In 2008, a new initiative called RecognizeGood was launched in Austin between business leader John Bosch, Jr. and the Samaritan Counseling Center. RecognizeGood’s mission was to elevate the world’s spirit of community by creating a public forum to recognize, reward, and promote acts of kindness and unselfish charity – to share daily inspiration by shining a light on the caring and compassion that, although often overlooked, exists in our communities.
Today, RecognizeGood has collected over 750,000 acts of gratitude and granted over $250,000 to area charities in the names of those who go above and beyond for others. Let’s dive into how we got here.
An Austin-based, privately-held limited manufacturing company called the TyRex Group was selected to receive an Ethics in Business Award in 2007. This award program was an initiative of a local interfaith nonprofit called the Samaritan Counseling Center, which provided free and low-cost mental health and counseling services to those in need. While unexpected, the award was well-deserved as the TyRex Group’s co-founders – Andrew Cooper and John Bosch, Jr. – had built their company on strong values and treating business partners, staff, and the community with respect. Their introduction to the Samaritan Counseling Center would prove to be a turning point.
In the spring of 2008, a series of serious family setbacks hit John almost all at once. His father was living in Gorham, Kansas, where both his mind and body were deteriorating to the point of needing full-time care in an assisted living facility. His wife Nancy slipped in the driveway, fractured her back and was looking at both surgery and an arduous rehabilitation. Soon after, John’s brother Jim – who had lived with cerebral palsy from birth and was living in a semi self-sufficient assisted living facility in Wichita, Kansas – suffered a stroke that cost him the use of his remaining functional limbs. John, still in Austin, received a call from a hospital in Wichita notifying him that his brother would be discharged within the hour. Seemingly out of options, John called two of the only people he knew that might be able to help, and help they did. Barbara Schmitt and Cheryl Burnette went so far above and beyond to care for John’s father and brother while John planned short-term and long-term care for each of them – as well as for Nancy – that he simply could not thank them enough. “When you tell them thanks a thousand times,” John was quoted as saying, “it’s still not enough.” He wanted to do more. He wanted to tell others about the extraordinary gratitude he felt for these two angels, as he had come to call them.
As a serial entrepreneur who had plenty of time to think on his drive back from Kansas to Austin, John formed the idea behind what would eventually become RecognizeGood.
John reached out to the Samaritan Counseling Center’s CEO, Nancy Blaich, with his idea. What did she think about teaming up to establish a website that would honor acts of kindness and help raise money for both her own nonprofit as well as for others? The two each recruited teams and began meeting weekly to plan the initiative.
The website would be a place where anyone could share their gratitude for acts of kindness. By sharing these acts of kindness with the world through the internet, even more kindness would be inspired and people would have a place to go for good news if they needed a break from the barrage of bad news that we all see across news media every day. Even better, this website could raise money for charities! If TyRex joined as a corporate sponsor, they could make a small donation to the Samaritan Counseling Center each time an act of kindness was submitted to the website – this could actually become a sustainable revenue stream for Nancy’s organization.
The team hired local ad agency Clutch Creative to design and develop initial branding and structure of a “Good Samaritan” website. Saber Data, a TyRex company, signed on to maintain the website and database, and a relationship was developed with TateAustinHahn Public Relations for PR support. Alongside these three professional partners, TyRex also dedicated over 30 volunteers to help launch the site, which had undergone a name change somewhere along the way and would then become known as RecognizeGood.
The site officially launched on April 22, 2009, and raised over $25,000 in the first 3 months through individual giving. More than 1,000 acts of gratitude were captured during that time as well. Local businesses and leaders quickly pledged their support for the idea. In May, reporter Andrea Ball featured John’s story and the RecognizeGood launch in the Austin American-Statesman. In August, the momentum continued as Mayor Lee Leffingwell declared in a press conference that Austin was to be the #1 RecognizeGood City in America. More participation was encouraged through the development of a six-week contest called ‘iWitness Goodness’ in which every person making a submission to the site was entered into a drawing for a $5,000 Apple electronics prize package.
Ideas to expand abounded. A group of 100 RecognizeGood Community Reporters was formed, who each pledged to make a minimum of 5 recognitions per week. A feature was added to encourage users of the site to include their own ‘pay it forward” donation to a charity of their choice alongside their submissions, which would be split 50-50 with the Samaritan Center. To add onto RecognizeGood’s everyday one-to-one recognitions – Recognize ‘Great’ (include a donation in honoree’s name), Recognize ‘Super’ (include lasting donation like a brick, plaque or park bench in honoree’s name), Recognize Companies and Recognize Special (win-win-win collaborations between corporate sponsors, partner nonprofits and community organizations).
The Samaritan Counseling Center was still operating the site as its own initiative in 2010, and people were paying attention to their innovative project. “It takes fundraising to a new level,” said Nancy Blaich. “This is a place where people give because they are honoring someone – it presents a new way of sharing what has been given. Sharing not only the financial gift with another nonprofit, but sharing the story of someone’s kind heart. RecognizeGood is an inspiration to show other organizations how to combine social media and philanthropy in the digital age.” Due to this innovative solution and outside-the-box approach to fundraising, The Meadows Foundation granted $100,000 to the Samaritan Center.
Many of the submissions to the site were family-related, like these two samples:
- “Leon, you will never know how much it means to me that you helped Wyatt last year, when there was no one else to turn to. You are the best brother in the world.”
- “Gayle and Chris … in 2001, when our family was struggling to find ways to fund the liver transplant operation that my mother needed, you stepped up.”
Many others, however, were quite truly amazing – people who had been giving blood for 30 years, or volunteering for 70 years, or collecting tens of thousands of books for underserved communities. John was inspired. “It is time to illuminate and shine a light on our communities’ very special individuals who commit and contribute tremendous acts of incredible good for our communities,” he said. “It is time to create a community awareness regarding the significance of these good deeds on our communities – we must communicate these acts of charity and kindness to our communities. It is time to better understand the significance of their financial value and emotional impact. There is a social responsibility for us to elevate the importance and collective impact these individuals have on the moral and ethical foundation of our communities.”
The RecognizeGood Legends program was born – taking submissions around the year for individuals who went above and beyond for others, honoring nine individuals each year with a presentation of gratitude and a pay-it-forward donation in their name to the charity of their choice. Career U.S. Airman George Mihalcik was brought about to emcee each presentation, marking RecognizeGood’s first staff member. For a final send-off to the group of Legends, a gratitude campaign dubbed “Say Thanks, Austin” was developed as well. Throughout the month of January, the campaign’s goal was to collect as many acts of gratitude for the class of RecognizeGood Legends as possible. With a $10,000 pay-it-forward prize to the Legend with the most collected ‘Thank You votes,’ the competition was on! Each Legend formed a team including TyRex volunteers and their own “Circle of Good” – their business, nonprofit, civic, religious, personal and even social media affiliations – to go to the RecognizeGood website each day and share their appreciation with a click. The first campaign was a major success, and the results were announced in a special ceremony at Austin City Hall with words of appreciation from the mayor himself.
The momentum continued. A city-wide program in conjunction with the mayor’s office was proposed. On October 26, 2011, a long-awaited RecognizeGood Employee GOOD Book was published by John Bosch, Jr., which positioned RecognizeGood as ‘the voice for socially responsible businesses.’ The book guided readers through the concept that encouraging good in the workplace promotes greater positive people power, which leads to business success. This was a new frontier for RecognizeGood, as all previous efforts had focused on individual volunteers and the charities they served – it marked a turning point for the organization.
Despite their best efforts, the Samaritan Counseling Center was unable to keep the Ethics in Business Awards program going on their own. RecognizeGood became a 501(c)3 charity and formed its original Board of Directors late in 2011, and one of the board’s very first motions was to adopt the Ethics in Business Awards program from the Samaritan Counseling Center. The board was comprised of local business leader Bobby Jenkins, CPA-turned-CEO Earl Maxwell, John Bosch, Jr., and his TyRex Group co-founder Andrew Cooper. The group was passionate about keeping Ethics in Business alive and well, and in fact each of the four had received the award – Bobby through his successful business (ABC Home & Commercial Services), Earl as an individual community leader, both John and Andrew through TyRex Group. The belief from this group of leaders in the value of ethical decision-making and cultures of integrity within the business community launched RecognizeGood into a new sphere.
Under the direction of RecognizeGood and through the efforts of many volunteers from TyRex Group, the Ethics in Business Awards program made a successful transition and is still thriving today.
In 2013, RecognizeGood put up a job ad for a blogger that was answered by a young writer who was in search of a purpose-filled career. Joel Coffman got the blogger job and became RecognizeGood’s second long-term staff member. Between day-to-day acts of kindness, general operations, website maintenance, the very successful Legends program, and the newly adopted Ethics in Business Awards program, the organization had reached critical mass – there was a lot to manage! To no one’s surprise, however, RecognizeGood continued to grow.
In 2014, RecognizeGood launched two more new programs. The RecognizeGood Lighthouse award program was designed to recognize groups of people who serve their communities together – traditional service clubs like Rotary and Lions, not to mention more non-traditional service clubs like National Charity League or community gardens, often went unthanked for years (often decades) of service to others. The RecognizeGood Lighthouse award would do just that – simply share gratitude for these often-overlooked and under-publicized groups of do-gooders making the community a better place through the sheer kindness of their hearts. The other program, Ethics in Youth Education, took the shining ethical business examples found through the Ethics in Business Awards into area schools – local ethical business leaders spoke to hundreds of students about the value of integrity in their careers, and to encourage them to invest in their own personal brands by sharing their volunteerism and character during college applications and job interviews.
Today, the RecognizeGood mission has expanded to provide the means for anyone to illuminate, connect with and learn from great examples of goodness. RecognizeGood is a partner and advisor to forward-thinking businesses, an advocate for the employees of those businesses, and an imaginative champion for all nonprofits in our community. With the help of all Central Texans who believe that goodness is an investment in our future, RecognizeGood is building the community we want to see for those who come after us. Since its inspiration in 2008, RecognizeGood has grown to include a variety of unique programs ranging from celebration to education, but the root remains the same – illuminating the GOOD in our community.