In the summer of 2013, during what I thought would be a year-long hiatus from corporate life, I decided that I would fulfill a life-long dream of taking a road trip across America.
The year before, I had founded a global day called World Dream Day. I figured, what better way to deepen my understanding of the domain of dreams than to travel across America, meeting with dreamers and doers along the way?

For 47 days, I drove across the United States of America, speaking, coaching, and serving individuals, businesses, and communities — all for free. After my driving days were done, I returned home, passing through the city of Newburgh, the closest city to where I was living at the time.

As I gazed at the abandoned streets and dilapidated buildings — the result of post-Industrialization, failed urban renewal, and a combination of many other factors — a voice rose within me and asked, “What happened here? Why hadn’t Newburgh developed the way we dreamed it would when I was a teenager?” In response, that same voice proclaimed: I will do whatever I can to help this city, for as long as I can. I will do my best to make a difference!

My first inspired community effort was the construction of The Newburgh Dream Wall. When I asked permission to place a 10×10 foot chalkboard in an empty lot at the corner of a major intersection, I had no clue what its impact would be. A local carpenter volunteered his services, and I paid for all the supplies, and a week or so later, we invited the community to grab a piece of chalk and declare their dreams.

Over the years, the Newburgh Dream Wall transformed the empty lot on the corner of Liberty and Broadway into a sacred space where those driving or walking by could see the dreams of their community. Every month or so, I would set up a table and chairs and invite passerby’s to write on the dream wall, and then I’d help them develop strategies to activate what they wrote. This process allowed me to meet members of the community through a beautiful form of value-based exchange. Each time I looked at the dream wall or saw it pop up on Instagram, or in a community photography exhibit, it would fill me with hope, especially for the youth of Newburgh.

As my relationship and commitment to the city of Newburgh grew, I sponsored the creation of a Dream Mural, and later created a transformational community center called The Newburgh Dream Center. Upon completion of The Dream Mural, many people stopped by to remark upon its beauty. One of them, an older gentleman, approached me with tears in his eyes. He said to me, “This mural makes us feel like we are worth something.” His words made me sob that day.

What I learned through the process of giving back is that a large part of the contribution we make has much to do with the restoration of hope, power, and meaning. When we help restore the presence of hope, power, and meaning in the lives of others, it enhances and restores the relationship to hope, power, and meaning in our own lives. In Newburgh, a little bit of restoration occurred every time members of the community walked past a larger than life chalkboard, inviting them to remember to dream big and take action, or when they saw a beautiful mural of a beaming sun on a dilapidated street and believed without a shadow of a doubt that the beauty they saw was a reflection of the beauty that lives within them.

When I decided to leave my corporate job, I didn’t know where the wide-open road would take me. All I knew was that after having enjoyed a wonderful career rising through the ranks at such an early age to become a Vice President of Strategy at a Madison Avenue Advertising Agency, I had a deep desire to take time off and make a difference. One could say that I was ready to “answer the call.” At the time, I didn’t know precisely when or where that call would come. I realize now that the call that I was ready to answer was The Call to Care. The Newburgh Dream Wall, Dream Mural, and the Newburgh Dream Center were manifestations of that call to care, and there are many other ways to make a difference.

From time to time, I reflect on the years I invested in giving back to the urban gem that rests along the Hudson River, and how it ignited so much passion and purpose within me. My time in Newburgh filled my heart with a form of gratitude that can only come from having navigated the depths of sincere service. I consider it an honor to have answered the call to care with such enthusiasm. Having done so has left a remarkable ripple in my own life and the lives of many others.

Today, a beautiful park flourishes where the Newburgh Dream Wall once stood.

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  • Ozioma Egwuonwu

    Author, Transformation Coach

    BurnBright International

    Ozioma Egwuonwu is an internationally celebrated speaker, writer, teacher, and transformational thought leader. She is the CEO of BurnBright International, a global coaching and consulting company dedicated to helping individuals, businesses, and communities reach their full potential.