When award-winning country music artist Jimmy Wayne took the stage at the 2017 Channel Partners Conference & Expo annual gathering in Las Vegas recently, his heartbreaking and harrowing tale of growing up in the foster care system and on the streets quickly captivated the audience of business and technology executives. It was clear from the beginning that this was not going to be about speeds and feeds and bits and bytes.
Delivering a powerful message of how it only took a handful of caring adults to make all of the difference in saving his life and sparing him the fate that many foster kids ultimately suffer, Jimmy urged the audience to invest in young people who have been in the foster care system by giving them an opportunity to work because the return on that investment will be worthwhile. “Foster kids,” he noted with a conviction born from personal experience, “don’t quit,” as this means security for them.
Jimmy was at the Channel Partners conference as a special guest of Verizon’s to participate in the technology company’s keynote presentation, titled the ‘ROI of Investing in Community’, led by Janet Schijns, vice president of Solutions & Sales Channel for Verizon Business Markets. With today’s youth, including the foster children Jimmy spoke of, top of mind, Janet opened the keynote by showing a new national Verizon campaign, #weneedmore, which encourages students to consider careers in STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math) fields as the United States is facing a shortage of workers trained in these disciplines.
Janet went on to highlight why private sector investment matters at the community level, sharing a compelling message with the business leaders in the room by telling them that approximately half the workforce of the S&P 500 will be turning over in the near-term as the Baby Boomers continue to retire and the Millennials grow their ranks. She noted that Millennials are motivated to do business with companies that align with their own values, often exemplified by community involvement, and that we should all begin paying attention to this coming seismic shift in the business world as those who do not risk being overlooked.
At the close of the keynote, Jimmy was presented with Verizon Business Markets’ inaugural ‘Community Maker Award’ — specifically created for Jimmy and to be awarded annually — which recognizes individuals who give back to their communities by lifting up those in need. Jimmy was recognized for his advocacy on behalf of foster children and homeless teenagers who typically age out of their temporary homes at the tender age of 18 with few marketable skills and job prospects for supporting themselves.
Afterwards, copies of Jimmy’s New York Times’ bestselling book, ‘Walk to Beautiful: The Power of Love and a Homeless Kid Who Found the Way’, which chronicles his riveting story and walk halfway across America to raise awareness of the plight of foster children, were given out, courtesy of Verizon, and signed by Jimmy who stayed afterwards to meet audience members.
As Jimmy humbly noted, “We shouldn’t get an award for helping people, but what someone can do with that award can help people and make a difference.” In Jimmy’s case, at his urging, and prompted by a request made of him and Janet by New Castle High School senior Cris Colaluca, Verizon will be donating two VGo robots to the Children’s Hospital of Pittsburgh which will benefit young patients by helping them to virtually connect with others and attend events, such as their own classrooms, so that they do not fall behind on their education while in treatment. Cris, who lives in the Pittsburgh area, has spina bifida and has been using the VGo to stay connected to family and friends which has provided a critical lifeline to the outside world – something that nobody should be without.