One Piece At A Time: The Inspirational Story of Chad Pregracke

If you think globally, you become filled with gloom.  But if you take a little piece of this whole picture: ‘my piece, our piece, this is what I can do here, I’m making a difference.  And hey… wow, they’re making a difference over there, and so are they’.  Gradually, the pieces get filled in and the world is a better place… because of you.”  

Jane Goodall (Link to the JGI) 

April has flown by and we are already in the first week of May!  The weather is finally feeling like Spring, and I couldn’t be loving it more.

Let me catch you up a little as to what I’ve been up to.  I’ll skip right to one of the highlights: On the last Friday of the month, April 29, I had the honour of hearing Chad Pregracke present at the Burton Cummings theatre.  You might have heard of him?  He was CNN’s 2013 Hero of The Year.  His story is inspiring.

Lately, with all the terrible news we hear around us, I had been feeling a bit discouraged with regards to the state of our planet. But this month has brought me uplifting lessons that have shifted my perspective and left me feeling revitalized. Listening to his presentation was one of those experiences.

Chad’s story reminded me that we might not be able to solve all of the world’s problems, but each of us can play a part in making a small, positive difference around us.  It adds up.

This is CNN’s report.  It’s quick – just over 2 minutes long:

Chad grew up by the Mississippi River.  As a young man he spent summers diving for mussel shells to pay his way through college.  He described how he could hardly see anything underwater because it was so murky, but he was surrounded by sounds – much like we hear the birds when we are in our backyards, but it was the sound of fishes instead.  He realized the river was full of life, but because most people did not hear or experience this underwater world, they could ignore it… and treat the river like a dumping ground.

“This is a problem that people created, but it’s a problem that people can fix.”

~ Chad Pregracke

As he spent countless hours both around and under the water while growing up, he started to notice more and more garbage.  In the presentation I saw, he showed us pictures that he had taken before all of the clean-ups began.  Those pictures actually made the audience gasp.  They were unbelievable.  Or, as he said, “It’s believable.  The proof is right there.  What it is, is unacceptable.”  At the age of 17, when he saw the filth that was contaminating the Mississippi River, he began to look for support to clean it up.

“Wherever you are, no matter if there’s a stream, a creek, a lake, whatever, that needs to be cleaned up, you can do it.  Just organize it and do it.”

~ Chad Pregracke

The Red River is one of two rivers that runs through Winnipeg, where I live.
The Red River is one of two rivers that runs through my (current) home town of Winnipeg.

For 4 years Chad tried without success to get some financial support.  He persevered, and in 1997 he finally obtained a grant from Alcoa.  It was just enough to get started, so he was doing the work for free (and his work continues as non-profit).  He began cleaning up the river by himself, pulling 45 000 pounds of trash out of it by the end of that first year.  As he said, “People made this mess one piece of garbage at a time, we can clean it up that way, too”.

“People made this mess one piece of garbage at a time, we can clean it up that way, too.”

~ Chad Pregracke

As people saw him out there working, they were inspired to join him.  20 years later, he has worked side by side with 95 000 volunteers to clear the Mississippi River of it’s many mountains (literally) of garbage.  The river landscape looks beautiful once again, and 90% of what is pulled out gets recycled.

Chad and the many volunteers continue their work, and have extended their efforts to include other rivers.  Because of these clean-ups, people have become more aware and more careful about keeping the garbage out of the river in the first place.

The thing that really struck me during the presentation was that Chad is just a down-to-earth, regular human being.  He saw something that was wrong, and decided to make it right.  When he started, he was just one person picking some garbage out of the river, by himself, on a boat.

Chad Pregracke is a powerful reminder that we don’t have to wait.  We can act today.  I loved his take away message:  Look around you, and decide what you care about, and start doing something, no matter how small.  

Every little action counts – every little effort, and every act of kindness.  If each of us takes a small action, it adds up to significant change.

My son had a funny take on it.  He said, “Yeah, you know how people can nickel and dime themselves to death?  Well, I guess the opposite can be true, too, right?  You can nickel and dime yourself to a better world”.  He always makes me laugh with his unexpected, 12 year old wisdom.

As Chad said, “I started when I was 17.  You are never too young to start and to make a difference”.  So true, and I would add that you are never too old either.

“People are always saying that the youth is the future.  Yes, no doubt, but more importantly, they are also the present.  You can do something now, you don’t have to wait for some point in the distant future.”

~ Chad Pregracke

Want to learn more?  Chad Pregracke wrote a book called From The Bottom Up that I would like to read at some point.  Also, you might check out his organization Living Land and Waters.

Today, I am signing off with this sweet medley.  Have you heard it before?  It’s played on the ukulele by the late “Iz” Ka’ano’i Kamakawiwo’Ole, who is among the most beloved and celebrated Hawaiian performers.  I fell in love with this medley from the first time I heard it.  For me, it’s a hopeful song; a gentle celebration and reminder that it’s a wonderful world, indeed.  Treat yourself to a listen.

 Here are some other short videos that you might enjoy watching:

Thanks so much for the visit!  If you’d like to receive my latest posts, please feel free to subscribe (See the sidebar menu).  Cheers!

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Carina Spring

Hi! So glad you stopped by my little blog, where I joyfully embrace creativity. Here, at Home... hurrah!, I celebrate the beauty and depth of everyday moments, explore what life has to teach us, and share some of the interesting things I see and learn along the way. Thanks for the visit!

29 thoughts on “One Piece At A Time: The Inspirational Story of Chad Pregracke”

  1. What a wonderful post! Garbage problem is very important for me also and it’s amazing to see people who solve that problem.
    And the song is beautiful! I’ve heard it before many many times, it’s one of my favourite songs.
    It’s morning here and I just woke up. And I am so glad that I read this post. It makes me so happy and it’s so great to start the day with happiness.
    Thank you so much! 🙂

  2. Hi Carina

    Very nice post. Keeping with the Hawaiian theme of your closing, they have this concept of Mahalo, which translates to “thank you” but also can mean gratefulness or thankfulness, and can be expressed as simply as picking up trash and leaving the place better than you find it.

    1. Mahalo – I love that. Summing up this idea with one word that can serve as a reminder to be grateful and leave things better than you found them. Thanksfor the comment, Oscar. I appreciate it. 🙂

  3. Hi Carina,

    Love the post, as always. Chad is an amazing man.

    Sometimes, I feel discouraged about the world too, but I am always reminded that, as there are bad things happening, good things are happening too.
    Your son seems so insightful with this comment. He is totally right. Sometimes we want to do big things to help the world, and forget about the small things we can do in a day to day basis.

  4. A very inspiring post Carina. We can all do our little part and it definitely adds up. I don’t only think that we can do our part, but it is our responsibility…to ourselves. Start from where you are with what you’ve got.

    Thanks for sharing this wonderful piece of inspiration.

  5. Great post Carina! It really highlights the benefits of doing what you can and not becoming overwhelmed by all of the issues that face us. Very inspirational.

  6. It’s so true – easy to get paralysed into doing nothing when you look at the bigger picture, but if we all focussed on a small piece what a difference it will make. Thanks for the reminder. Glad you’re enjoying the spring weather xx

    1. Hi Bekki! Yes – that idea that human’s had made that mess one piece at a time and that it could be fixed the same way. It’s so straight-forward and true. And if we focus on what we can do, on each little piece, bit by bit things really do change for the better. Thanks for the visit and comment. Xoxo

  7. Thank you, Carina. This is a brilliant post to share about -doing- something positive about our immediate environment. 🙂

    It’s lovely meeting you (via the Little Lord Oscar Dandelion blog).

    I’ve subscribed to your blog because I couldn’t find a follow button.

  8. Dear Carina, I loved this piece so much. I have several people in my life who love to talk talk talk and send out e-mail forwards about all the big global problems. They sit and watch the news and stay on the computer 24-7. Sometimes I just want to scream: do what you can, get off the computer. Unglue yourself from the news. Get out there and be part of the solution, not the problem. Someone once told me there are players and there are bystanders. I want to be a player, girl. And I know you do too. No, you don’t WANT to. You ARE a player. No telling what a lone voice or example can accomplish/effect in the grand scheme of things. I loved learning about the trash clean-ups today. I honestly think most people want to help. But they’re paralyzed by not knowing where to start. That’s why Chad’s work is so important. Motivating the bystanders to become players. It’s not hard, it just takes intentionality. Even I, in all my craziness, have two minutes. 🙂 Great post Carina. Let’s nickle and dime it, somewhere over the rainbow. Happy weekend friend, I hope it’s a restful one with your family. XOXO

    1. Dear Allie, I agree whole-heartedly – most people want to help, but feel paralyzed by overwhelm. And that is exactly why it is so much more productive to focus on the solutions and on whatever act(s) one can do. Doing so empowers and often gives you energy to do more. I enjoyed your visit – thanks for the comment. And a happy Mother’s Day to you! Your boys are lucky to have such a great momma! Xoxo

  9. Wonderful, wonderful post! I had never heard of Chad, but I will be checking out his book and his organization. Your son has an astute mind. Loved how he tweaked the nickle and dime saying. As Johanna observed, he is the promise of the future.

    1. Hello Laurie, I had never heard of Chad either until last week. He really is an inspiration. Please let me know if you do read the book, I’d be curious to hear what you think. I plan to have a look at it, too. Thanks for the comment, and the kind words. Take care! xo

  10. What an inpiring post! Recently, I have started with “the two minutes clean up” after seeing an item on the BBC. Wherever I am, especially on our hikes and I see trash I do a two minuets clean up…it is really amazing how much you can clean up in two minutes ! Funny thing is that most of the time, the trash I found flying around is gone after two minutes. I do not lecture or anything, but people see me do it and I hope that simply seeing me pick up trash and collect it or throw it in the bin it was lying next (!) too, will inspire others too. I have bags and cloves in my car now and it has become a simple habit. It might be a waterdrop on a hot plate…but doing nothing is not helpfull either! Thanks for sharing this amazing story Carina, xo Johanna
    Ps your wise son is a promise for the future!

    1. Hi Johanna, I had not heard of “the two minutes clean up”. What a great idea! Good for you for participating and helping clean up – and for being so organized as to have gloves and bags at the ready. I bet that if someone who litters sees you doing that, it might make them re-evaluate their behaviour. I have to say that you have inspired me – I will give that two minutes clean up idea a go! 🙂 Thanks for the comment, I really enjoyed reading it. xoxo

  11. What an inspirational post. It is easy to become overwhelmed but there is peace in just doing what you can when you can. Perfection is the enemy of pretty good.

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