It all began with a simple bargain–one that A2A founder Jeff Bell made in the summer of 1997. At his wits’ end after years of battling OCD so severe he could barely function, Jeff was exhausted, dejected, and ready to quit. Out of desperation one night, he found himself in his backyard hammock, staring up at a vast blanket of stars overhead, and making a commitment he thought he’d never have to keep. “Show me how to turn around this crazy life,” he muttered to the universe, “and I’ll share my story with anyone who will listen.”
An instruction book did not come drifting down from the mighty heavens. (He waited a few days to make sure.) But something profound did happen in the wake of that night: Jeff somehow managed to turn that bargain on its head. He told himself that, in the name of helping others with OCD, he was going to share his story, understanding at some core level that doing so would, in fact, turn his own life around.
For the next year, Jeff put his “crazy life” down on paper–thousands of 3×5 cards, neatly stacked and categorized, to be precise. (What else would you expect from someone with OCD?!) The more he journaled about his challenges and triumphs and the rigors of treatment, the more motivated he became. For nine years after that, Jeff worked to turn those index cards into a book–one that would be published as Rewind, Replay, Repeat, in early 2007. Jeff was named national spokesperson for the International OCD Foundation and travelled the country on the organization’s behalf. The more he shared his story, the stronger he got.
Through his outreach, Jeff began networking with a wide variety of remarkable individuals who had turned their particular adversities into service to others facing challenges similar to their own. He quickly discovered that, regardless of the adversity–cancer, addiction, depression, or so many others–those who had found a way to be of service to others with their challenge had reaped powerful rewards. Fascinated by this adversity to advocacy process (and what he came to call the “Greater Good motivation” it provides), Jeff began researching the concept for his second book, When in Doubt, Make Belief. What he learned was that a growing body of empirical research exists supporting the very phenomenon that he and so many other adversity-driven advocates were experiencing–namely, that we help ourselves by helping others.
In June, 2010, Jeff found himself in a lengthy conversation with A2A cofounder Patti Lowery about the potential for a web-based outreach project showcasing the concept of turning adversity into advocacy. Patti, a Toronto mother of two children with mental health challenges, had long been supporting other parents of children with similar challenges, and knew firsthand the power behind the A2A concept. She was instantly on board, and before either Jeff or Patti knew it, they were formulating a vision for The Adversity 2 Advocacy Project.
In the months that followed, A2A began taking form, as one amazing individual after another stepped up to join Jeff and Patti in their quest. Through a series of marathon strategy meetings and middle-of-the-night aha moments, the project moved from a nebulous concept to a budding organization. The law firm of Stimmel, Stimmel, & Smith graciously offered its services to make A2A official, and the International Mental Health Research Organization (IMHRO) agreed to serve as the project’s fiscal sponsor during the 501c3 application process. In June, 2011, A2A threw its first party–a pre-launch kickoff featuring some of the remarkable individuals behind the project–and through it, raised enough money to fund its first year of operation. There was no turning back.
Today, Team A2A exists as an all-volunteer group of more than thirty men and women, all dedicated to shaping the organization’s growth, each committed to advancing the A2A cause and, in so doing, helping Jeff keep that bargain he made so many years ago.