Szymanski: The change we need is here and it's inspiring

Szymanski: The change we need is here and it's inspiring
Sea Feather meets the crowds at Black Narrows Brewing Company, Chincoteague, Virginia. (Courtesy photo)

Several examples of overwhelming kindness recently reminded me of how much good we have in our world. It made me want to focus on the good instead of the bad, changing my perspective — for at least a bit — of the world we live in today.

Last weekend was beach ride weekend. Once a year, my daughter and several people affiliated with the Feather Fund take their Chincoteague Ponies back to the beach to ride on the Chincoteague National Wildlife Refuge. I always look forward to this beautiful weekend and the reaction of the ponies — who frequently want to roll in the sand on the island of their birth — and their riders, who race against the wind and encourage their horses to ride into the bay, waves lapping around their legs while the wind ruffles their manes and tails. It is a thing of beauty, and this year that was multiplied by the actions of others.


At the Feather Fund charity auction this summer, we auctioned off a two-hour beach ride on a Chincoteague Pony on the Assateague beach of the Chincoteague National Wildlife Refuge. If you don’t know about the Feather Fund, read Carollynn’s story at and you will see why we work so hard to raise funds. At the auction, the ride was purchased by a gal named Ruth Provost, who is currently training her 2-year-old Chincoteague Pony, Journey. Unfortunately, Ruth’s dog fell ill last week and she could not come to the ride. That’s when she did the most amazing thing. She had us call the woman who had bid against her in the auction and offer the ride to her, for free. “A gift from Journey,” she said.

My heart soared when I realized how much she’d paid for the ride and how she so willingly gave it to someone sharing that dream. Scout was just the start in a weekend of kindness.

Just before we left home for the trip, I received a message from Black Narrows Brewing Company on Chincoteague Island. This little brewery is owned by a couple and their parents. The four of them had the idea, a few years ago, to open a brewery on the island, but their business plan was unusual. Not only did they want to use only local growers for their barley and hops, but they vowed to donate 10 percent of all their profits to nonprofits. Because of this plan, bank after bank turned them down for a loan. New businesses cannot afford to give away any of their profits, they were told. It is ludicrous! But one bank took the leap of faith and the brewery opened last year.

“I just wanted to let you know that the Feather Fund will be receiving a check from us at the end of our fiscal year on September 22nd at Black Narrows,” Jennifer Chapman from Black Narrows wrote. “Is there anyone from your organization that could come and accept the check at our One Local — One Global bazaar that day?”

What a coincidence, I thought, as I wrote to let her know that we would be on the island that very weekend for our beach ride.

The ceremony would not only include awards, but also activities for kids, live music and more. As we corresponded, a plan emerged to take the Chincoteague Ponies to the ceremony to meet the crowds.

At the ceremony, the company awarded checks to nonprofit after nonprofit, including the Chincoteague Library, the Chincoteague Fire Company, the Kiwanis, the local PTA and the cancer fund for a little girl named Brianna.

Brianna Merritt, a 9-year-old girl in third grade, was diagnosed with acute myeloid leukemia in November of 2016. This kind of cancer is rare in children and the ongoing chemo is a special challenge for such a young girl.

Wearing a “Cancer Picked the Wrong Kid” shirt, Brianna smiled through it all, accepting not only a check from the brewery, but multiple checks as other nonprofits donated their checks to her fund. My heart overflowed with emotion.

Black Narrows had their regular customers present the awards, a unique twist. By the end of the day, Black Narrows had given away over $20,000 to nonprofits. Tears ran down my cheeks as I watched award after award handed out and I couldn’t help but think - what if every business in America did what Black Narrows Brewing Company was doing?

Oh, the change it would make for so many. Imagine the difference in poverty, homelessness, drug addiction and more if nonprofits across the country were fully funded and could triple or quadruple the number of people they helped. Imagine the dreams come true and the prosperity America would gain.

Throughout the event, the Feather Fund’s three Chincoteague Ponies met children and adults, families and businessmen. They had already carried riders on the beach that day and had calmly walked through town to get there, because there was no room to park a trailer. Now, children wrapped their arms around their necks. Parents stroked their backs and touched their noses. While kids raced behind and around them, and music and laughter filled the air, they stood quietly, happy to greet every smiling face.

The ponies may not have realized the sheer impact Black Narrows was making on this day, but I did, as did others all around me. I wasn’t the only one with tears when Brianna made a contribution of her own to an emergency relief fund for cancer families.

Brianna’s mom, Brandy Terrell, told the crowd how Brianna had expressed her appreciation for donations they were getting and then had asked, “But what about the other kids?”


With her push, the family organized a drive at her elementary school in March. People not only contributed money, but also signed up to become donors. And, before Brianna received a bone marrow transplant, she had over 300 people sign up for donor kits, as well. Brianna is raising funds for other kids with cancer at

Over the weekend, I met many people who ARE the change we need. It inspired me, and I hope it inspires you as well. Maybe we can all do a part to be the change we need.