Don Smith, publisher of the Grand Island Independent and an accomplished businessman, participated in one-on-one coaching and encouraged many people employed by the newspaper also to participate. He prepared the following editorial after the project was complete:
Wonderful Life Project leaves indelible impact
Posted: Wednesday, December 4, 2013 12:30 am
Two holiday classics — Charles Dickens’s “A Christmas Carol” and Frank Capra’s “It’s a Wonderful
Life” — are timeless stories of revelation and redemption in the form of emotional transformation.
Though Ebenezer and George found the path to happiness and purpose through the intervention of
supernatural characters, fulfillment for common mortals is possible for anyone with the desire to
That is the lesson and legacy of Grand Island’s Wonderful Life Project. As the WLP winds down to
the end of its 2-year cycle we are happy to reflect on expectations met.
In all more than 1,600 people attended some or all of the 10-part workshops. Nearly 100 people took
part in the one-on-one coaching sessions and more than 100 organizations and businesses were
represented in the training.
By now our readers have been exposed to many of the WLP lessons through the regular columns
authored by Lee Elliott and published in the Grand Island Independent.
St. Francis Medical Center was the proving ground for the remarkably unique curriculum, researched
and developed by Elliott, the hospital’s former human resources director. Mark Stelk was the first
business owner to formally introduce the training program to his staff at General Collections. The
results achieved by this trial proved that many measures of workplace productivity and job satisfaction
were dramatically improved.
The age-old question “what is the meaning of life?” may well be answerable within the lessons of the
WLP. Certainly the WLP healed relationships, dissolved long-standing grudges, made workplaces
more harmonious and productive, and permanently improved the lives of hundreds of people.
One of the tasks in Elliott’s one-on-one, year-long coaching regimen involves the writing of one’s
own obituary — a singularly unsettling but highly illuminating and constructive exercise. Just as
George and Ebenezer found the answer to the meaning of life by visiting the past and confronting an
unfulfilled future, the articulation of how one wished to be remembered in passing serves to
crystallize hopes and dreams that are truly within reach within whatever time remains in life.
Developing a sense of self-worth and purpose leads to the elusive notion of “happiness,” a commodity
that is in short supply these days. The converse is true, too, happiness leads to a sense of purpose
which, in turn, touches other lives and the ripple effect then spreads.
The coming months will be spent quantifying and analyzing what took place in Grand Island over the
past two years. The lessons of WLP have evolved and will continue to be refined and put
into practice through other channels in other places.
We applaud the great community support and the generosity of the great many people, organizations
and businesses that made the WLP possible.
We salute the participants who boldly embraced the WLP and go forth to spread the benefits of the
living skills they learned. They are the lucky ones.
Most of all, we extend the gratitude of a community to Lee Elliott for making a profound difference
in the lives of his fellow citizens.
Don also prepared an editorial encouraging people to participate in the training/coaching at the end of the first year and another giving an update to the community as the project neared completion. Those editorials are as follows:
Wonderful Life Project enjoys successful first year
Posted: Sunday, December 2, 2012 12:00 am
When we announced the introduction of the Wonderful Life Project (WLP) a year ago the concept was so ambitious and broad in scope that it was a challenge to concisely describe what it was all about. Since nothing like it had been attempted there was no road map or way to gauge its chances of success.
As a booster of the WLP, the Grand Island Independent had faith from the beginning in the concept’s chief architect and his idea that the program could make a meaningful difference in the lives of the people of Grand Island. The mission was to take on the epidemic of stress and depression that has infiltrated everyday life. Depression and stress-related illnesses rank among the most resource-consuming health conditions facing society today and cause lost productivity, broken relationships, financial hardship, shortened life spans, and degradation of the quality of life. The toll in terms of human suffering is immeasurable.
Of course, it would be impossible for any outreach program to reach all of GI’s 50,000 inhabitants; however, the program is designed to be accessible to everyone through a variety of channels.
From the outset we believed that if the WLP could help just one person to turn their life around it would have great value. In theory, a single evangelist for the program’s simple life-coping skills could positively impact the lives of many more people and they in turn could do the same, thus creating a ripple effect.
So how did this idea take root? Armed with a masters degree in psychology, a passion for helping people, and many years of research at the St. Francis Medical Center as vice president of human resources, Lee Elliott combined the knowledge and research of experts across the nation to create an ten-step training program designed to reduce stress and distress at work and at home.
The segments cover - learning to modify habits of thought that are causing distress, increasing your happiness, improving the quality of your conflicts, learning to rid yourself of grudges, enhancing optimism, increasing trust—improving relationships, experiencing an appropriate level of stress, increasing goodness/avoiding evil, finding fulfillment, and developing a plan to accomplish whatever it is you want to do with the rest of your life.
To vouch for the accuracy of the material being taught, a team of professors from Creighton, Hastings College, Central Community College, and the University of Nebraska at Kearney (UNK) have been assembled. They review the materials and verify that the science and methodology used is consistent with current research standards.
To be clear, the WLP is intended to teach life skills and not take the place of services performed by professional counselors. People suffering from major depression or manifesting symptoms like changes in sleep patterns or appetite, excessive tiredness, suicidal thoughts, isolation or poor concentration are advised to seek professional services. The WLP’s benefits deal with serious but much easier to manage sources of stress.
The results from the WLP’s first year have been quite amazing. In addition to the one-on-one coaching sessions nearly 700 attendees have attended the group sessions offered at the library. Participants have come from as far away as Lincoln and Ogallala. The program has been discussed in classroom settings, churches and in other media. Last summer a radio station in California did a feature on Grand Island’s WLP. A group comprised of area employers is being formed to also introduce the program in the workplace.
Endorsements such as these vouch for the program’s effectiveness…
“One wonderful ripple effect from this project in Grand Island entails the ideas it creates in my students. The course I teach is part of our online program; therefore many of the students live in various communities throughout the United States. We often discuss the potential for replicating the good work being done in Grand Island within their communities. This may lead to a much higher level of happiness across our entire nation. All thanks to this project starting in Grand Island.”
“How many of us could have imagined that there would one day be a formula or process for increasing our potential for happiness and fulfillment — without drugs or other external manipulation? And now we are not only seeing this play out in people’s lives, but we’ve got it available to us here…”
The second and final year of the Wonderful Life Project will begin in February. Funds are still being raised to make the full program possible.
Wonderful Life Project enters its last phase
Posted: Friday, August 30, 2013 12:00 am
Impact of the Wonderful Life Project on Grand Island has been, well, in a word – wonderful.
When the Grand Island Independent first introduced the Wonderful Life Project (WLP), the idea of
providing life-coping skills to an entire community had never been attempted in this country on such a
scale. Nonetheless, the Independent and a small but dedicated group of boosters believed in the
concept’s chief architect, Lee Elliott, and his idea that the program could make a meaningful
difference in the lives of the people of Grand Island.
As the two-year program enters its last 3 months, we can vouch for the success of the program and the
great impact that it has made on the lives of hundreds of people. Simply stated, the WLP involved
10 different skill-based training sessions, each focusing on common stress-inducing aspects of everyday life.
Depression and stress-related illnesses rank among the most resource-consuming health conditions facing
society today and cause lost productivity, broken relationships, financial hardship, shortened life spans, and
degradation of the quality of life.
By learning how to better recognize and cope with stress, and prioritize positive behaviors, people are
able to increase happiness and lead more fulfilling lives.
In reviewing the feedback from participants over the past 20 months, the anecdotal accounts of
success make a compelling case for the value of the WLP.
Those who participated in the one-on-one sessions reported that they were happier and that the
training improved communications with important people in their lives. One participant who revealed
that he came from a family of “angry men” was able to change his interactions with co-workers and
family members which resulted in breaking the anger chain, not only for him but for others. He came
away from the experience feeling happier and more at peace.
In both the individual and group sessions many successes were noted in regard to improved
relationships and productivity in the workplace. Common and sometimes longstanding grudges and
communication failures were resolved through a variety of techniques designed to prevent workplace
conflicts and counter-productive behaviors. In many instances the improvement in communication and
interpersonal relationships carried over to family life.
Many participants reported that the WLP had a more meaningful impact on family life than work life.
As an example, one participant reported that the history of family reunions had amounted to complaint
sessions. At a recent reunion, a rule was established that family members would only engage in
positive interaction. That change resulted in the best reunion the family had ever experienced.
Throughout the training sessions, Lee Elliott was also able to learn and modify his approach to
coaching through the feedback provided by participants. For example, listening and avoiding
“overthinking” emerged as two essential skills to be learned. Respondents repeatedly recounted
instances in which communication skills were elevated because the WLP student emphasized listening
over making quick assumptions about the motivation of others. Over-thinking and dwelling on negative
events fosters a negative perception which, in turn, quickly leads to negative interactions.
Respondents were happy to have acquired the skills to break the cycle of negativity.
We have published many letters from people who have seen their lives turnaround because of the
skills they have learned from Elliott and the WLP. Research is being gathered on this program and
following its conclusion, we will share the findings on the program’s overall impact. The WLP has
been one of the most rewarding community-based outreach programs that we have been associated
with and we applaud the personal commitment that Elliott and the program’s committee and donors
have made to make Grand Island a better place.
It is important to note that, the WLP is intended to teach life skills and not take the place of services
performed by professional counsellors. People suffering from major depression or manifesting
symptoms like changes in sleep patterns or appetite, excessive tiredness, suicidal thoughts, isolation
or poor concentration are advised to seek professional services. The WLP’s benefits deal with serious
but much easier to manage sources of stress.
Sessions for the remaining three months include Fulfillment, Becoming Exceptional and Strategic