By Stephen Drachler

Unless you’re one of my high school classmates, you’ve probably never heard of Charlie James.

Charlie James was my ninth grade English teacher. He spotted something inside of me back in the fall of 1964 that set me – an industrial arts (vo-tech these days) major – improbably on the path to a wonderful career as a journalist, political aide, church spokesperson, lobbyist, and – for the past couple of years – John Denny’s partner.

Charlie told me I had a gift for writing. He gave me special reading and writing assignments, and encouraged me to follow my curiosity. Within a year-and-a-half, I was writing for pay, covering high school sports for two newspapers. Still too young to drive, my dad would take me to Oneonta, N.Y. on Sunday afternoon, where I would type my stories in the newsroom of the Oneonta Daily Star.

I am so thankful for this unconventional teacher who saw something special in me. The attention he showed me lit the spark that still burns bright in my soul. Over the years I’ve tried to give back by helping young people seeking a start in their careers. I never completed a four-year college degree. I had to be smarter and quicker in order to succeed. I’ve made it a point – and have never been disappointed – to give a young person a break if they haven’t finished their degree. Life sometimes interferes with higher education. These young people are often self-starters, and have an unrelenting drive to succeed.

A few years ago, when I was in another position that was ending, John Denny saw something in me. We had become friends by working together on a coalition addressing Pennsylvania’s budget. Denny Civic Solutions was growing, and he needed a partner.

John saw the same spark and the drive that Charlie James ignited more than 50 years ago. He saw that I would bring the things he needed for the company to take the next steps in its growth and success. We’ve done some incredible things over the past two years. We have absolutely wonderful clients that are committed to making the world a better place for all. We have clients that have taken real risks to forge change on behalf of the voiceless in our community: the poor, people with disabilities, children with an incarcerated parent, and many, many more.

So, it is with a bit of sadness that I tell you today that I’m leaving Denny Civic Solutions, and moving to life’s next stage on Oct.1. Technically, at age 66, I am retiring, but I can’t see myself ever buying a cardigan sweater and spending my days in a rocking chair. I’m retiring to take on more travel and camping in our RV with Michelle, the love of my life, to do volunteer work in my beloved Harrisburg, to continue writing and probably, to take on a client on occasion.

Denny Civic Solutions is a trailblazing company. It creates life-changing voices for society’s underdogs, and it brings people of varying perspectives – political, cultural, economic – together to work towards worthy goals.

It has been a privilege and honor to be part of it.