“Each time a man stands up for an ideal, or acts to improve the lot of others, or strikes out against injustice, he sends forth a tiny ripple of hope, and crossing each other from a million different centers of energy and daring, those ripples build a current that can sweep down the mightiest walls of oppression and resistance.” - Robert F. Kennedy
Life’s journey will, undoubtedly, expose you to the broad expanse of human experience - both your own and strangers’. Not surprisingly, in our day-to-day lives, we all prefer to focus and pursue the good experiences - success, accomplishment, and love. We should. These are inherently fulfilling.
But our more base instincts try to turn us away from the problems, the tragedy, the struggles, losses, loneliness, and shortage of opportunity. Let’s call these the negative experiences of life.
Rather than turn away from the negative experiences, I believe charity and volunteer work are the prime methods by which we can reform these negative experiences by our own actions of sharing and seeking solutions that overcome. Charity and volunteerism have the power to convert you from wallowing in or avoiding problems - to hope that the future is brighter and better - both for the recipient and you as the giver.
In time, if you keep your eyes open for negative experiences and problems, your passions will help you find where you can make a material difference - not necessarily making big currents, rather small ripples.
Each of you is already practicing forms of volunteerism. Even if you have never participated in a Founders’ Day or Hands Across Faribault, you are making ripples through voluntarily giving of yourself. Every day you pause to give time to your friends (be it helping with homework or talking through a tough time), your family (one day, your parents will need you to step forward to pay back the time they gave you), and someday, if you are blessed, your spouse and children.
You simply cannot succeed as a friend, spouse, or parent if you do not with frequency volunteer your time and effort to your inner circle. As volunteers, I just ask you to consciously make your circle much bigger than it is now. Include those who are strangers in your community.
If today I can help convince even a small percentage of you to see the importance of charity and volunteerism, my two-hour drive and 10 minutes of podium time will contribute to the ripples that lead to many currents of change.
A bit about my life, work, and charitable passions: I am first and foremost a husband and a father of two children - 9 and 10. My “job” is really threefold: I practice law, I farm, and I oversee a growing bank - Profinium. Given my family and broad work demands, every day I am reminded that time is the greatest boundary. What I can accomplish in a day is limited. This is, ironically, one of the reasons I volunteer my time to charitable endeavors. If I limit my time to being a father, a husband, or mastering the tasks of my “jobs,” I suppose all would be fine but I would be failing to engage the problems of my community, pursue hope, and make opportunity - I would contribute too few ripples.
I give charitably in two primary ways - financially through donations and through volunteering my time and talent. I know my focus here is supposed to be volunteerism but I would be remiss to not mention the importance of voluntarily giving money to causes where you cannot give your time or you do not have the right talents. And yes, I give to this, my alma mater because, well you really do not want me to teach - just ask the summer school kids of 1991 whose knowledge of grammar is still being slowly repaired! Just remember, even small gifts to help fix problems are the ripples you can make as well.
Volunteering is the most rewarding charitable work I can do. And it costs me the most; precious time. How I volunteer has evolved as my skills and career have.
These days, my volunteerism primarily involves serving in a leadership role on charitable boards such as the Southern Minnesota Initiative Foundation, more commonly referred to as “SMIF”. SMIF, as an organization, was born out of the regional economic crisis back in the 1980s - back when I was a student here. Its purpose has always been to incubate and assist in community vitality and economic growth in a 20-county area. It’s a small region - the central and southeast portion of Minnesota - but one close to my heart. I grew up in it - both here in Faribault and in my hometown of Fairmont.
I have served as a trustee of SMIF for over five years, and my term as Chair ends next July. It has been a labor of love and learning. Currently, SMIF focuses on moving the meter in our region in three key areas which resonated with me from the start - seeding entrepreneurial growth, improving early childhood education, and finding solutions to improve small community vitality for communities even smaller than Faribault.
Admittedly, most of my time volunteering at SMIF is spent attending and running meetings - which hopefully improves both the timeliness and effectiveness of what SMIF is trying to do. Each member of the board and committee contribute their vocational knowledge, life experiences, and their passion for finding solutions to these particular problems.
Beyond meetings, I get to interact with experts on child brain development, child care providers who want to improve how they care for children, listen to community leaders and business leaders hear new ideas, confront growing issues, and collectively share our passion for this region. We seek to make ripples that change how we educate our children and how to improve the economic vitality of southern Minnesota; Not in one big way - but in a multitude of smaller ways.
Just this week, I volunteered as a judge for SMIF’s Entrepreneurial Bridge Event held in Austin Minnesota. This is an event where college kids who have invented a product or a business model can complete for money to help fund the launch of their business. This competition is the best definition of Entrepreneurialism: having an idea, pursuing your idea, perfecting your idea, and being fearless in the face of unexpected roadblocks.
I was inspired by young men and women who pitched their ideas and plans for their new businesses - a new quinoa health bar made in the hills of Ecuador, a computer model for assisting you in making a gift selection but not selling your data, a designer of stylish coolers for lunches, and a remote oven cam. The oven cam actually won – what is truly ingenious can surprise you.
Each of the judges - mostly business entrepreneurs - judged the projects and we tried to share our own experiences and knowledge to help them see and find the tools they need to overcome the roadblocks that may lie ahead.
What did I get out of this? Inspiration from the creativity and energy of these young minds; a welcome disruption to grappling with my own problems; the affirmation that we are not alone; a realization that we each have something to give that matters; and finally - a broader circle - new connections and friends, new views on problems, and a network of ripples.
The quote I started with from Robert Kennedy has resonated with me more as I have gotten older. Most often, the currents of change and progress come not from single events, nor a single individual. They come from a multitude of constant ripples made by each of us.
Fred Krahmer ’88 and his two sisters followed their father, Fred C. ’60, and their grandfather, Fred P. ’28 to SSM. Fred and his spouse, Shelly, live in Fairmont, Minn. with their two children Ella and Max.