Making the Impossible Possible

Bill Strickland

Bill Strickland seated on the stage in the PSNK theater.

By Melissa Gemballa

Bill Strickland, President and CEO of the Manchester Bidwell Corporation in Pittsburgh and author of this year’s Freshmen Summer Reading Program selection “Make the Impossible Possible,” spoke to Penn State New Kensington students on  Sept. 28, about his cure for “cancer of the spirit.”

Sunlight, art, flowers, gourmet food and music. And a fountain doesn’t hurt either.

At the Manchester Craftsmen’s Guild and the Bidwell Training Center, Strickland incorporates all of these elements to transform the lives of poor people from the inner city – among them at-risk youths, welfare mothers and ex-convicts. These people have spent their days attempting to bear up under the destructive labels society has placed upon them. But in the “beautiful environment” Strickland has created, these same people are graduating from high school and enrolling in college or landing meaningful, good-paying jobs as, for example, sous chefs and chemical technicians.

Having himself grown up in a poverty-stricken neighborhood outside Pittsburgh, Strickland is all too familiar with the detrimental effect lowered expectations can have on the course of an individual’s life.  But as Strickland phrases it, “The only thing that we have been able to determine is wrong with poor people is that they have no money.”

That, he feels, is a curable condition.

Strickland has accomplished much since embarking on his career path at the early age of 19. In recognition of his efforts, he has been appointed to several national and presidential committees, been the subject of five Harvard Business School case studies, and even been awarded a MacArthur Foundation “genius” grant. When, however, Theresa Bonk, Director of Student Affairs at Penn State New Kensington, showed him the elaborate introduction she had prepared to welcome him to the stage, he asked that she skip it and simply introduce him as “Bill Strickland – Pittsburgh.”

Strickland’s concept that “people are born into the world as assets, not liabilities” is still a driving passion in his life. He believes that centers like Manchester Bidwell are desperately needed across our nation as well as other nations. With centers already operational in such cities as Cleveland, Grand Rapids and San Francisco and plans being discussed with such countries as Canada, Ireland and Israel, his idealistic goal to “change the conversation” about education comes closer and closer to tangible reality.    

At the conclusion of his presentation, Strickland challenged students at Penn State New Kensington to spread hope, make a difference and change the world for the better. He cautioned students not to measure success in terms of wealth, power and prestige but rather in terms of how many people they have helped in their lives. By that definition, Strickland, who still resides in the same neighborhood in which he was born, has been infinitely successful.

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