Noble Endeavors

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In 1998, my wife Diana and I decided to make a difference in our community – a place that had once been among the richest rural communities in Washingron State. Now, a place where 33 percent of adults are illiterate, 55 percent of young people live below the poverty line, and the average salary is near minimum wage.

We wanted to help curb the community’s economic decline by providing young people with positive direction and marketable skills by involving them in the world of art and digital technology. We believed that students bored with tradition classroom learning might embrace a media literacy program involving technology and community access television.

We began this “noble endeavor” by proposing to create a locally funded student-run educational community access station. We did our research, wrote a viable business plan, found backers, and began petitioning support from local officials as we formed a non-profit media literacy company  Northwest Film Projects, Inc. that would teach young people how to create media programs that would encourage tolerance, respect, social collaboration, and moral language.

Droves of young people responded to the idea by producing several sample programs to help convince local politicians, educators and doctors that young adults would gravitate to this type of educational experience and could create relevant programming. While leaders seemed to support the program publicly, many quietly opposed it, not because the concept was wrong, but more because of what adaptive changes would require of them both individually and collectively.

Sadly, the community’s leadership was not prepared to go beyond verbal commitment and make the adaptive changes that would require time, money, and energy. We marveled at how they were not able to see that their collaboration would result  in opportunities for our young people whose success would have rippling effects in our Community. So, after seven years of struggle, serious financial loss  and heavy hearts, we closed the company in 2005.

The company’s short tenure did inspire several who are now successful media artists, but its closure meant that some young people who had chosen our program over drug abuse, returned to old habits and detention centers. One young lady gave up her dream as on camera talent for an early marriage while others moved away from the community in search of a better life elsewhere. For our part, we spent five painful years of doubt, self-reflection, and depression before coming to terms with why our efforts failed.

When I was younger, I was taught to work for the greater good and that real change is always adaptive, requiring us to change ourselves to help the other. Adaptive change is larger than the self and that is why it works.  Jews preach, “he who saves a life, saves the world.” Unitarians offer,”If you want peace, work for justice.” And while we have not changed our minds about such universal truths, we eventually decided to leave the community where we had invested so much of  time, money, and our hearts.

Are we bitter about what happened? Sometimes yes, but more often, no. We gained wisdom that strengthened us, a gift more valuable than what we lost. Learning that changing the world means changing one’s self. Even if we fail when doing this, something good eventually prevails. Noble acts are often as simple and quiet as letting an angry word go unspoken, or giving kindness anonymously, or loving a world that doesn’t always love you back. We all have the capacity to pursue them. In spite of all that is wrong in this world. many still speak with moral-language, placing their “noble endeavors” above money, honor above selfishness, and integrity above fame. Such people in time change the world. Make them your friends.

About the Author 

C Tad Devlin ’62, a thirty year veteran of movie production, lives with his wife, Diana, in rural Washington State with three cats,  five squirrels, six pond fish, four blue jays, and a feisty raccoon family. To learn more about their “noble endeavors”, please visit www.northwestfilm.com.

3 Comments


  1. A superbly expressed series of values and perspectives Tad. Your notation about garnering certain values from our setbacks is profoundly accurate. Few are patient enough to realize that eventual outcome. Even more significant is that you are remaining with determination – fixed on your mission and inventing new pathways in order to accomplish the goal – a thing that should inspire everyone and anyone reading of your purpose and beliefs. At times I suspect it feels tantamount to an ascent on Everest, but you have the cramp-ons, the ice ax, the backpack, climbing rope and the related equipment to charge forward regardless of any mediocrity encountered along the way.

    Keep inspiring. Many will follow your direction.

  2. I have so many fond memories of the film and of your lovely wife. Thank you for giving us so much of your time, your life and yourselves. I wish you nothing but the best! pjl

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