Agony of appreciation

By Chris Johnson
Director of communications

Somewhere, I’ve got Georgia Press Association plaques for winning first place in humor column writing and sports writing. I’ve got several certificates for first-, second- and third-place finishes in Olympic enterprise reporting, page design, more humor columns, headline writing and even serious column writing.

They’re in a box. Somewhere. Maybe several boxes. Or maybe they’re in a trash bag. My fiancee wants me to frame many of them, which would require finding them and hoping rats haven’t eaten them. Because I’ve not kept these honors treasured and safe over the years, she kinda wants to strangle me. At least, I think that’s why she wants to strangle me sometimes.

And it’s not that they meant nothing to me. I just didn’t do what I did in the newspaper business to win awards. The only reason I even remember most of those awards is because I had to list them on a resume I had to whip together when I saw the opportunity to apply for this position with The Fuller Center for Housing.

Some people like to collect awards. Some people like to have their office walls covered with them. Some like buildings, roads and bridges named after them. That’s fine. It’s just not my thing. The intrinsic value of a job well done is good enough for me. You’ll rarely see me stand up and say “Look what I’ve done!” unless I think it could somehow benefit others.

Mike Bonderer, who leads The Fuller Center’s operations in El Salvador, is the kind of person who could not care less about personal recognition, but he deserves honors and awards galore for the way his Homes from the Heart group has transformed communities and hundreds of lives in Central America.

I wrote a story earlier this week about Bonderer’s tremendously successful operation in El Salvador. In it, several people heaped praise upon Mike. In simple ex-Marine terms, even Mike had to admit the story came out halfway decent. I take that as high praise. (Read it here, and judge for yourself.)

Mike knows that the more people hear about the operation, the better the chances that even more people will contribute to and benefit from his work. But he’s never been one to seek credit, and he wears accolades almost as uncomfortably as I do a tie. So he had to follow up with me by pointing out that perhaps I’d missed the real story in El Salvador:

The real stories from El Salvador are my wife Zuze, volunteers like Micah Witt, Rob Beckham, Lance Durban, Jim and Margaret Favre and P.J. Riner. These are the true heroes. They made it possible. Write about them.”

No doubt the folks he listed have done wonderful work there, and some of the names are familiar to me from work they’ve done elsewhere through The Fuller Center. But I also have no doubt that they would refute Mike’s claim and insist he’s the real hero and probably deserves more than a few plaques and awards.

Mike can handle success, but accolades are such a burden. I’m amazed that a man who has survived cancer and other health issues considers appreciation so agonizing. But, you’re just gonna have to suck it up, Mike. It comes with the territory of success. It’s a territory that someday will probably have Mike Bonderer Parkway right through the middle of it.

Somewhere in El Salvador, a successful man is cringing at the very thought of that.

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