Discussing Social Impact with Car Window Poetry

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Earlier this month I had the pleasure of sitting down with Alex Lewis the founder and Chief Sharer of Car Window Poetry. He was kind enough to grant me an interview where we discussed Car Window Poetry, Social Impact and Alex’s vision for how his new organization can be a resource for community, not only here in Colorado Springs, but across the nation and even the globe.

How do you define social enterprise and conscious capitalism?

A little bit. I didn’t necessarily start Car Window Poetry with a consciousness of those terms. It has been interesting as I have started delving more into social entrepreneurship and hearing those terms more and what they may mean for Car Window Poetry.

I think one of the things I want to be conscious of, is I believe the intention of the project - how can I bring these awesome talented people of Colorado Springs together and give them a platform from which they can write and share their words and make an impact on their community. I am constantly wanting to move in that direction and give resource in an accessible way to the people who want to participate. If I do look for some kind of revenue to come I don’t want to water down the heart of it. So yes revenue could come from this venture but I still plan on continuing to look for opportunities to reach more people and make a bigger impact. I do not want to lose the heart and the vision of what Car Window Poetry is.

What is the main objective or purpose of your organization?

Essentially Car Window Poetry is a global movement of people coming together with other people in their community, writing encouraging poems and sharing them anonymously on car windows. In hopes that that action will impact them in some way, inspire them and make their day a bit better. Hopefully, as a whole, as we’re taking those small steps and allowing those small acts of love to make a difference in others lives ultimately it is making the world a little better than we found it. That is the heart and really the actionable steps in participating in Car Window Poetry.

At its simplest form it is downloading poetry cards off the website. Perhaps on your own or with your students or classroom whatever it may be. Writing poems with those people and knowing that those poems are going to go out to others. We want to make sure we are encouraging people, uplifting them and helping them know they are not alone in whatever they may be going through.

How do you measure your performance?

One of the things that I track daily is card downloads. That helps me see. They put their email address as well as their city, state and country. It helps me see where these poetry cards are going. Over 900 cards have been downloaded in almost every US state except for Wyoming and North Dakota. Even various countries like Kenya, Indonesia and Australia. It has been really fun.

It helps me see what the reach is. Especially when you realize I am not tracking poems I am just tracking the downloads. Realizing they could be writing more poems than just the 4 cards on the sheet and sharing with more people. It helps me get my head wrapped around the impact Car Window Poetry is having.

Then using social media the picture gets clearer. People can share their photos on instagram. It is great to see who got a poem and how it impacted them. I try to tell those stories on our blog “The Good Word Report.” It is fun to see the mix of those stories. Stories about people who are sharing or receiving poems. There was a teacher in MI who received a poem and didn’t know about the project and she is now getting Car Window Poetry into her local high school and really paying it forward. There are a lot of great stories like that. Hopefully I can use these stories to get others involved.

What has been the biggest hurdle for you?

I think the biggest hurdle has been myself. One of the things I set out to do from the beginning was I wanted Car Window Poetry to be more about the people participating than centering the narrative on me. So starting out I had to write poems and tell people what I was doing. I opened a section of the website where people could submit poems even if they weren’t in Colorado Springs. Then right before the NBC nightly news spot a friend said I should start selling kits. “Just throw a few cards in there with some stickers” So I did. Right away there was some significant revenue that was made but also a significant amount of money being spent. I realized I am not necessarily the one to focus on commerce and I didn’t like making money a central aspect of Car Window Poetry.

A different friend asked what is holding you back from giving these cards away for free. Ultimately the kits were great and people did engage with them but also teachers and younger kids perhaps wouldn’t have access to purchasing kits. People asked if they could do their own cards and kits - they were inspired. I thought “yes do it yourself” but I wanted to make sure the branding and messaging were controlled and social media was properly aligned. So with that my friend said what is holding you back from giving away these cards? My answer was not much.

Ultimately giving away the cards gave me less that I had to physically do but it also opened up a door to bigger workshops and quicker access to the cards and frankly more poems on car windows. I’d say the biggest hurdle was getting myself out of the picture and allowing Car Window Poetry to become its own thing. It has changed the game for Car Window Poetry and has allowed me to tell stories and invite others into Car Window Poetry.

Because of that change we have begun a local chapter program. It essentially empowers people to bring Car Window Poetry into their community with at least one event a month. It is opening communities and providing a framework to them to get involved in their city and neighborhood. It helps us create a bigger impact. That wouldn’t be possible if I was in the middle. Being on the sideline allows Car Window Poetry so much more reach.

Describe your biggest success?

I think the biggest success was NBC Nightly News learning about the project and putting the story they filmed on air. Ultimately it helped Car Window Poetry grow from a Colorado Springs thing to a bigger project. It also helped me realize how big it could get.

I had started with the goal of doing one thing a day toward promoting Car Window Poetry. It was funny I thought it could take awhile just to get noticed locally. But even in the beginning i was surprised by how encouraging and responsive people were about the project. In the same way when a college friend told me he had seen my social media posts and told me he thought it was a good idea to pitch it to NBC Nightly News - I was like “I am only 2 months in bro”.

At that point I had just started doing school visits and I was really uncertain about the NBC idea, but then a week later I got a call asking to shoot around Halloween. Then I had to scramble and set up more events and prepare for the shoot. You know getting forms signed and making sure I was able to get the whole gist of Car Window Poetry on air.

They came and filmed and it aired right after the election. It aired on the east coast and it was incredible to watch - as soon as the spot ended the emails and social media responses were incredible. Looking at the Facebook page the next day and we had received a thousand likes!

At first it was overwhelming, oh my gosh this is nuts, this is crazy this is crazy. But in the moment the best advice I was receiving was just enjoy this and give thanks because you couldn’t get to where you are alone. It helped me be open to more opportunities and become prepared to share this mission across the country and now even the globe.

Finally, what does the future hold?

My vision for the future is definitely covering communities around the world with beauty and hope. But I also don’t always want this to be about the method - posting poems on car windows. What Car Window Poetry is really about is that words matter and that words are powerful and if we can get those words out into the world they can make an impact.

I want to look for problems within communities and ask what does it look like for people to deal with specific issues by sharing words. Issues like teen suicide, mental health and depression - how can words help. Because when you are constantly in a state of negativity or pain you surround yourself with walls of protection and it is hard to see outside of that. Hopefully what Car Window Poetry can help to do is to break down some of those walls so people can see across the room and recognize that pain. By sharing stories we can ultimately let people know that they are not alone and you can keep going.

In the end I want Car Window Poetry to continue to keep our eyes and ears open to the pains in community, you know, how are people crying out. We want to help create more opportunities to help and deliver our message of hope. Using our local chapters to get deeper into communities and help establish communities so they can thrive. That is the ultimate goal.

Thanks again to Alex Lewis for sitting down with me and allowing me to share our conversation. Please visit Car Window Poetry and perhaps get involved in his great mission of helping communities by sharing words. If you’d like to watch the NBC Nightly News Spot watch it below!