2020 "Unsung Hero of The Year" Award
Michelle Murphy Lancaster
Teacher & Super Ambassador, Amarillo Texas
On May 8th, 2021, the Be A Friend Project, Inc. presented the "UNSUNG HERO OF THE YEAR" AWARD for 2020 to Amarillo Educator, Michelle Lancaster, in a surprise Zoom ceremony!
A Family and Consumer Science Teacher at Bushland High School, Mrs. Lancaster was selected for her "empathic, voluntary actions making a positive difference in the lives of children as an Educator, Friend and Ambassador." These actions, fueled by her generous heart and can-do spirit, include inspiring hundreds of students and dozens of Educator colleagues across Texas to reach out and be a friend through participation in the Project, modeling kindness and empathy as educational priorities, fundraising, referring Friend Mail Recipients, organizing surprise presentation assemblies, handling TV and News Media interviews and leading students in FCCLA (Family, Career, Community Leaders of America) competitions to win medals by presenting their community service work with the BAFP.
Mrs. Lancaster contributed to the BAFP's very first Friend Mail delivery in 2015 - and she has not not missed a Recipient since, giving classes of students the opportunity to practice acts of kindness, step-into-the-shoes of a peer and build empathy in their local and global communities. Mrs. Lancaster inspired the non-profit's “Super Ambassador” Award in 2018 and also invented “Lancaster’s Link,” a PDF download available on each Recipient’s story page to make it easier for teachers to share story details and maximize letter collection.
Award Plaque presented VIRTUALLY by Executive Director, Jennifer Young, BAFP Co-Founder, January Akselrad, Board Chair Jennifer Kennett and Michelle's parents, Keith and Brenda Murphy, and IN PERSON by Michelle's husband, Kevin, and son, Alex.
2019 "Unsung Hero of The Year" Award
Amazon Relay Operations Center
The Relay Operation Center (ROC) is the central command and control center for Transportation Execution across the Amazon Supply Chain network. During their pre-holiday peak of demand, these "Amazon Empathy Warriors" STEPPED UP to locate a package lost by another shipper in order to bring the support of over 1,000 Be A Friend Project kids & teens to a young victim of bullying, and then, under the inspiration of their own fierce hearts, they brought their own.
Award Plaque presented by Arizona Ambassadors, Dillon Skinner and Corinne Young.
Accepting the Award for ROC is Traci Buemi (Manager), Chris Wong and Wes Ereth.
Award Presentation Luncheon donated by Subway of Arizona.
"It's the feel-good “faith in humanity restored" story you’ve been waiting for… one that connects the dots between a 10-year-old bullied girl in Chicago, who felt all alone, to one of the world's largest e-commerce company's called AMAZON to create a holiday miracle."
2019 Unsung Heroes - The Story
Some stories deserve to be told in full and forever, and this is one...
A FRIEND STRONG MIRACLE : November, 2019
By Jennifer Young
Be A Friend Project, Inc.
It was the Saturday morning before Sunday's surprise presentation of "Friend Mail" to a 10-year-old victim of bullying outside of Chicago named "Sydney," when her mom texted me: “Good Morning, the package did not come.”
"The Package" from the Be A Friend Project held 1,438 letters of peer support from K-12 student Ambassadors across the country for Sydney. How could that be? UPS had notified me that the package was delivered at 10:02am last Thursday, as scheduled. I checked the tracking more carefully and discovered that indeed it was delivered - but to a town called JOLIET one hour away from Sydney's home in Frankfort. And with no street address listed!
SYDNEY'S FRIEND MAIL IS LOST...
“We have opened an investigation," the UPS Agent told me. "Investigations can take up to 8 days. There is nothing more we can do."
I demanded to be transferred to a UPS Supervisor. “Why are you protecting the location of your misdelivery?? I know it’s right there on the screen in front of you!! You have tracking! The mom could pick it up. Please, we need a Thanksgiving miracle!”
There was a little girl who needed to know she was FRIEND STRONG and not alone after she had spent months fearfully carting jackets and water bottles on demand for her bullies who also spread rumors about her, stole her things and told others not to play with her, until feelings of worthlessness took over and she pleaded daily to stay home from school; I could not let this child down!
After a pause, the first miracle happened; this UPS Supervisor gave it up... the package was "misdelivered" to “DOCK” at an Amazon Warehouse in Joliet, Illinois. But, he could not contact them. Plus, it was a weekend. There were no UPS drivers able to go get it and bring it to the correct location one hour away in Frankfort. We'd have to wait for their investigation.
UPS MISDELIVERED THE PACKAGE TO AN AMAZON WAREHOUSE...
I texted Stephanie: “Well... I know where it is, it’s at an Amazon Distribution Warehouse in Joliet..."
At the time, I was picturing one loading dock and one manageable warehouse where a misdelivered 25" x 18" x 16" package would stick out like a sore thumb. I was so naive. I have since come to understand that just one Amazon warehouse can be the size of 28 football fields with miles of conveyor belts holding millions of items, most picked and packed by robots of a sort, not humans, and “shipping labels practically flying onto packages, blown by puffs of air,” as explained in a description of an Amazon Warehouse Tour.
Not only that, this lost package was not any responsibility of Amazon’s. They did not have to help me. They had no part in it. The package had been dropped days ago. Also, it was Thanksgiving week and pre-Christmas rush.
I made no progress within Amazon's warehouse voice mail system until I dared hit the number for “Security,” the number an internal worker calls to report an emergency. I GOT A PERSON. She didn't get mad at my interloping into their security line, instead she transferred me to the department she thought could help… their Relay Operations Center. I pictured an office upstairs in the Illinois warehouse.
EMPATHY BRINGS HOPE TO AN IMPOSSIBLE SITUATION...
“Wes” took my call. He listened. I heard empathy in his voice. HE CARED. I considered this another miracle. Wes transferred me to his Supervisor, "Traci." Again, I heard empathy. Hearing empathy in these Amazon voices literally filled me with hope.
I texted Sydney's mom: “I think it’s gonna happen. They are into it. Wes and his Supervisor, Traci.” Stephanie had already paid a caterer for her daughter's surprise party presentation - and their family and friends had already RSVP'ed. We were determined.
Traci promised to get back to me before the end of her shift, and I believed her. A couple of hours later, Traci called back. I could tell she was truly disappointed. They could not locate Sydney’s package. That’s when I found out three overwhelming facts:
1. That this Relay Operations Team was actually in Tempe, Arizona - not in the warehouse in Joliet, Illinois.
2. That the package was not being looked for physically, but via electronically combing through “case reports” for errant packages.
3. That there were really 4 (FOUR!!) giant Amazon Warehouses in Joliet and a bunch more in neighboring Lockport, all possibilities for the UPS misdelivery.
Traci just couldn’t do much more without an actual address. But she would continue to hunt before she left for the day. I considered giving up. I had tried my best. Or had I? I called the UPS 800 number once again. I gave a young agent my tracking info. As soon as he opened the case, he saw there was already an investigation pending. I didn’t let him get to the part about company policy not allowing him to divulge the misdelivery location. I butt in, “I am looking for a hero today. Please be a hero to a little bullied girl in Chicago. All I need is the street address, that’s it and we can hang up. I know it’s right there on the screen in front of you. Please, make a Thanksgiving Miracle.”
HEROES SHOW THEMSELVES...
After a long silence, the new hero quickly and quietly said “215 Emerald Drive.” BINGO! He hung up the phone like a hot potato – a hot potato of rogue compassion!
I called Traci immediately with the address. We had 15 hours left before tomorrow's noon Friend Mail Presentation for Sydney! Traci and Wes’s shift ended and I was hooked up with their counterparts, Mae and Zhiguang, to continue the search overnight. Because nothing should ever be easy, it turns out that 215 Emerald Drive is a spot in the street basically in the middle of 2 humongous Amazon Fulfillment Centers, one on either side of the road. At least, the search was narrowed down to two. Amazon employees from Warehouse 4 and Warehouse 2 took over the physical search.
But, the clock was ticking; time was running out!
THE NEXT MORNING, Traci let me know that the package had still not been located. With just 4 hours before the surprise presentation, Stephanie and I began talking defeat… but we had one Hail Mary pass left in our playbook, and it was up to Stephanie to be the Quarterback. She got in her car and began the hour drive to 215 Emerald Drive to see what she could see. The Tempe, AZ, Relay Operations Center sent a "heads-up" email to the Warehouses to be on the lookout for Stephanie and, if the package were to be physically located by some miracle, they had permission to hand it over to this mom.
AMAZON ROC LOCATES SYDNEY'S "FRIEND MAIL" WITH MINUTES TO SPARE...
IT ALL HAPPENED AT ONCE!
Traci sent me a picture of the package for verification, and Stephanie sent a picture of herself hefting the box into her car.
The surprise Friend Mail presentation took place AS SCHEDULED on the parent’s live Facebook feed and inspired our thousands of letter-writers and educators across the country to keep "reaching out, speaking up and being a friend.”
We sent Honorary Ambassadors certificates to the Tempe and Joliet sites to people identified by their management, and wristbands and hats! I thought this adrenaline-packed but triumphant memory was the end of the story.
WHAT HAPPENED NEXT FILLED OUR HEARTS...
What I didn’t know yet is that it wasn’t over with the Amazon Relay Operations Center of Tempe, Arizona… Two weeks later, I received an email from their Supervisor, Chris Wong, about their Department’s Secret Santa surprise!! Chris included a JPEG of the flyer they’d posted at the ROC. They were writing their own letters of support for Sydney!!
My jaw was on the floor. I emailed our Board of Directors and Sydney's mom. We cheered for the company leadership that gave its employees some autonomy to make kindness a priority and make a difference for a bullied little girl.
HEROES - AND ANGELS...
Weeks later, 5th Grader Sydney received a package with over TWO DOZEN of the most heartfelt, beautiful letters of support from these beautiful souls of AMAZON ROC, TEMPE, ARIZONA!!
BECAUSE OF A LOST PACKAGE, WE FOUND THE HEART OF AMAZON: an inspirational, empathic group of young people working diligently to get it done for the corporation, while being legendary anti-bullying heroes to children across the country. The lost package was not their responsibility but they fixed the wrong anyway because it was the right thing to do. THEY STEPPED UP to bring the support of over a thousand UPstanders to a victim of bullying, and then, under the inspiration of their own fierce hearts, they brought their own... and expected nothing in return.
THE BE A FRIEND PROJECT, INC., CELEBRATES YOU, AMAZON ROC, TEMPE, ARIZONA!
2019 UNSUNG HEROES OF THE YEAR