One day last November, Cheryl Rice stood in line at her Montgomery County local grocery store waiting to check out. After running through the grocery list in her head, checking off the items she came to shop for—and maybe a few extra—she overheard the conversation an older woman in front of her was having with the cashier.
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To the cashier’s simple “How are you doing today?” the woman responded with, “Not so good.” She then shared her current hardships—a husband who lost his job, and a son who was “up to his old tricks,” and then the woman handed food stamps to the cashier before bagging up her items and heading toward the door.
Rice, president of Your Voice Your Vision, a coaching and leadership organization that focuses on one-on-one coaching for women, was moved by what she heard. In the parking lot, she ran into the customer while they were both returning their carts. “I went up to her and said, ‘I couldn’t help but overhear that you’re having a really hard time right now,” she said. And then Rice handed her a white business card, on which was printed in bold black letters, just two words: You Matter.
The woman took one look at the card and started to cry. After the two strangers hugged, she told Rice how much the simple message meant to her.
This experience sparked Rice’s You Matter Marathon, which aims to create and enrich positive connections between people and within communities through the distribution of You Matter cards.
Last November—the first year of the Marathon—Rice gave away 431,460 “You Matter” cards to people from all 50 states and 59 countries. This year, she plans to top that, in the hopes of sharing 1 million. (There is no actual running involved; Rice calls it a “marathon” because of the big push to get out the cards all at once.)
Last November—the first year of the Marathon—Rice gave away 431,460 “You Matter” cards to people from all 50 states and 59 countries. This year, she plans to top that, in the hopes of sharing 1 million.
While Rice works with people every day in her job to help encourage, improve and inspire, the You Matter Marathon was actually an idea sparked by the kindness of someone else. Two years ago, a colleague handed Rice a card, clad with a red heart and the words “You Matter” on it. “I was really touched, it felt like I had been hugged,” Rice recalls.
She was so affected by the card that she promptly logged onto vistaprint.com and ordered her own variation so she could hand them out to some friends and family. “And then I got braver,” she says. “I started giving them out to people in my community and leaving them in places where I knew I wouldn’t see the person.”
From the dry cleaners to farmers markets to people strolling through Rittenhouse Square, Rice continued to make meaningful connections through her little cards, which she intentionally kept plain. (“Marketing people said it would be great to put the website on the back of the card,” she says. “But that would be making this about me, and that’s not the point.”) At the same time, she was finishing up her Certificate in Applied Positive Psychology (CAPP) at the Flourishing Center in Philadelphia. The six-month program was coming to an end and Rice needed a final project idea.
Rice decided to extend You Matter outside of her own bubble, and set herself a goal of distributing 10,000 cards during the month of November. “I wanted others to experience what I was experiencing,” she says. “That human to human connection.”
Leading up to November 2016, Rice printed the cards, recruited participants, and sent 30 cards for free to every individual or group who asked for them. As she packaged and mailed each batch, Rice saw how quickly the project was growing. Community centers, churches, and schools were all eager to get their hands on the “You Matter” cards. She even developed a teacher’s guide that could be built into curriculums.
While the numbers were impressive, it was the influence the cards had on people that showed Rice the real progress. “People would say they felt like they had a superpower in their pocket,” she says.
This year, with November fast approaching, Rice’s dining room table is covered with “You Matter” cards and handwritten notes. So far, 1,300 individuals and 90 organizations from 49 states and 19 countries are tying up their laces for the figurative You Matter Marathon, tallying up to at least 200,000 cards. Packaging, shipping, and everything in between are taken care of on Rice’s end—all participants need to do is be at their door, open up the package, take out a card, and pass it on.
Though the Marathon was a self-funded project in 2016—a price tag that reached over $20,000—Rice has sought help from outside organizations this year; her project is now a 501c3 non-profit and a project of the Urban Affairs Coalition. She’s also garnered sponsorship from Penn Medicine and Global Coaching Alliance.
“People would say they felt like they had a superpower in their pocket,” Rice says.
With more support, Rice says she can continue to reach out to more and more people. Like the woman in California who said she used the cards within programming for suicide prevention at the social service agency where she works. Or the person in New Zealand who works with the caregivers of people in hospice. Or the local pharmacy Rice teamed up with that gives out a “You Matter” card with each prescription.
“The program is unique in its simplicity,” says You Matter board member, editor and writing coach, Anne Dubuisson, who joined the Marathon last year. “It’s a matter of simple engagement, one person to another, all confirming each other’s intrinsic worth and value in this world.”Header Photo courtesy of the You Matter Marathon