NJ DISCOVER IN DEPTH: An Unforgettable Character; Meet COREY HARNISH (under 30), Coach, Philanthropist (Energy, Spirit), Social Impact Entertainment Specialist. By Calvin Schwartz JUNE 16th 2020
PS: Reporter’s (Calvin ) note: Corey and I sat down in person on March 14th 2020 for this interview, THREE DAYS before the virus lockdown. We mutually waited to publish this, as New Jersey is now entering phase one and two of “opening up.”
Tradition. Key to my interviews are how they evolved, which means, how did I meet Corey Harnish, as four solid decades separate us; a substantive generation gap. Or not. Cut back to September, 2019. At my hangout, not a Newark 1950’s candy store, but LinkedIn, my septuagenarian place of meaning, connection, involvement and magic. A connection invitation arrived on LinkedIn from Corey Harnish, a University of Arizona graduate, not Rutgers, where I have 9000 alums in my network. But it was Corey’s tag line (see above) which fascinated. A few LinkedIn messages ensued. `
What resonated with me was his expressed quest for a better, kinder world. Literally ten days later, we met for coffee at Starbucks. I was on my way to class at Rutgers, learning how to teach. Our time at Starbucks was pure chemistry which meant I expressed doing an NJ Discover interview with Corey. That was September, remember. What held us up until March 14th 2020, was I wanted to capture Corey’s experience with ten days of silence and meditation at Vipassana, in Texas which he did in January; the hook to this interview. He arrived exactly at 11AM, managing to leave all Corona talk outside.
Corey was born in Matawan in 1991, with Amish and Brooklyn genes. Then he graduated from the University of Arizona in 2014. Curiosity asked why he went so far from the Garden State. “I applied to the University of Cincinnati and eight other schools. None in New Jersey… Visited Tucson, loved the palm trees, red brick buildings and mountains… I was hooked… I started studying architecture for its digital applications, but due to the intensity drawing coursework, switched to computer science after one semester.”
By his fourth year, Corey studied Criminal Justice where he worked with kids with criminal backgrounds. His second degree was in Public Management and Policy. “After graduation, I joined AmeriCorps VISTA.” It’s a national service program designed to alleviate poverty. President Kennedy originated the idea for VISTA, founded as Volunteers in Service to America.
I asked Corey about the salary doing that. “I was paid 110% over poverty level which translated to $12,000/year or roughly $5 a day. You live a life style of the people you serve… I worked at Green Mountain College in Vermont, which is no longer around.” He served as an Academic Life Coach working with students on academic probation. “I helped them to create structure and improve their grades… What I found out was their personal lives were the challenging part… Many students were from inner city pipelines from Philadelphia and Boston, and unaccustomed to a rural lifestyle. Corey lived in a room on campus and worked out of the Learning Center and in conjunction with the Career Advising Center. “I worked closely with the Instructional Designer which is focused on how we structure courses to optimize for student retention and classroom engagement… I was doing one on one coaching which meant better accountability… It improved their grades and sense of well-being, and especially their personal lives… There were some minorities- such as honor students or individuals who just wanted help setting goals, finding passions- personally growing.”
In 2015, Corey applied to the Peace Corps. “It didn’t happen… They invited me to go to Burma (Myanmar) as one of the first volunteers to go and build a Peace Corps program there, yet as the country was undergoing a change from Communism to Democracy… I was told it really wasn’t safe for U.S. citizens- the program was indefinitely postponed.” He dropped out of the Peace Corps, deferring service in the Philippines as he serendipitously found an opportunity to blend his coaching and tech skills with kindness and behavior change.
Now 2016, Corey, driven, focused, aiming at a special world future of hope and happiness, he co-founded Better World International, a non-profit, creating technology for impact. First on agenda was the Good Cards (https://www.thegoodcards.com/) a real life game of paying it forward where you track the kindness your good deed(s) inspires. “People go on missions to do good deeds… Schools, companies, events use it for experiential learning and community building… We track the engagement.”
Not very often in my travels do I invoke Aldous Huxley, ‘Brave New World.’ Listening to Corey so exuberantly and proudly talk about Good Card, it was a brave new world for me. Tangentially, we drifted to talk of millennials and nearby generations in search of new forms of content, information, news gathering. Corey was right there. I asked about The Good Cards usage. “Fifty countries, some 15,000 cards and discussions with major companies about implementation.”
Next for this still under thirty social conscience, universal guy, was more coaching. He signed on with New Frontiers in Learning, a New York based provider of highest quality education and social support services to young adults who learn differently. “I work with people on the autism spectrum and ADHD, who are in college and beyond… one student recognized that he wants to improve his social skills… I just coached a kid to become a coach and developed his own podcast ‘Conscious Conversations.’ (which I just spoke on),” I did expound on my dozen or so articles on my journey to autism awareness. Our shared commonality; one of them.
A few hours disappeared as did our lunch sandwiches. “What’s next?” “Fun Funding (https://www.funfunding.org/ ) By playing games, you can earn money for charity… We are shifting the conversation from ‘Will you give money to my charity?’ to ‘Want to play this game with me to help support my charity?” We work with corporate sponsors to help increase donation prizes… our tagline is enabling people to do good through their everyday actions effortlessly… one of our executives is a professional poker player… we’ve had three product iterations in just one year alone.”
I refer to this rapidly rising space as Social Impact Entertainment where we are using television, film, media and games (Good Card, Fun Funding) to raise awareness of social challenges and active individual support.” Take for instance, ‘Life Happens’ a current TV project under development, part of Corey’s world. “It’s being developed by KMS, Kindness Media Studios.” Of course, I asked about the premise, thinking it was serious. “It’s a dramatic comedy. Life happens at the crossroads of Parenthood and Shamelessness… It’s about a multi-racial family, ten years after the mother’s murder.”
Instant like for me. It’s uniqueness. I asked about the production company. “I created it to inspire more kindness and positivity – It’s Jersey based… we did a recent table read in North Jersey… It’s attracting people from TV’s General Hospital, ex-Disney folks, and even the Olympics… We’re actually working on a documentary series, “Adapt-ABILITY,” about Paralympic athletes and how they adapt to overcome hardship and mental trauma.” I went off on this, loving the premise, so needed, unexplored in our world
Corey spoke more about The Good Cards and how revolutionary it is. I agreed. He also spoke about creating a 2-part movie/animation project under KMS with ‘Robi Smiles’ (magical realism) as subject, designed to help people be happy. All fitting in perfectly with Corey’s view of the world. We did drift into more of our shared commonalities. I went back to my twenties, idealism, and principles colliding with a war in Vietnam, concern about racism, civil rights, women’s rights, early environmental awareness. Similar common roots. Corey dreams of global happiness; I still do too. Indeed, good chemistry.
“Before anything else goes down Corey, I need to hear about your ten days of silence in Texas in January.” Vipassana is one of India’s most ancient techniques of meditation, taught there more than 2500 years ago. An art of living. “It was held in Kaufman, Texas… There are over 2000 world meditation centers… It’s ten days… it doesn’t cost anything, but you are asked to contribute what you can at the end… I lived in a dorm.”
There were 150 people with him in January. Half women, half men. Segregated strictly by gender. “Men shared a common bathroom… I had my own room… there was a meditation hall where everyone participated in three one-hour group meditations a day, outside of that we were waking up at 4 AM and meditating by ourselves for roughly ten hours a day… No talking, No writing, No reading, No technology… Complete silence even when you ate the vegetarian meal.” Interestingly, Corey classifies himself as a flexitarian, only eating some chicken, turkey or fish and no red meat. I exclaimed, “Wow!” More commonality. I’ve been a flexitarian, not eating red meat since 1975.
“Sitting for ten hours a day was very painful. No back support… Some people used pillows or special chairs from football games.” “What about the age range?” “21-75 years old.” A few seconds of silence. Corey knew me already and sensed my next question. “Yes Calvin, I’m glad I did it. It was freeing myself from emotional attachment. Understanding we each have the power to respond to any, and every, situation rather than come from a state of reaction.”
There is a theme to this interview with Corey Harnish. It is a brave new world filled with idealism, diversity, hope. He is a counter-clockwise and clockwise force of happiness. And he is so beyond his less than 30 Earth years. I asked about some of his Facebook pictures; intrigued with his sitting on a cannon in the Ukraine. “That was in 2012. I’ve been to Ukraine, Netherlands, Denmark, Germany, Israel, Australia, Sweden, Canada, Mexico, Italy- backpacking of course.”
It had quietly, inauspiciously become a five-hour day. “Let me show you my office, and my LinkedIn page.” Personally, it was a good feeling to ‘lecture’ Corey, four decades my junior, on the joys and utilizations of social media and LinkedIn. It’s supposed to be the other way around. Next, I delivered a five-minute lecture on social styles of selling, after all, I spent 25 wonderful years learning at Luxottica Group Eyewear AND everything in life is a sale.
I autographed a copy of my first novel, ‘Vichy Water.’ And asked for five more minutes of indulgence.
“Living or Dead, someone you’d like to have dinner with?” “Nelson Mandela.”
“Five things you can’t live without?” “Silence, sport, community, books, eyeglasses.”
“Before I leave this Earth, I won’t be satisfied until I…………? “Had a global campaign for happiness completed.”
Corey hugged my wife and me. Walked to the front door as I had an NJ Discover content epiphany for June, 2020. I told him that. A smile. A descent down the front steps. He waved. I whispered, “It is a brave new world.”
The last paragraph was actually the intended conclusion of this article/interview. I was proof-reading. Then, a bright light bulb. A more apt conclusion; a few words from Corey himself.
“It starts with a belief in yourself. The drive to take action. And the confidence in your abilities – to reach beyond your highest potential.”
“Hey, I’m Corey,
I’m just like you – I have dreams, goals, aspirations for the future; and I’m taking action! I’ve made a commitment to increase the overall well-being of the world and instill happiness within the hearts and minds of individuals everywhere. As a life coach and effective facilitator, I believe entertainment is the most powerful tool to achieve this. I develop gamified systems for empowering positive social behavior change whether in the classroom, community, or workplace. I’m a serial entrepreneur – helping build an ecosystem of social impact entertainment projects that are helping make this world a better place. Most importantly, I am a Coach; helping guide people in becoming their best selves personally, socially, and professionally. I advise social entrepreneurs with business development, and am part of some really stellar global communities of changemakers: NEXUS Global, Rotary International, a Founding Member of WorldKindnessUSA, and an AmeriCorps VISTA Alumni.”
A pretty cool video made with videographer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9K5fSDGHM6E&feature=youtu.be