In this week’s Staff Spotlight, we’re hearing from the man, the myth, the legend himself: Founder and Program Director Terry McGill! While the COVID-19 pandemic gave him a break from presentations and trips to Uganda, he has occupied himself with two bathroom remodels, hanging sheetrock, painting, laying new flooring, and so much more! The man never stops moving. After a day of work, remodeling, and exercise he loves ending the day with a good book by the fire.
Read more about why Terry keeps doing the work after more than thirty years of opening eyes and changing lives!
What is a typical day/week for you as Program Director?
It really depends on the time of year. In the fall it’s presentations at schools. For some schools it’s one assembly program, while at others it’s a dozen or more small group presentations over a two-day period. Overall, I enjoy the smaller group presentations because they allow a lot more time for interaction with the kids. A couple weeks after the presentations, I begin picking up the donations. Usually it’s an all-day affair and I’ll take hundreds of pictures of the kids with their individual donations. Usually between 250 to 400 individual pictures, but once I took nearly 900 at a school. Evenings and weekends in the fall are spent going through the pictures, organizing all the items photographed by their school, and then boxing the ones that will go on the container and packing the rest to hand carry with us in the spring. I also coordinate the shipping, help with the sorting for the container and whatever else I’m told to do!
After a little break around Christmas, it’s time to recruit schools for the following year, help with fundraising events and presentations, follow the container’s progress, schedule return visits to schools in the spring and organize our distribution trip in Uganda, which usually lasts three to four weeks around April. Once I get back from Uganda, I’ll spend all my time pairing thousands of pictures I just took on the trip with thousands from the previous fall. Add in video editing and preparing presentations for each individual school and it’s pretty much nonstop until the school year ends sometime in June. After many long days and short nights, it’s a bit of time off for the summer and then time to get ready to start all over again.
What is your favorite part about your job?
There are lots of things I enjoy. If I had to pick, I’d say two in particular are my favorites:
First, taking people to Uganda. Whether it’s a spring distribution trip or a summer tour, it’s always special to share Uganda with guests, especially first-time visitors. It’s like seeing Uganda all over again for the first time, through their eyes. I suppose seeing their reactions to the teachers and children they meet, to the friendships they form, is in some way confirmation that I’m doing something worthwhile.
Second, and truly my absolute favorite part, is giving the return presentations to our schools. People know I’m coming back to give a report, but no one expects it to be so personal and so unique to their school. They expect to see some pictures of things being handed out but seeing so many faces of their own children and their actual gifts paired with Ugandan students is almost overwhelming. It’s incredibly rewarding to share such an exciting experience with an entire school community.
What keeps you going after 30+ years of this work?
My Faith: “Whatever you did for the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.”
What does “Opening Eyes and Changing Lives” mean to you?
I used to think that we Opened Eyes on our side and Changed Lives in Uganda, but I have come to realize it’s more than that.
For our kids, Opening Eyes means several things: opening their eyes to so many things that they may have taken for granted but which are in fact precious, like just having the opportunity to go to school, either in person or remotely! Opening their eyes to the fact that so many in this world don’t enjoy the opportunities and possibilities open to them. Opening their eyes to the fact that they can make a difference in other people’s lives and how good it feels to help another individual.
For Ugandan kids, it’s opening their eyes to the fact that they’re not alone. That there are good people in this world that do care. That it’s okay for them to dream, to hope for a brighter future.
As for Changing Lives, it’s pretty concrete in Uganda. Keeping a child in school with pencils, paper and pens. Inspiring students to dream bigger with books, crayons or even a soccer ball. Encouraging teachers with simple school supplies and literacy materials that they’ve gone without for years.
For our kids, it’s changing the lens through which they view things. Changing the way they see the world in a positive, uplifting and kind way. Showing them, confirming to them, that they can make other people’s lives better simply by being kind, simply by sharing, simply by choosing to be personally involved in making another person’s world a little bit brighter.
How has it been working with your daughter, Executive Director Ella McGill, over the last few years?
It’s been great. Everything I don’t do well she does do well. She’s highly organized and self-motivated. It’s fun to watch her grow into the job. She has really put a lot of work into educating herself about the executive director’s role in nonprofit leadership and her skills improve and expand every day. It’s great having confidence that things are being prioritized appropriately and what needs to get done will be done well and in a timely manner.
What’s next for Sister Schools?
You tell me! I’m very excited for the future. There are new people stepping into leadership and a lot of energy at Sister Schools right now. It’s great timing, we’re coming out of a year of Covid restrictions both here and in Uganda, and we’re all ready to hit the ground running. Now that I’m in my sixties, I’ll probably only do this for another twenty or thirty years, so it’s a good time to start empowering and equipping the next generation.