Brian Schutt: ‘Be like Mike’ and volunteer to make Indy better

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Indianapolis lost a “glue guy” with the untimely passing of Mike Feeney in late January. There are many better suited to honor Mike’s private impact than I. My hope is to pay some small tribute to his public impact made over a lifetime of living in Indianapolis.

In basketball, a “glue guy” is the player who doesn’t care how many points he scores or minutes he plays. He cares about the team winning and knowing he did everything within his role to contribute to success, whether that role is big or small.

To those who worked with and around Mike, he’ll be unforgettable. But if you don’t know his name, chances are high that you were directly or indirectly impacted by an organization or effort he supported throughout his life.

Animated by a deep and abiding faith in Jesus, Mike asked himself and acted upon questions like, “How can I make a difference with the gifts I’ve been given?” And, “What contribution can I make?”

His contributions were plentiful, among them: walking thousands of grieving families through loss within his business, Feeney-Hornack Mortuary; magnifying the impact of Cathedral High School and Village of Merici through fundraising; and creating new opportunity for education by founding the mentoring-focused Starfish Initiative in 2003.

The underlying story of Starfish requires special attention in the context of Mike’s community impact.

The organization’s name comes from a well-known story adapted from “The Star Thrower.” As the story goes, “There was a young man walking down a deserted beach just before dawn. In the distance, he saw a frail, old man. As he approached the old man, he saw him picking up stranded starfish and throwing them back into the sea. The young man gazed in wonder as the old man again and again threw the small starfish from the sand to the water. He asked, ‘Old man, why do you spend so much energy doing what seems to be a waste of time?’ The old man explained that the stranded starfish would die if left in the morning sun. ‘But there must be thousands of beaches and millions of starfish!’ explained the young man. ‘How can you make any difference?’ The old man looked down at the small starfish in his hand and as he threw it to the safety of the sea, he said, ‘I made a difference to that one.’”

Through one-on-one mentoring and coaching, Starfish assists students in graduating high school, with nearly all Starfish Scholars going on to enroll in college. Incredibly, since its founding, Starfish has served 1,400 scholars in Marion County.

In a culture where too many “leaders” metaphorically look for a parade and rush to the front, Mike seemed content serving without fanfare.

Unfortunately, glue guys like Mike too often seem a vestige of the past. As I’ve documented here before, institutional trust has plummeted. One contributing factor in that is that volunteerism has declined—slowly but steadily dropping the last 13 years. According to a report from the U.S. Census Bureau and AmeriCorps, around 23% of Americans formally volunteered during 2021, the lowest percentage of volunteerism since the number has been tracked.

The community still needs “glue guys” and “glue gals” for our community to thrive. It comes down to choice. Organizations need volunteers. Will you show up and contribute? See a need not being addressed? Start a new organization to tackle it. Stop looking to the mayor, governor or president to solve things. Step up and into the needs of Indianapolis.

Living out the epitaph virtues is a choice. Be like Mike.•

__________

Schutt is co-founder of Homesense Heating & Cooling and Refinery46 and an American
Enterprise Institute civic renewal fellow. Send comments to ibjedit@ibj.com.


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