Making the Ordinary Extraordinary

for the week of November 5, 2001
by Rubel Shelly

You're not going to believe this, but trust me. The food is so good in a school cafeteria in Oregon that teachers, staff members, and even U.S. Forest Service employees go there to eat and to place takeout orders.

Hey, I remember the meals that were served in my school's cafeteria. Friday was always fish sticks. Ketchup was the favorite vegetable at the table where my buddies and I ate. We'd always laugh about "mystery meat." The mashed potatoes we were served were made from powder rather than real spuds. And always counted it a treat to get something so gourmet as hot dogs!

So why are things different for kids in the McKenzie School District? Her name is Bernadette Fleischer. And she is a gourmet restaurant chef who started working for the school district after her restaurant burned in 1993. Because food service funds are kept separate from the district's overall budget, Fleischer brings in extra funding by cooking dinner entrees once a week that staff members, teachers, and parents of students purchase to take a break from their kitchens.

"This week I had orders for thirteen lasagnas," she told a reporter last week. "A big one costs $10, and we sell a smaller one for $6. It helps make enough money to pay wages and benefits for the people who work in the kitchen."

Ms. Fleischer reminds me of people I've known who made life better for the rest of us by using their special gifts. A woman who is a talented artist paints murals throughout the hallways of her third-grader's school. A musician-father gets some of his buddies together for a benefit concert that puts new uniforms on the marching band at his daughter's high school. A man who manages an electrical supplies store gives both his time and skill to replace the outdated light fixtures in his church's meetinghouse and donates the fixtures as well.

One option Fleischer had was to feel sorry for herself after the restaurant burned. The healthier one was to put her gift to work in an unlikely setting and for an audience that couldn't appreciate her expertise. The result speaks for itself.

Stores and offices, dens and playrooms, nurseries and classrooms all of them are fairly predictable and ordinary. Then a creative soul comes along who puts his special talent to work. The ordinary suddenly becomes extraordinary.

Look around. Think outside the box. Don't wait to be asked. Is there something within your power that could turn the routine into the spectacular?

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