and so we started by saying, “Hi, we’re not selling anything. We’re asking people to be compassionate.”   And when that would get people’s attention, and we’d start to tell them about Lex Give Back, they would go from sort of being trepidatious or cautious about talking to us to saying, “Oh my gosh, this is so needed.  You know, how can I sign up?  What are ways I can participate?”  So I think, once you get past that sort of protective veneer that people put over themselves because I think our culture today sort of encourages that, that sense of fear or whatever, and you say, “Hey look all I’m asking to do is be kind and help someone else.”  I think that opens up in people this desire to do that.  And so, I think we really tapped into something that’s in people’s DNA, to want to help others, [00:06:00] and we tried to give them concrete ways to do it.  I think that’s why it really gained ground and took off.

-Stories about Lex Give Back

Ame Sanders:

So, you mentioned that you had some stories and you share any of those stories with us so we can kind of get a sense of what you’re talking about.

Kory Wilcoxson:

Yeah, absolutely.  So, we had made up these postcards that we were sitting out in local coffee shops and restaurants and those sorts of things and I had taken a stack of them to one of my favorite places, which is called Chocolate Holler, which is a hot chocolate place where I go and write my sermons every week.  And so, I had gone there, and I put a stack up by the register, and I sat down to start my sermon.  And, this young family mom and dad and little girl come in, and they’re up at the counter ordering, and little girl picks up one of the postcards.  And like Mom, “What’s this?”   So, the mom takes it and turns it over and reads about it.  She says, “Oh, well, it looks like they’re asking people to do nice things for other people.”   And the daughter is like, “Oh, I want to do that. What can we do?”  And so, they went and sat down, and they were at the table next to me.  And, the mom says, “Well, what do you [00:07:00] want to do?  What can we do next week to be nice to other people?”  And she thought about it and she said, “I want to pick up trash around our neighborhood, and I want to make signs that say don’t litter.”   And the mom said, “That’s great.” And, she said, “I want to get my friends to help me, too.”

And so, I hope, I don’t know, but I hope that that little girl followed through and she made the signs, and she got her friends involved and they picked up litter around their neighborhood and sort of beautified their neighborhood.

There’s a family in church that, it’s a mom and daughter who live together, and they have several elderly folks that live around them.  And so, they decided they wanted to make meals for all of them.  And so, each day of the week, they went to a different neighbor and took a meal to them.

And one of my personal examples a couple of them, I could go on forever with stories because there’s just so many ways, I think it was amazing.  So, this year for Lex Give Back, one of the organizations that needed help was a Hope Center, and Hope Center is a homeless shelter, and then they have the Hope Mobile which delivers sandwiches to homeless people in our area.  So, I [00:08:00] realized no one had signed up to make sandwiches.  So, on Tuesday, I just posted on Facebook, “Hey, I’m going to host a sandwich-making party on Thursday, come at lunchtime, bring sandwich supplies, and let’s put together some sandwiches at the Hope Center.”  And, I didn’t know if it would be me, maybe me or one or two people.  Well, on Thursday at noon, 18 people showed up, and we made seven hundred sandwiches.

Ame Sanders:

Wow, that’s amazing.

Kory Wilcoxson:

And that’s just from putting the word out on Tuesday.

-The Heart of a City – Awaken Compassion

And so, I think that speaks to that desire to be compassionate that people have they just need an invitation and they just need an avenue to live that out.  For me to think just by one Facebook post we made seven hundred sandwiches and fed people who wouldn’t have a chance to eat, otherwise.  That capacity is there, we just need to find ways to tap into it.

Ame Sanders:

One of the questions I had was, how do you change the heart of a city? But what you’re saying is the heart is already there. It’s just a matter of giving us an avenue or [00:09:00] tapping into it or giving people the opportunity to express the heart and the compassion that is already inside them.  It isn’t really about changing.

Maybe people are changed through the action of doing it or through the action of receiving. But what you’re saying is, there’s a lot of compassion already there in your city, and maybe in most cities.  That it’s just a matter of kind of releasing it?

Kory Wilcoxson:

Yeah, I would say, yeah, that’s good releasing.

I think that maybe a word I would use is, awakening.

Ame Sanders:

Awakening, that’s good.

Kory Wilcoxson:

You know, it’s awakening this compassion, or it’s I think people have the compassion but in a lot of cases it’s it has a layer of fear over it because it’s easy to be compassion for someone who looks like me and who lives near me, but what we’re really trying to push, and I really want to make inroads in this in future years is going out and being compassionate.  In parts of the city that you don’t normally go to and with people that you whom you would [00:10:00] normally associate with.   Lexington is a close-knit community, and we have a strong sense of community, but like a lot of communities, there’s a racial divide, there’s a socio-economic divide, but I think compassion is universal.  And so, it’s one of the things that can help us bridge those divides because it goes beyond the theology or politics or those sorts of things because I think everyone both has the desire to live out their compassion, but I would argue that everyone also has the need to receive compassion.  And so, if we can bridge some of those divides with this core value of compassion, I think it makes the community even stronger knit, this releasing or awakening of compassion and giving people a conduit to follow that puts them in a place to live it out.  Because, someone may not choose on their own just to show up at Salvation Army and serve lunch, but if I offer the invitation or Lex Give Back provides them a way to connect with Salvation Army, then they’re going to be maybe more likely to go and do that.

In another story that highlights this for me, [00:11:00] the Red Cross in our area has a program called Sound the Alarm.  And what it does, is it provides free smoke alarms, free fire alarms for people in lower socio-economic houses who maybe don’t have them make sense.

Ame Sanders:

Makes Sense… At-risk.

Kory Wilcoxson:

Yeah, at-risk, exactly.  And so, I went last year, and I paired up with two young ladies who were African refugees, who had come over to Lexington a couple years ago.  And so, the three of us, I mean, you know, three people that probably wouldn’t have been together otherwise, we’re going to these houses and knocking on the doors and saying, “hey, do you have working smoke alarms? Would you like some?”  Some of these houses weren’t houses I would choose to go to by myself, if I hadn’t been a part of this program.  It was a part of the city. I don’t go.  It was it was a class of people that I don’t normally interact with, just because of where I live and where I work, but what it let me do was break down those barriers and stereotypes that I have, and I know I have, and to see these people as [00:12:00] human beings that have the same joys and challenges and everything else that I do and so it humanize the issue and it helped me see how again how grateful.  They kept saying, “you mean these are free? We don’t have to pay you for them?”   I’m like, “no, they’re free. If you let me put this here on your wall and I’ll show you how to test it. They don’t need batteries. They can just be there forever.”  And, one of the houses we went into was an Hispanic family, and the mom didn’t speak English, at all.  So, the daughter was translating as we were talking and just being in those situations and recognizing our common humanity.

I think that’s what I feel like Lex Give Back has the potential to do is to put people in more of those situations were relating to people, not as political issues, not as socio-economic, or racial stereotypes, we’re relating to them human being to human being and that’s when I think our compassion blossoms the most.

Ame Sanders:

Wow, that’s a great story because it’s a very practical service and then it’s really [00:13:00] both a kind of a bridging and bonding work that you did together with the families who needed that.  So that’s a really good story.  And that’s a simple thing that communities can do.

-About Charter for Compassion and Compassionate Cities

So, let’s just kind of break this down a little bit for people who may not know about the charter for Compassion or Compassionate Cities, at all, and who may not completely understand how Lex Give Back works from the stories that you’ve told.  So, can you talk a minute about the Charter for Compassion and Compassionate Cities, what that is, and if a city wanted to be one, what that would look like?

Kory Wilcoxson:

So, Charter for Compassion came out of a book by Karen Armstrong, and she’s written several books, spiritual-religious books, but this was a book called, I think it’s, 12 steps to Compassionate Living.  Really, sort of practical sort of hands-on kind of book of how you can live that out.  And then she gave a TED talk about compassion and that I think really sparked this movement of and [00:14:00] the creation of the Charter for Compassion and the creation of this whole Compassionate Cities Movement.

And as I understand it, it started first with just individuals or families signing the charter for compassion. And basically when you do that, you’re saying that you’re going to be intentional about making compassion a core value for yourself for your family those sorts of things, and as it grew, entire communities started to look at this and say we want to we want this to define us, as a community.

And so, then you had communities and cities signing up, and it really just it really went viral and grew into this large movement.  And, we had known several cities around us, Cincinnati and Louisville, that were compassionate cities.  And so, there is a council-woman for Lexington who is also a member of my church, and we had talked about this a few years ago and said, you know, we really need to look into making Lexington a Compassionate City and seeing what all is involved in that.  And so, we talked about it and it kept being this thing of yeah, we’re going to, we’re going to work on this.

When I was a part of this Leadership Lexington class, I pitched the [00:15:00] idea as a project, potential project of making Lexington a Compassionate City and that project was chosen by the class to be one of the class projects for us to work on, much to my surprise, because there were a lot of good projects.  So, that night, I called this Council-woman. Her name is Susan.

I said, “Susan you’re not going to believe this. My Leadership Lexington class has chosen my project to make Lexington a Compassionate City.”  And, she said, “that’s great. But I’ve already had a group working on that, and we’re almost done.”  I said, “Oh well, great, but then what’s going to happen to my project?”

And so, what I found out was they had done some of the legwork to make Lexington a Compassionate City, but they didn’t have any follow-up.  And so, that’s where my group, that’s where Lex Give Back came from.  But to become a Compassionate City, there’s not, I mean, it’s almost a self-designation.  Right?  So, there’s no nothing, no test you have to pass or there’s no criteria you have to meet, that are checked.  You just look at the Charter of Compassion, and you really commit to living that out.  And so, in Lexington, what they did was they took that Charter for Compassion to the Lexington [00:16:00] City Council and had the Council vote to adopt it as an identity marker for Lexington, that we want to be a Compassionate City.

So, the challenge with that, because it’s not you know monitored, or there’s not you know obstacles you have to pass, is really it’s up to each city to determine how they’re going to live that out.  And, Susan and I were very passionate about making sure this didn’t just become a plaque on the wall, because it is easy to make that vote and put it on your sign when people enter your city Lexington, Compassionate City, but actually not do anything about it.

And so, we really wanted to figure out how do we live out this compassion?  How do we make sure that it’s not just words, but it’s deeds, and so that’s where the idea Lex Give Back came from, of let’s focus that into a week where we’re really highlighting the need to be compassionate and then grow it from there.

And, that’s sort of where we are, now.  As we’ve done Lex Give Back two years, and so now we’re creating a 501c3 for Compassionate Lexington and we’re talking about what other events are going to be under there, but Lex Give Back was really [00:17:00] the genesis of that, and what it was, a week week-long designation.

-Challenges in the Program and Practical Advice

Finding a week is hard to do Kentucky.  You work around a couple of other religions which are basketball and horse racing.  And so, we said well, how can it fit in and so basically it falls after Easter and before the Kentucky Derby.  There’s usually a couple of weeks period in there.  So, it’s the end of April.  What we did, my team and I, what we did was we just we designated that week and then we just, like I said, publicized it to everyone.  Saying all we’re asking to do during that week is to commit to do an act of compassion for someone else.  It can be as simple as bringing in your neighbors’ garbage cans, if they’ve been sick, or making a meal.  We also provided this on our website.  We worked with a group called Step Forward Lexington, which is like a match.com for volunteers and organizations that need volunteers.  And so. if you wanted to participate you could go to our website, which would link to them, and here’s this buffet of things during the week, of organizations that need [00:18:00] help.  And oh, you know, Step by Step needs a volunteer on Tuesday from 5 to 6.  I’m available.  I’m going to sign up to go do that.  So, it was just trying to connect people to those opportunities and to let them be a part of that.

We had a kickoff where the Mayor designated that week Lex Give Back week.  So, it got publicity through news media, through government, through local restaurants, and businesses.  And, we were really intentional about working with local businesses.  So we wanted to promote the mom-and-pop places in Lexington to benefit them and then they’re promoting benefited us and we’ve worked really closely with them and continue to work closely with them to try to make this something that really benefits the whole community in a variety of different ways.

We worked with University of Kentucky, we worked with the school system trying to get tapped into all the different ways that people can live out their compassion.  But, gosh, there’s so much more, Ame, that we can do in those areas so many places that we’ve just scratched the surface and so I’m excited in subsequent years of trying to get more [00:19:00] involved, more people involved, from these other spheres of influence that exist in.

Ame Sanders:

I am so impressed with your energy for this. I mean a couple of years into it.  I see a lot of passion and energy around this.  Let’s unpack what you were just talking about.  There’s several things in there that I really want to highlight for people who are listening.  So, one is that the city, and that means the City Council, designated their city as a Compassionate City. So, it gets to the heart of starting at the top leadership, recognizing this and committing to this.  So that’s awesome.  Because I think that most big initiatives, they need that commitment from the top in order to sustain themselves.  So, that’s an important step.  I also like the fact, and I’ve also studied a little bit about the charter for compassion and Karen Armstrong, a couple of things that you didn’t mention I want to bring out. [00:20:00]  First, this is not a religious program.  So, Karen did a lot of studying to find out what are things that unite, you know, pretty much all the religions in the world.  And this do unto others, the Golden Rule, kind of do unto others as you would have others do unto you, it’s universal.

It’s a universal creed if you will, and so it’s not one religion.  It’s not Christianity.  It’s very Interfaith, or even non-faith.  So, it’s something anyone can sign on to because it’s not founded in a specific religious belief or doctrine.  So, I think that’s really important for people to understand.  The second part is that it did go viral, but it had a lot of help.  So, the Ted group was actually so impressed with her talk and her ideas, that she won the [00:21:00] Ted Prize for that year, which has given it some seed money and some starting energy.  But, it’s been sustained now for a very long time.   The other thing I want to mention and bring out to people is that I love the fact that this came out of a Leadership Lexington program because what we’re talking about here are ingredients that most all cities have.  So obviously cities housed some type of leadership group and a council.  They probably have someone on their council who would be willing to help sponsor this and bring it forward. The second thing is most cities have some type of leadership program and that we do in Greenville. I’m in Greenville, South Carolina.  We do, have been through that and most of them have projects as part of their leadership program, and often those projects are supplements or additional support some of the [00:22:00] nonprofit’s that exist.  Which there’s a lot of benefit in that, but I think it’s interesting that you guys took on a project that sort of built something and then figured out how to sustain it over time.  So that’s really to me very exciting as well.  That it came out of one of the leadership programs.

Kory Wilcoxson:

And what was interesting about that, too, was like I said the program or the project I pitched and what we ended up doing we’re almost two separate things because I pitched doing the work to make Lexington a Compassionate City.  And, once I found out that they were close to having that done, we had to figure out well, what was next.  And so, what was interesting about that, we almost had to start from scratch even more than I thought we would have to.  Because if we were going to make Lexington a Compassionate City, we had all the resources of the Charter for Compassion behind us.  But, once the council voted to make Lexington a Compassionate City, then we sort of like, all right, what’s next?  And so that’s when my group, I had 11 other people on my team, that there was [00:23:00] no mechanism planned or in place to publicize or promote this, this Lexington as a Compassionate City.

So, we built the website, we helped with the social media we really did everything, I think, to make this public to everyone, and then created from scratch this Lex Give Back week.  And so, creating it from scratch, we ended up the first year having about 650 people sign up to participate, which starting from zero, we were really happy about that.  And, we continue to build on that.

But, you know, the other thing that was really interesting about this, Ame, which I think goes back to your first question about, you know, the root of compassion.  So, I had, you know 12 people on my team when we were doing this last year as a part of Leadership Lexington.  Well, I thought we would be done.   I mean, once we finished Lex Give Back Week.  I was like, alright project done.  I’m moving on to the next thing, you know.   I had a lot of passion for it and I had several people in my team say no we want to keep this going but I had several people who weren’t on my team, but who were on other [00:24:00] teams in the class, come to me and say we want to be a part of this going forward.  And so, we’ve had several people join us either from my class or from the community who learned about it and have said, “Hey, I want to be a part of this.”  So, there’s now I think 19 or 20 people on our team, who joined it because this was something that was important to them.

And, what’s really interesting about that, and I’m so glad you brought up the faith aspect of this because when I pitched this project, there was a lady in my class who is very interested in being a part of it.  And, in my pitch, I talked about exactly what you said, which was so great.  And that is, almost every world religion has some version of The Golden Rule if you’re reading the Koran or, you know, Hebrew scriptures, New Testament what there’s some version of the golden rule in there. And so, I pitched that as a way of saying, “hey, this isn’t just Christian. It’s for all faiths.”  So, she came up to me after my project proposal.  She said, “I’m really interested in being a part of your project.”  She said, “But, I’m an atheist.  And so, I need to [00:25:00] know is this going to be something faith-based?  Because if it is, I’m not sure I can participate.”  And, I said to her, “Can you be compassionate?” And, she said, “Of course, I can.”  I said, “Then, that’s all.”  I said, “I’m not going to push this as a faith-based thing because compassion transcends.”   Like you said, it’s not only interfaith it transcends, you know, no faith at all, as we all have that compassion in us.  And again, that’s I think that’s our DNA.  And so, I was so excited that she was a fantastic team member.  She was great and still involved now.  And so, the fact that she could get on board with this and see it as something that not only includes faith but transcends faith I thought was really, really powerful.

And, I think that’s the universal appeal that you talk about is there’s really no one that is would be excluded from participating in this.  When I pitch this to other groups I go and talk to I start out by saying, “raise your hand if you’re not compassionate.”   You know, and no one’s going to raise their hand because everybody has that as a part of who they are.  And so, it really is universal [00:26:00] across all human-made boundaries that we have drawn in our world.

Ame Sanders:

So, let’s say you’re talking to another community, and you’ve probably talked to other communities, what do you tell them if they think this would be good for their city or their community, and I’m going to add to that the fact that I’m guessing everything didn’t go perfectly so there must be some hard things difficult things some barriers to get over.  So, if you wanted to talk with the community and talk to him really practically about what they need to know or consider before they started something like this. What would you tell them?

Kory Wilcoxson:

That’s a good question. Yeah things any kind of project like this things aren’t going to go smoothly, what I found really hard about this, Ame, which I would not have expected was the difficulty in getting people to grasp the concept of what we were doing because it’s not a concrete thing, we weren’t asking for money.  One of the obstacles we had to overcome was what’s our elevator speech for something that doesn’t have a [00:27:00] concrete measurable outcome.

And so, one of the things I would say to another community is to really tailor it to fit your community.  What are the needs specific to the community that you’re in because what’s a need in Lexington may not be a need somewhere else?  And so, it would be tapping into those needs, and I think you know, we lucked out on that.  We just stumbled across this website, Step Forward Lexington, which was already creating this buffet of volunteer opportunities.  We thought we were going to have to do that ourselves which would have been, you know, a ton of leg-work.  So, I would say, look around your community.  Are there already places where people are being connected to volunteer opportunities, and partner with them.

I think what made Lex Give Back so successful was we partnered with a lot of different entities, you know, we wanted to figure out how can we work with you?  How we can support your business your nonprofit?  You know, how can we help get your message out along with us?  So, it’s looking for who the partners are in your community and I really [00:28:00] think if a community wanted to pursue this, obviously, getting local government involved is wonderful, but also who are your social influencers who are the people in your community who are already engaged in social justice issues or poverty issues or the things that just are natural to that?  Who are they, and how can you get them involved in something like this?  Because it’s one of the groups that we did not that, this was a failing on my part, one of the group’s we did not tap into well was the faith community.  Seems like a natural, right?   Who else, you know, certainly the group you want to be in this, that I missed because I ran out of time, that was a challenge that we just didn’t have enough time to get to everybody, but we got some involved, but oh my gosh, that’s a great network and so start with faith community, start with nonprofit groups, start with the people who are providing social services and bring them together and say, “Hey, Here’s a chance where if we participate in this, everybody benefits, we benefit, and the [00:29:00] people we serve benefit.” And so, I think it’s really starting to tap into that. But it’s knowing who those social influencers are and getting them involved.

We sat down with our Leadership Lexington group, as we were planning this, and we said I said, here’s what I want to do. I want on this whiteboard, we’re going to list all of the boards we are a part of, you know, the groups in Lexington we are a part of, because if each of us reaches out to those groups, we can reach a lot of people.  Within our group of 12 people we listed about a hundred different organizations we were a part of.  And so, I said great here’s 10 postcards. The next time Junior League meets, take these postcards to them and get them involved

So, it really is sort of that that, you know, ripple effect. If one person reaches 10, and those 10 reach 10 more, that’s how this word gets spread.  It’s not going to be a big mass marketing campaign.  It’s not going to be that sort of thing. It really is going to be one person telling another person, “Hey, I’m involved in this, do you want to join me to do it?”  So really, it is, I mean, it truly is a grassroots [00:30:00] campaign.

Ame Sanders:

That’s one of the powers of having it come out of a leadership program is because when you have those people in a group, you’re right the network connections that they have are super powerful, but it probably could start from any group because we don’t realize the power that we have in our networks across the community, and most all of us are part of different networks.  So, I think that’s a really good example to share with the group in a way to assess your resources that you can tap into and I think you’re right about tapping into a broad base of resources, and also another resource that many are another resource that many communities have is something like your Step Forward Lexington.  We have one of those in Greenville, and so, I think a lot of communities have an organization like that, that coordinates time for ad hoc volunteers.  So that’s really a [00:31:00] great thing to bring out as well.

-Beyond Just an Event

So, let’s just kind of take stock here for a minute.  So, do you feel like this has made a shift in your community, or is it just an event?  How are you seeing this affect your community, on a broader basis?

Kory Wilcoxson:

So, we’ve only done it for two years.  And so, I think what it’s done is I don’t know if it has shifted. But what I think it has done is made more explicit the desire, the compassion that already exists in Lexington.  So, our goal wasn’t to make Lexington a Compassionate Community, because it already is a Compassionate Community.  I mean, Lexington has its challenges, like any City, but I think Lexington does a really good job of trying to care for each other.  And so, our goal wasn’t, and we had to be careful because in pushing this we weren’t saying, “hey Lexington’s not compassionate.  We’re going to make them compassionate.”  It was, “Lexington’s already compassionate, but how can we highlight that and make it more intentional.” [00:32:00]   By naming it as a core value, you’re bringing it to the surface. Someone may be compassionate already.  But if you were to ask them what’s important to them, they may not say compassion’s important to them. Our goal was to help make that explicit and for people to say, “yeah, you know what this is something that’s a part of who we are as Lexington.”  And so, I think it has, that shift has begun, and this is the kind of program that builds momentum year after year after year. Right?  So, it’s going to take a while for it to continue to catch on at the level that I want it to catch on. It’ll probably never get to the full level I want it to catch on, but it’s something that’s going to build and build and build each year. And so, I think as we continue to do that we’re going to see sort of ripple effects of that in the community because one of the goals of Lex Give Back Week was to build a relationship between people and organizations that needed help that went beyond that week.  Right?  So, the idea being, hey, I’ve participated in Sound the Alarm last year, I want to do that again next year because that was really [00:33:00] powerful, and I don’t care whether it’s during Lex Give Back Week, or not.  I’m going to do it because it really meant something to me. And so that’s what I think is going to continue happening.  And so, the more people hear about this, the more it gets publicized.  I mean, we had Billboards and we have a commercial that was produced for us.

And that’s the other thing, Ame, if you ask people to help with something like this and you’re not asking for money, but you’re asking for in-kind stuff, they’ll throw things at you. I think we got like I said, we got the billboards, we’re going to get bus ads. We got this production company come out and do this commercial for us. We got all these things because we’re not asking them to give up, you know, from their bottom line.  We’re saying, “Hey, would you give us a couple of hours, or would you give us this space, or would you do this for us?”  And so, I think the more people know about this and where we keep it in front of them, the more this is going to grow and the bigger impact it is going to continue to have on Lexington moving forward into the future.

Ame Sanders:

You’re right.  Sometimes it’s just asking people for what you need.  They will give, and I think you’re right, if it’s not money, [00:34:00] it’s a lot easier for them.  But that’s really a powerful, powerful part of your story.  I love that.

Is there anything that we haven’t talked about that you want to tell our listeners, or give a message to a community that might be considering this.

-Sustaining and Extending Compassionate Lexington

Kory Wilcoxson:

Well, I think the challenge for us is what else, or what’s next?  Just one week a year is not enough for us to highlight what it means to be a Compassionate Community.  So, we are in the process of incorporating as a 501 c 3 and then we’re going to talk about all right. What else are we going to do? You know, what does Compassionate Lexington look like moving forward from this point because it’s going to be more than just a week.  And so, we’re looking at having monthly Compassion Gatherings, where we pick a place, and people come together.  Maybe we have a speaker, or maybe we have, you know, a psychologist come and talk, or maybe we have a Social Service Agency come and talk.  So, it’s trying to figure out how do we keep this in front of people. I mean, we have a [00:35:00] strong social media presence, and we try to highlight that to people but how, what are ways that we can continue to bring people together?  Because this is most successful when you’re connecting one human being to another human being.  And, again, that’s not measurable, but it’s life-changing.

One of the things I would say to a community that was looking to do this is, don’t get discouraged if there aren’t measurable results to say it was successful.  You know, we had 650 people signed up to participate our first year, but I would venture to say we had at least double the people participate. They just didn’t take the time to go online, you know, or they didn’t take the time to go and post on social media.  So, you’re never going to know the full impact that your effort is having, but you can trust that it’s going to have an impact far beyond what you can imagine.  Because, I heard from people who went and participated and did things they’ve said yeah, I didn’t take the time to sign up on your website or [00:36:00] whatever and that’s great.

So, in that part of what makes this, you know part of what makes us both successful, but also frustrating, is we don’t know what kind of impact we’re having. We don’t know the full extent of it, but I trust, as a personal faith, I trust that the holy spirit is creating an impact far greater than I could ever measure.  So that first year, I was really discouraged because we weren’t getting the level of buy-in or response during that week of people posting on social media, hey, look I went and did this.  And, I had to realize people don’t want to brag about themselves. You know, they don’t want to say, hey look at me and you look at how compassionate I’m being.  They just want to go and do it.  And so, that really helps shift my thinking to recognize, you know, what someone may not tell you that they’ve been compassionate because that seemed self-serving but that doesn’t mean they’re not going to go and do it.  And so, I think in being involved in something like this, it’s just trusting that it’s going to have an impact far greater than you can ever imagine.  

So, we want to keep doing things like, you know [00:37:00] monthly gatherings.  I’m in talks with somebody about doing sort of a faith-to-faith festival where we bring all the fates represented in Lexington together in one place.  A lot of communities do these things as well, but Lexington doesn’t, and it seems like a natural thing for Compassionate Lexington to do, so we’re looking for opportunities to partner with things that are already being done or holes that need to be filled that can make these things happen.  And so, Step Forward Lexington, I think, is now going to become a part of Compassionate Lexington, we’re talking about that.  There was a project from this year’s Leadership Lexington, which was a Diversity Festival.  I want to talk to them about bringing them under the umbrella of Compassionate Lexington, you know, we want to try to grow this in ways that keeps compassionate like something in front of people year-round.  And so, I feel like the opportunities are endless for that and it’s just finding them and figuring out how to make them happen.  And so, and how can we can involve more people in it?  Because this is so much more than just a one-person thing.

I had a great team of [00:38:00] people who help with it last year and even more this year, and we want to grow this team so that it’s you know, it has more people power behind it and more influence behind it.  So, the more people you can get involved in at the better and we.  Continue to grow that.

Ame Sanders:

Well, those are great ideas to extend Compassionate Lexington.

-This work changes you, too

You’ve talked a lot about how this has engaged people in the city, and you told some stories about people that you knew were engaged in things, and you mentioned one of your own stories.  So, we’ve talked about impact on the city, but how has this impacted you or changed you and going through this?

Kory Wilcoxson:

Yeah, more than I think I ever imagined, really.  What it has done for me, it has shown me the passion I have for this city, that this was more than just a project to complete a requirement for the class.  It’s really, you know, I said if I could have my dream job, it would be like Chief Compassion Officer for Lexington.

You [00:39:00] know, how can I make this something? And you know and I say I’m working on it full-time.  As a minister, I’m kind of working in an area of compassion anyway, so it sort of takes my full-time job and the sense of call I have here at Crestwood, and it merges it with this. This love and investment I have for the City of Lexington because I really want to have a positive impact on my community and help other people have a positive impact on my community

So, through Leadership Lexington and through Lex Give Back, it’s really helped me invest more in my community, which has residual effects for my church work, as well.  And we’ve had Leadership Lexington people come and join our church and become a part of that, and the church is out in the community doing more things.  And so, I think what it’s really done for me is it’s just shown me, here’s an opportunity to really make a positive tangible difference for the community of Lexington, that is really a pretty easy sell.  You know, sure, it’s a lot of work getting the word [00:40:00] out there, but it’s some people want to do and so I love my job, but I also love my community and I want to know how can I impact the community in positive ways that takes my calling here as a minister and extended out and how can I help Crestwood?  So, the residual effect is Crestwood my church has now become more involved in the community because they are more aware of the needs that are out there. So, I really feel like that this is, sort of, it’s bringing together these aspects of my life that are important to me, and there’s this synergy that’s been created through that, through church work and community work in relationships. I’ve built and those sorts of things and so it’s really, I think, ignited in me a passion to continue this work and to continue to help make Lexington a better city through the work I’m doing with my church, but also the work that I’m doing with these wonderful folks in the community and that I’ve had a chance to partner with through this project.

Ame Sanders:

Well, and I want to tell you that your passion comes across. And I also want to thank you for sharing some of that passion [00:41:00] with our listeners because I think this is a great opportunity for any Community.

You’ve given some insight into what it would take to make it happen, how it works, and what is challenging, but also many of the benefits around it.  So, thank you for sharing that with State of Inclusion podcast.  It was really such a pleasure to talk with you today.  And, I wish you the best of luck in increasing the work with Compassionate Lexington.

-Towards Compassionate Kentucky

I also have to say, I’ve noticed that Kentucky has a thing going on because there’s Compassionate Lexington, there’s compassionate Louisville, and there’s Compassionate Linden.  So, you guys may end up being the first Compassionate State.  Who knows?

Kory Wilcoxson:

We’re working on it, there.  We would have some hurdles to overcome, but the more we can do this, the more we can spread compassion across the Bluegrass, I think the better it makes us as a state [00:42:00] and its people.

So, it’s been a real honor to talk with you. Thanks for your interest in it and our website Lexgiveback.org, if anybody wants to go there and learn more about it or has questions. If they want to contact me directly through that website, I would be glad to answer questions. compassionatelex@gmail.com is the email.  I’m glad to talk to anybody about this. We don’t own this. This is something that we are called to be stewards of and to share with others, so I’m glad to help anybody else do this kind of work in their own community

Ame Sanders:

Thank you, again, Kory, and I’ll include those links and that information in the show notes for the podcast today.  So, thank you for that.

Kory Wilcoxson:

Thanks, Ame.  It’s been great to be with you.  I really enjoyed it.

Ame Sanders:

It was great to meet Kory and learn a little bit more about Lexington, Kentucky.  You know this work of building more equitable and inclusive communities is not easy.  Communities that cultivate a culture that bridges across stereotypes and divides, and communities that give people the opportunity to bond [00:43:00] around shared values and purpose, these are the communities that will be better equipped to deal with even more difficult challenges, and they’ll do it together.

This has been State of Inclusion.

Join us again next time.

Hey, and if you enjoyed this episode the best compliment for our work is your willingness to share these ideas with others

Thanks so much.


Guest: Rev. Kory Wilcoxson

Host: Ame Sanders

Social Media and Marketing Coordinator: Kayla Nelson

Podcast Coordinator: Emma Winiski

Sound: FAROUT Media

Ame Sanders
Founder of State of Inclusion. A seasoned leader & change-maker, she is focused on positive change within communities.
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