AGAPE, the word that started New York teacher and Character Strong team member Andy DiDomenico on his journey down Character Road. Enjoy Andy’s passion for the power of influence and the promise of a life of selfless service.
Hello and welcome back to the corner on character, where character speaks a podcast in partnership with pro signed, designed to spotlight passionate character champions who are walking the talk. I’m your host, Barbara Gruner. And today we are up in New York with Andy Di Domenico, a coach, a dad, a father away. That’s the same thing. An author and a friend to so many. Andy, Welcome to the show. Thanks, Barbara. Thanks for having me. It’s it’s good to be with you. Absolutely. I want to start with the old tell us a little bit about yourself.
But in all seriousness, what brought you to today? Well, uh, just to give you a little background on myself, I’m a 19 year educator. Um, And coach, like he said, Ah, I have. Ah. I’ve been a social studies teacher in a number of different schools, number different settings. Currently, uh, I’m heading up our alternative program at Tappan Zee High School in suburban New York and, ah, coach something called Sprint football at, uh, the United States Military Academy at West Point. Um, the reason I’m here is ah, you and I cross paths A couple of weeks ago I’ve been a long time Twitter follower and, ah, to get in the same room with you and actually be in the in a small group and start to discuss Ah, what you’ve been doing and all the good work.
Ah, developing character building relationships, spreading kindness. It seemed like it was a bit of a blessing. So, uh, you know, after after we met a I tried to get you on the horn and see if we could set up a conversation. And I thank you for allowing me toe to join you. It’s my pleasure. Does it put you on the spot to let you know that a mutual friend of ours said you called me like the godmother of kindness? Uh, it may, it may. Her may may not put me on the spot, but it is what it is. Yeah.
I mean, you get out there and you get on the The whole Twitter thing has been a revelation to me, going back maybe a couple of years and seeing how ah, just wonderful educators and purveyors of kindness like yourself just just kind of come and come into your life And, uh, and and they changed. They’ve changed my life as an educator like you said, as a husband, as a father, you know, was a lifelong learner just trying to be, ah, better kind of version of myself in a I thank you for all that you do for for all of us out there in the twitterverse.
Well, here’s what I thought better godmother than grandmother. But actually, I thought it was such a sweet compliment. My godmother has been a blessing in my life, and it’s kind of someone who’s behind the scenes until you need them. And then you know that they’re absolutely going to be there for you. So I really appreciated your kind words of affirmation. It gave me pause and it fuelled my fire. Well, you do it for me every day I scroll on the Twitter. So, uh, it’s the least I could be a Okay, so we met over character strong.
Will you top a little bit about what your investment and involvement with character strong has been and is going to be sure. Sure, that’d be great. Talk about Twitter changing my life. I think back to about 2015 I I crossed John New Orleans half on Twitter through through a Greek word. A got a uh right. Yeah. Great word. The selfless, unconditional love. That’s a choice. And And I said, I don’t know who this guy is. I don’t know where this guy is, but I gotta follow him. And, uh, I would say that was probably about four years ago.
And at that same time, Ah, a colleague of mine and I had been trying to develop a character course, uh, in our district and at the secondary level at the high school level, it was really challenging to find, um, resource is let alone a curriculum that you could basically plug and play. Uh, so over the course of 2015 into 16 um, I learned more about John, and this is right around the time character Strong was becoming, Ah, an official title. John was doing some other other things service and and things like that.
Uh, I was lucky enough. I’m blessed enough to have a wonderful life. Who, uh, who said You know what? Let’s go out to Seattle, spend a week in Seattle, do a little vacation, and then, in August of 2016 on that final day and in the Pacific Northwest, I went to Johns schools under high school and did it and did a one day training, uh, with John and Lindsey and and, uh as I was saying it, it just it changed. It changed my professional life, and it’s Ah, it’s been a relationship that we’ve ah fostered since then.
So in the meantime, I went back to New York in 2016 and implemented the character Strong curriculum at our at our high school as as an elective. The first year we had 26 students. Ah, the second year we had about I think we had 76 students. Ah, this current year were up in the high nineties and and the projections for next year up over 101 125 or so. So, uh, you know, the kids that the character, strong curriculum, the relationships it builds, it’s really resonating with students. Um, And now John came in to our district just before we met a couple weeks ago and, uh, did a professional development for our district and surrounding districts.
And, ah, you know, we’re starting to get some like minded educators on board. And, ah, you know, I’m really excited. TB a small part of maybe helping ah, character strong share that vision of building culture, building school climate through relationships and and ultimately, love. So, like hearted as well as like minded. Yeah. Amen to that. Yeah. So the leadership lessons, Andy, or the advisory lessons? Uh, it’s the leadership curriculum. So our courts are, of course, is called citizen leaderships. We’ve as a social studies teacher, we’ve tied it into a little bit of, ah, of the state civics requirement.
Very nice. And are you bringing it? You said you coach at at West Point. Are you bringing it to your football guys? The message, the vision, the mission in small doses, you know, these these air young men who are, you know, I coach football. So So we’re dealing with young men, but there are young women at the academy as well. These air are the best of the best. There, there, uh, just outstanding human beings. They’re they’re outstanding students, their outstanding leaders, Uh, and I’m bringing small doses of it, and I feel like, uh, you know my history as a high school coach and my history in the classroom with the character strong curriculum.
You know, when you start to connect the dots, it’s it’s It’s all about those relationships. It’s all about caring about one another, Uh, and being selfless and just just to give you a little background on the, uh, program I coach, it’s called Sprint Football. So it’s Ah, everybody on the field weighs under £178. So, um, talk about selfless. We’ve got offensive lineman who, you know, get none of the glory that none of the accolades. Um, but they were high school quarterbacks. They were, you know, the captain of their high school football team.
They were the quarterback. They got all the accolades, they they were the student body president. And and now they’re, you know, Ah, there grunts in the trenches, so they’re being selfless. But to answer your question the way we we spend a little bit of time before practice a little bit of time after practice, we might plug, uh, just a brief relationship building exercise. Uh, early in the week, our coach, uh, has has developed a leadership curriculum where he empowers our seniors to talk about the values on week by week, we, we, uh we delve into to the values kind of like the eight essentials of character strong.
And what we try to do is, is talk about how to put those things into action on a daily basis. So the character shown curriculum strategies. They’ve they’ve permeated really every aspect of my life. Aziz. Well, there at at West Point well, and the Sprint football sounds like a beautiful metaphor for life that it’s not so much your size now as it is your strength and and in a parallel, really for kindness because you’re kind d doesn’t have to be good to hear. Sorry, great to be grand or, you know, huge to be good.
Yeah, I mean, you summed it up. I was with Houston Craft the other day, and but one of the things that he said that resonated with me is when he talked about those eight essentials. Kindness being, you know, one of the one of the cornerstones is these are these are traits that everybody in a school building everybody in a community can embody. And if we give them the map, the opportunity to practice those, uh, we can get good at them. We can weaken, build those competencies and those and they can become strengths.
And on the sprint football field, yet it’s it’s the same. It’s the same way we’re all coming in right right there around 100 £75. And how can we work together as a as a ah ah brotherhood? How can we work together selflessly t achieve the goals that air best for in this case, the team? But you know, the school, the community and beyond. I love that. And even when you’re talking about the cream of the crop, you started by saying, Man, these are some of the best of the best at West Point, even knowing that those kids can get better.
Certainly certainly. I mean, uh, the culture of West Point is a culture of, uh, excellence. It’s a culture of striving to be your best. But there’s There’s also the culture of of followership where when you first arrived at the Military Academy, they don’t teach about being a great leader. They teach you about being a great follower and working for the for your company, right, working for the court of cadets. So it’s it’s It’s really a tough balance in our modern world. Teach individuals to strive for excellence.
But also Teoh toe work for the good of the group. The team, the community, the school s Oh, so, yeah, there are definitely teach teachable moments every day in that regard. Okay, so the day we met, it seems to me you told me a pretty cool story about your grandpa Might have included your dad. I’m sketchy on details, but do you know what I’m talking about? And can you share that I Dokdo, it’s ah, It’s one of those stories that at the moment was eye opening and looking back 30 years now.
Goodness, Uh uh, like I said, when you start to connect the dots, it it really changed my worldview and just evil background. I’m the youngest of seven kids. My father was a World War two veteran, 47 years old when I was born, um, his father, his father was born in 18 98. So my grandfather, when I was 15 years old, was in his late eighties, early nineties, and any he was a product of that world, you know, new York City. Turn of the century. Ah, it’s just a different, different world.
Far, far less kind, compassionate. But maybe some aspects of the world we live in today. And he was very opinionated. He saw the world and the people in the world, um, through through a different lens. Um, you know, there were aspects of racism and sexism and anti Semitism and all those kinds of things, and, uh, my grandmother died. My grandfather came to live with us and, you know, my grandfather, we he’d sit there in front of the TV news and he would share his opinions and expletives and and all all types of things.
And, ah, I was outside shooting hoops in the driveway or some some such and I came running in to the house and I got to the screen door, and my grandfather and father were having a heated discussion. And, uh, the one thing I remember is my father saying to my grandfather, You know, I have, ah, 15 year old son here he is impressionable. Uh, he he cannot hear the kinds of things that are coming out of your mouth. He needs to see the world through his eyes and the way you’re conveying these things, it’s not gonna happen.
And it’s not gonna happen in my house. And it was a, uh, transformational moment. My grandfather within a week had moved, uh, moved upstate with my uncle and Ah, and that changed. That changed kind of how I saw my father. And, you know, my father was not super open minded either, but but for him to see, uh, how impactful his father’s example his example was was was pretty powerful. And like I said, I don’t think I realized the impact of that particular moment for 20 years at least.
The modeling piece is key. And it took so much courage for your dad to stand up for you kind of against his own father. Yeah. Yeah. It, uh you know, as as your parents age, you know, the power dynamic shifts, but, uh, my grandfather was the patriarch, and for my father to do that has been an inspiration for me. You know, for me, toe teach character to teach kindness and selflessness and, ah, service to others. Really? Probably the seed was planted a little bit before that, but that really, uh, changed my worldview.
Yeah, it’s amazing that you can go right back. Toe. Where did I get my Why? Yeah, Yeah. And, you know, my father is gone now, and I don’t know that I ever had the opportunity to thank him for that specific moment. And and, Ah, you know, I just just try toe live out that mission through my work through my relationships and teaching and coaching. And, you know, obviously I hope at home base, so get’s good stuff. Well, that’s what I’m thinking, Andy, is that your gratitude is in the life that you’re leading And, um, the example that he wanted you to set against You know what, the world or even his dad, who you said right away was a product of that world in a different time, you know, might try to come in and take from you.
And he was so protective that it’s such a beautiful story. Yes, it’s It’s pretty cool. It’s, uh yeah, it’s a legacy. Yeah, yeah, yeah. It’s ah. You know, I’m feeling pretty emotional as we speak. So, uh, lots of a copy and grace. Amen to that, Barbara. Okay, So, speaking of stories, is it possible that your dream and big and hoping to one day add author to your list of accomplishments as as a city earlier were your in the pre infancy of of, uh, of the writing process, I had an opportunity to speak with one of one of your friends, Lydia McFadden.
And she, uh, really gave me a ton of inspiration and pointed me in the direction of some great resource is to tell to tell the story that that I would like to share, we’ll see when we get there. But but just to give you a little background, I was lucky enough, Uh, for 10 years, 10. 5 years to work with an outstanding, uh, athletic administrator educator by the name of Dr Liam Frawley. Uh, in 2016 he was the end of 15 into 16. He was selected as the and if an F hs, which is the National Federation of High Schools.
Uh, athletics as Thea, teacher, Coach of the year for 2016. Uh, yeah. I mean a really a transformational, uh, educator transfer Midge, transformational leader. And in January of 2016 ah, he went down with Hey, had a brain aneurysm burst. Uh, and he’s still with us. But he’s He’s in a wheelchair, unable, unable to speak, unable to walk. And, uh, I think my vision on my mission is really to share Liam’s Ah, Liam’s impact on so many of us in our small community. Ah, but in the broader community in New York State, he was just inducted into New York State Athletic Administrators Hall of Fame and and and you know he was.
He was really working to make his mark nationally when we when when he suffered his aneurysm so myself, along with a few of our few my colleagues from Tappan Zee in South Orange Town have kind of made it our mission to carry out his vision. You just really don’t know when your influence is going to start or end. And oh, my goodness, that’s just such a beautiful reminder that every moment of every single day, every step you take I know Houston talks about the fingerprint of kindness.
I like the idea of making kindness footprints because, you know, we want to talk about our carbon footprint. But what about the kindness footprint? Certainly. I mean, that that pinky wiggle that used in often talks about that that influence that we have on the universe if we can really be intentional about being kind on a daily basis on a on a moment by moment basis, uh, you don’t realize the impact you have And with Liam, Um, you know, I was the head football coach, and he was the athletic director, and I thought, you know, we had some kind of special relationship.
All right, uh, boat. But when Liam got sick, you realize Liam had had these, uh, really close impactful relationships with with so so many people in our community, in our region, in our state, um, he was such a transformational leader and and friend. Ah, that that I think his story needs to be shared with with the broader world. I love it when someone has the power to make you feel like they’re your favorite. Even though now you’re describing this man’s influence was so much greater and wider than just the relationship we have he had with you.
But it sounds like it was a really special one. Even though he was your superior. Yeah, Yeah, he, uh he brought me in to back to my alma mater, actually, in his second year as a coach and and, uh, in the second year is the athletic director. And, um, yeah, I couldn’t I couldn’t tell you 11 person, uh, who worked with Lamb that would have seen him as the boss. He inspired us to be so much better to be more selfless. And and he did it through his example.
If if something needed to get Donny, he rolled up its sleeves, He patted you on the back, and you went and you got after it And, uh, you know, those those 10 10. 5 years didn’t feel like work, you know, they felt like a mission. And, uh, I couldn’t I couldn’t point to anybody in her in our communities who would disagree with that. People often tease about living the dream, but that actually sounds like you were living the dream. Yeah, Liam created a community. Uh, that really was. It was special.
And, you know, I had an opportunity. He was inducted into our schools Hall of Fame, and I had an opportunity to speak on behalf of the the staff and the coaches. And, you know, I think my marching orders for everyone who worked with him was, you know, we need to take Williams mission of building character building kindness, building community. Uh, take it with us wherever we go and make it our mission. So my first character training back in the year 2000 was with Michael Josephson at character counts, and one of the things I heard him say often is Think about what you want people to say either at your retirement or at your celebration of life and then live life backwards.
That’s great. That’s great. That’s Ah, that’s an exercise I’ve I’ve done with with my teams. Ah, a couple of times. And uh, yes, it’s It’s a pretty powerful example. I heard the same thing from a a teacher. Excuse me, An educator. Coach Joe Erman has been very influential on Liam’s life in my life. And, uh, yeah, that’s the way to go, right? What do you want people to say about you when you’re there on your last few moments? So if you were going to put all of this onto a billboard a few years ago, I had a chance to take out a billboard.
It was so cool. What would you put on your character? Billboard? Andy. Oh, goodness. I’m gonna stall for a second, and I’m gonna act you What was on your bill? I said superheroes are everywhere. You’re one of them Because I really wanted people. Teoh understand that your strengths or your superpowers. And regardless of where you are in life, you can always smile at someone you can always, you know. Can I help offer, offer a helping hand, come to the rescue again? It doesn’t have to be great to be grand, So superheroes are riel.
They’re everywhere, and you’re one of them. I love it. I love it. Did that by you the time you indicated Andy. It may have, I think be I think it would be, um, stealing a little bit, Uh, from John New Orleans. Um, you know, he talked about leadership is all about relationships. And and I think, um, I think it would be something along those lines. Life is all about relationships. Uh, you know, value them, nurture them. Uh, Sprinkle Sprinkles at Sprinkle some kindness and intention and love, and ah, you’ll get you’ll get where you’re going.
I know that’s a long winded, but I think it would be something about life, eyes all about relationships because, like like we said earlier, you never know what’s gonna happen along the way. And, uh, you want to be a leader. You want to be a lawyer? A doctor? Ah, football player, A teacher, a banker. Father, Mother. I mean, everything we do is about relationships. And if we want, we want to be effective. And we want to leave a legacy. Uh, we can’t do it without really fostering those relationships and caring about one another and being kind and being humble because, you know, being being kind and caring.
Sometimes this is harder than it looks. It sounds like you’re talking about making a got a a verb. Ah, love it. Love it. Okay, Andy, where can people find you? Because you know, not that we’re going to stalk you, but we want to connect with you. Grow with you, learn alongside of you. I got a with you. I would say the best way to find me is on Twitter. It’s that at a Di Domenico. So that’s Ah a the I the O m e N I c e o one.
Ah, that’s really the way I connect with so many wonderful educators, wonderful leaders, athletes, coaches all over the world. It’s really been a revelation. Nice. Is there anything I missed before we sign off? I don’t think so, Barbara. I mean, you’ve plumbed the depths of my soul here and 1/2 in our, uh I, uh you know, I don’t think you’ve missed anything, but I do want to say thank you before we part our ways. It’s really it’s been great over the last couple of weeks to get connected with you face to face and and and obviously, like I said, I’ve been a great fan on on Twitter and that connecting with with some of your, uh, friends and connections out there, it’s Ah, it’s really been a blessing.
So, uh, I want to thank you for that, obviously, for this opportunity. My pleasure. And I want to thank you, Andy, for carving out the time this morning to meet at the corner. Ah, podcast that’s supported by pro signed design, a family owned business dedicated to character safety, an organization. If you haven’t seen their banners What a terrific way to cull. Arise your character building, check them out a pro signed design code dot com and then join us next week for more about character, education, connections and life.
Until then, remember that character speaks.