Inspiring Leadership: My Dad

In honor of Father’s Day I decided to do some reflection on my own father, Bob Phelps. My father has always been an example to me of what a leader should be. He encourages others, loves new ideas, and creates systems that work by removing obstacles in the way. In many ways he has been practicing serving leadership for years, although he may not have called it that.

As I have gotten older, I have seen first-hand the transformation of some of the organizations he worked for. Watching as he took struggling work environments and turned them into thriving places, alive with energy and excitement. One of the ways he did this was by identifying a greater goal that everyone in the organization could get behind.

One organization he worked, Pittsburgh Urban Christian School (PUCS), for had the greater goal of “preparing children for a lifetime of learning” by providing excellent education regardless of the race or economic status of the family. As a part of fulfilling PUCS’s greater goal, my dad had the idea to create outdoor spaces for students to learn and have fun in. This came in two parts, the first was to create an outdoor classroom and curriculum for students of all ages to study nature. The second was to get a new playground for the students.

It just so happened that the school used a public playground that was rundown and dangerous for students and neighborhood kids to play on. My dad and his team applied for a grant to build a new playground for the neighborhood. He appealed to the school’s greater goal of teaching children to learn to get the organization behind the idea.

In the process my dad teamed up with a non-profit that specifically works to help design and build new playgrounds for children. The real excitement came when 200 volunteers were so excited about the greater goal that they participated in building the new playground. Many of the volunteers came from PUCS because they saw how this project fit into the school’s greater goal of expanding education for students and neighborhood kids alike. Today the playground is used by about 500 kids from the school, neighborhood, and local organizations.

My dad strove to do something that not only benefited his own workplace, but also the community. His greater goal helped inspire his organization and neighborhood to dream big and create something greater than themselves. I am inspired daily by my father’s example to run towards a greater goal--one that furthers our organization’s mission and strengthens the community around us.

Ashley Penman

Ashley Penman works at ThirdRiver Partners building a community of serving leaders. She also runs the social media and website for ThirdRiver. Ashley enjoys writing and is an avid reader. 



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