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Surprising lessons learned from latest snowstorm



February 17, 2014
It seems we had barely weathered one winter storm when another one was on our doorstep. Now that North Fulton and Forsyth County are viewing the latest wintry mix through the rearview mirror, I hope that all of our friends and neighbors have escaped the snow, sleet and freezing rain unharmed.

While most of us heeded the meteorologists' and the governor's many warnings and sat out this latest ice storm in the comforts of our homes, I, for one, am thankful for the types of heroes that showed their colors to a cold, scared, irritable and trapped populace three weeks ago – when all of North Georgia came to a standstill.

By now, we've all heard stories of how everyone pitched in and helped during the snow. We all pulled together. People took people in. They fed them. They gave them rides. They opened their homes and their businesses.

They opened their wallets generously. They checked on homebound friends and strangers. They simply helped – no questions asked. Each and every one of you deserves a special shout-out. I would like to add a personal shout-out to my delivery folks – the moms and other carriers who made sure that 99 percent of all of our papers got out.

But I also want to give a shout-out to a group of people in our community who often go unnoticed – or noticed for the wrong reasons. Our youth.

It can be easy for "grown-ups" to overlook or dismiss the efforts of our young people. Take for instance, the "mudders" that are becoming more visible throughout North Fulton and Forsyth County.

These are the kids who have taken to off-roading in four-wheel vehicles. They're out in tricked-out jeeps, trucks and sport utility vehicles. In general, they're good kids; though their hobby can lead some of them to go at times where they should not go (private property or parks after closing).

Those who do this create a negative perception for all, but not all of the kids who drive jacked-up trucks deserve the bad image.

On the worst day of the January "Snowpocalypse," many of those mudders were out in their trucks pulling people out of ditches. Instead of watching TV, off-roading, playing video games or hanging out, they were carrying gas and getting cars started.

They started early – really early – and they kept it up until very late. When they saw someone who needed help, they helped.

In one area where there were two consecutive hills in a row, one kid watched as the line of cars sat and sat and sat. When they finally moved, they were able to navigate the hills – until the line in front stopped again and those on the slope would start sliding backward. It was a mess.

The kid watched and then pulled his truck out into the road – parking perpendicular to the lanes. No car could move because he was blocking the road. He must have had a megaphone or a speaker attached to his sub-woofers or something because he started calling out instructions to the line of traffic.

"Be patient. We have to let the cars get all the way through these hills before the next group of you go. As soon as they're through, I'll let the next group of you go. We'll get you through this."

Imagine the gall this kid had. He was probably breaking the law. He was way out of line, I guess. What was he thinking?

"We're almost ready to let the first group of you go."

On the side of the road – almost on the sidewalk – a car powered toward the truck and almost hit it. A man stormed out of the vehicle and started chewing the kid out, but the kid held his ground. As the man aggressively moved toward the kid, a few cars back another door opened and an angry mom yelled at the man, not the kid.

"Get back in your car you idiot," she said. "Can't you see he is trying to help us get through this jam? What is wrong with you? Get out of his way."

Several minutes later, the kid lets the first group of cars by and they successfully make it through the two hills without mishap. In the line is the man, fuming, but also successfully moving on.

In another part of town, a mudder saw a police car slide slowly off the road and into a ditch. After some thought, he pulled over in his truck and offered to pull the cruiser out. A kid helping a cop? Huh?

One of my heroes is a former principal of Alpharetta Elementary School on Mayfield Road named Jackie Littlefield. Though she has since passed away, she was a leader's leader. All of my kids had the rare opportunity to have attended Alpharetta Elementary School while Jackie was the principal – and all of them for various reasons spent more than the average amount of time in her office. But that is not the point.

The point is that one day, after I had spent the morning sitting in on one of Jackie's sessions where she had groups of school kids critique how effectively her teachers were doing teaching them, I asked Jackie what it was that she did that allowed her to motivate, inspire and generally lead these teachers and kids.

She looked at me with a surprised look on her face and then simply said, "Ray, I never talk down to the kids or the teachers. Never. The kids come into my office and I listen to them. I really listen. I'm a 50-year-old talking to a 7-year-old, but you know, they have as much to say as I do." I'll never forget that.

Let the kids have skin in the game. Give them parameters, but then get out of their way. Have high expectations and guess what, you often will get high achievement. Listen to them. Respect them. They can't respect you if you don't respect them first. They can simply amaze you if you let them.

That's what Jackie Littlefield believed. And that's what events like three weeks ago can show us all.

If the Jan. 28 snow jam proved anything, it's that leaders come in all different shapes, sizes and ages. And yes, some of them wear their caps backward and drive big trucks.

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