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Rising Through Resilience: Leon House Of ‘Wheels for Wishes’ On The Five Things You Can Do To Become More Resilient

An Interview With Jason Sheppard

Resilient people surround themselves with people who are like-minded. You don’t have to have any similarities, you just have to not take no for an answer and stare failure in the face and acknowledge it’s there and then you discover ways to get around it.

Resilience has been described as the ability to withstand adversity and bounce back from difficult life events. Times are not easy now. How do we develop greater resilience to withstand the challenges that keep being thrown at us? In this interview series, we are talking to mental health experts, authors, resilience experts, coaches, and business leaders who can talk about how we can develop greater resilience to improve our lives.

As a part of this series, I had the pleasure of interviewing Leon House, founder of Wheels For Wishes, an organization comprised of dedicated volunteers that raise funds throughout Newfoundland and Labrador to provide kids within the CNIB (Canadian National Institute for the Blind) with dogs from the CNIB Guide Dog program as well as CandleLighters NL with support for Children in Newfoundland and Labrador who are battling Childhood Cancers.

The Wheels for Wishes show has been the premier car show in Newfoundland and Labrador since its conception. This sees a variety of automobiles, Tuners, Antiques, Muscle, Jeeps, Trucks and Hot Rods come together to be the largest show of its kind in NL. The crew is always continuing to pursue those who have the heart and dedication to make magic for those who need a little helping hand.

Thank you so much for joining us! Our readers would love to get to know you a bit better. Can you tell us a bit about your backstory?

In 2019, I was approached to take part in a charity event where it was up to us to come up with a way where we could create a buzz in order to make a difference for kids in the community. So we reached out to some like-minded people who had some spare time and also wanted to make a difference. We pieced it all together and came up with Wheels for Wishes. Our first year was amazing. We held a one-day event which raised $10,000 and last year we held a $50,000 event. This year with two events we exceeded that amount for a guide dog to aid a visually impaired young boy. Now we’re looking to expand our two charities and in that process involve others to help who aren’t involved with charities or fund-raising.

Can you share with us the most interesting story from your career? Can you tell us what lessons or ‘take aways’ you learned from that?

The most interesting story is when you have a nine-year-old little girl who is a part of the organization we raise money for who’s shy because of her vision impairment and she’s always reaching out to us ask asking, ‘how are you doing? Where are you going?’ She wants to hang out and be a part of what we do. We see many parents who feel moved when we do things for their children. The father of the young man we’re providing the guide dog for is very touched that we could make that happen. COVID-19 is a pretty ugly thing right now and fund-raising has slowed down for many, but for us it has ramped up. We worked around ‘how could we fund-raise?’ and the community uptake has been incredible. My takeaway is that everybody can do something. It’s not always about money. People who lack money have tonnes of time and are often more creative than someone who is involved day-to-day working at a business. When you combine the right mix of people, there’s nothing you can’t do. Another one is that there’s always going to be someone better off than you and someone in a worse position than you are and there are people on both sides willing to come together to achieve a goal. It’s not about money, it’s about the movement and when you create the movement, the money will follow.

What do you think makes your company stand out? Can you share a story?

We’re real and genuine. If we tell you, we’ll do it, we’ll do it. There’s no chance of failure. If we need to work harder, we’ll work harder even if it takes more time out of our personal lives to get something done. We’re about trying to change the life of a child who’s in an unpleasant situation. When you combine the right people, anything can happen. I want to give you a particular story but that’s a tough one because every time you reach out to change the life of a child or a family of a child who’s ill or unwell and needs a helping hand they all leave a mark on you. We don’t get involved with anybody we don’t end up forming a personal connection with. All the kids we work with are special. I don’t know if it’s possible to choose one story that is more special than the other. They’re all in a unique situation and need a helping hand, and how we go about providing that helping hand is the challenge.

None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story?

There was a little boy, Andy, who passed away from skull base chordoma (bone cancer that starts along the spine) who left an enormous mark on me and that was the beginning for me of becoming involved in charitable movements. We organized a charity for him where we built a Hot Rod for him before he passed away. After that I was approached by Edie Newton who at the time was involved with the Children’s Wish Foundation and she was the person who provided the information on how to become more involved, what to look for in people, what to look for in people who need help and how to be genuine. Without sounding cliche, I think the people who are successful at fund-raising expect nothing back and they’re genuine and honest. They do it because they realize the reward doesn’t have to be anything other than seeing change. For me, that’s a major thing, and I got that from Edie. Andy was a selfless little boy. Nothing was ever about him. He knew he would not live long. Edie Newton was the most instrumental in setting my pathway to doing good for others.

Ok thank you for all that. Now let’s shift to the main focus of this interview. We would like to explore and flesh out the trait of resilience. How would you define resilience? What do you believe are the characteristics or traits of resilient people?

I think we’re all stubborn and failure is not an option for most people who are resilient. When you’re faced with challenges, you find a way around them. You look for different things in people. I think people who are resilient see others like it as well. I believe those people are attracted to each other. Resilient people surround themselves with people who are like-minded. You don’t have to have any similarities, you just have to not take no for an answer and stare failure in the face and acknowledge it’s there and then you discover ways to get around it. We make that happen every day. For every one person who says no, you learn why they say no. Resilience is a trait stubborn people have, or in my world, they do. And that can be a good thing when it’s for the right reason.

Courage is often likened to resilience. In your opinion how is courage both similar and different to resilience?

To be honest, I don’t believe courage and resilience are related. The circumstances of what the kids we help face, that’s true courage. What their parents deal with is resilience. For us it’s resilience because the courage always comes from the kid in the fight and no matter the charity, no matter the parents, no matter what we do, we don’t make courage. We can provide hope.

When you think of resilience, which person comes to mind? Can you explain why you chose that person?

That’s displayed by the kid, and how sick they are. They still want to do things and be out around, whether it’s going to a car show or whether it’s watching their friends play hockey or go to a movie. We just try to make them smile while they’re fighting the fight. We can adapt and overcome and conquer and navigate the waters to get to our goal of fund-raising and changing lives. The recipient of the charity, all they have is courage because they can’t change the path. The path has been set for them whether it’s cancer or vision loss or some other illness; they display the courage, not us. We provide the resilience to make them smile and get to where they need to be to be happy.

Has there ever been a time that someone told you something was impossible, but you did it anyway? Can you share the story with us?

Every time we do an event (laughs). We were told early on we’d never succeed at our first event, we’d never get it off the ground, people are going to laugh at you, your personal life is going to be a joke because you failed. Every time people said we would fail, we dug deeper, and we found people who wanted to dig deeper. We take the time to spend with the kids we were trying to change the lives of and that’s the fuel, that’s the reward, that’s the goal. We were told all the time what we aimed for was impossible. We’re now the #1 event in our area and 100% of what we do goes to the kids who need it. It’s about being honest and truthful. People come to experience it and hang around with these kids and observe what change is whether it’s a kid who’s going to camp for cancer, whether it’s a kid whose wish is to visit Mickey Mouse in Florida or whether it’s a kid in need of a guide dog, we show it to you. We’re a group that when you help us, we want you to keep up with us. We built our success upon the surrounding people. We’re only facilitators who get an idea, reach out and invite others to be a part of it.

Did you have a time in your life where you had one of your greatest setbacks, but you bounced back from it stronger than ever? Can you share that story with us?

To be honest, the only setback we’ve had was with COVID-19. It was very momentary, yet changed the way we fund-raise; changed the way we hold events, but it was very short-lived. It had to be. COVID-19 didn’t stop these kids from poor health or vision loss. COVID-19 stopped the world, but these kids still needed us. They needed help, so we sat down and we talked about the ways we could still help. If something would not work, we had to come up with a plan that did. We refused to take the time to stop. We just found a different path.

How have you cultivated resilience throughout your life? Did you have any experiences growing up that have contributed to building your resiliency? Can you share a story?

I guess that goes back to being stubborn. I was stubborn as a little boy when I was told to not touch the candy yet, I would touch the candy. When they say you can’t do something yet, you do it, anyway. As you grow up and mature, you find others who are like-minded and you change your resiliency in of two ways; you become resilient and that’s a good thing or you become resilient and that’s a bad thing and we chose the good path over the bad path.

Resilience is like a muscle that can be strengthened. In your opinion, what are 5 steps that someone can take to become more resilient? Please share a story or an example for each.

You need to be honest. Without honesty, resiliency doesn’t happen. Acknowledge your strengths. Acknowledge your weaknesses. Understand no matter how good things are, there’s always somebody in a terrible place. No matter how bad things are in your life, there’s always a better place and you have to learn to navigate the waters. Can anybody become resilient? Absolutely. But nobody can tell them how to become resilient. There’s many people who wish to make change, whether it’s in life, whether it’s in relationships, whether it’s in charity, resilient people just want to make change.

You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. :-)

I think we’re on the road to that movement right now. I can’t define that we’re all the same, we just have different challenges, which is the key to a movement. It doesn’t matter what your ethnicity is, what your sexual preference is, or what your social status is. If we become defined by any of those change is difficult, but if we embrace the fact that we can all work towards good, we can all do magical things and it all works. There’s no room in our organization for hate or sarcasm. The only thing we have room for is to try to be good people. Charity begins at home and that’s as good a place as any to star because once you get your own housekeeping in order, then you can look at other people who need it.

How can our readers further follow your work online?

Social media right now is stronger than any website platform, but we have Wheels for Wishes Newfoundland. Realistically, websites don’t get the traffic social media so we have a Facebook platform Wheels for Wishes and we have people reach out from all over the world. That would be the easiest platform to visit us on.

This was very inspiring. Thank you so much for joining us!

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