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Five Words: One Goal

When Alex Sheen offered to mail out blank cards with the words “Because I Said I Would” typed on the bottom, he had no idea that soon he would go viral.

Inspired by his father’s commitment to keeping his word, Sheen came up with this idea while writing the eulogy for his father, who passed away from cancer in 2012, the same year that Sheen would begin mailing out “Because I Said I Would” cards, free of charge to anyone who wanted them. “For everything that was normal and average about my father,” Sheen says, “He did one thing exceptionally well, and that was to keep his promises.”

Since starting “Because I Said I Would” in 2012, Sheen has mailed out 2.4 million cards to over 150 countries in 24 months and spoken at 113 venues in the past year alone. Averaging around 500 card requests a week, the non-profit organization has 4 full-time employees and relies on volunteers for help with mailing out the cards, while Sheen handles social media, directs videos, and travels around the world to help spread the organization’s message.

Additionally, the organization does not allow corporate sponsorship, adds, or trademarks anywhere near their cards, website, or social media platforms to reinforce the idea that the cards are solely about the promises that people write on them.

When speaking to the student body,  Sheen focused on the stories of several people whose lives have been touched by his cards. The first story he shared was one about a father who learned that he was dying, and in an effort to always be there for his teenage daughter, wrote 826 notes to put in his daughter’s lunch box- enough so she could have one in her lunchbox every day until her high school graduation. And it all started by writing down a promise on a little white card.

“[This is] not a story about a napkin note,” Sheen said when he finished the story. “It’s a story about a commitment.”

Throughout his presentation and in a lunch forum several hours later, Sheen came up with dozens of stories about the people who had participated in “Because I Said I Would.” Stories from a girl using the cards to help fight her depression to a woman using the card as a physical barrier to keep from texting and driving to a man who promised to lose 50 pounds to improve his health.

“These cards have been used around the world in ways I could never have imagined . . . and this spread, it’s all to better humanity.” he says.

So has Alex Sheen, founder of a non-profit dedicated to encouraging people to keep their promises, ever broken one himself?

“Oh yeah,” Sheen says just before explaining that in high school, he was in no way a man of his word, and that it was not until his father died that he went on the journey that led him to become the man he is today. “No one can bat 100% in this game . . . Making promises sounds romantic in a movie, but to actually get it done? That’s something else.”

In the future, Sheen hopes to expand his message by starting “Because I Said I Would” chapters around the world. “What if 400 people made and kept the same promise?” he suggests. “4000? What message would that send? What impact would it have?”

“This is, fundamentally, starting small . . . you’ve got to start small if you’re going to go on that journey to be a better person.”

Before quitting his job at a computer software company to work on “Because I Said I Would” full time, Sheen received a letter from a teenage girl who, through the use of the “Because I Said I Would” cards, managed to fight her depression, stop self-harming, and ultimately realize that she was important in the world and that her life did matter. The cards did not do that. The cards are just the means to an end, a tool for people to use, a physical representation of a person’s honor and commitment. The cards did not save that teenage girl’s life; she did that all on her own. It doesn’t matter what people write on the cards, so long as they take what they have written down and see it through to the end.

“We always wish for a miracle,” Sheen said. “But sometimes we just need people to do what they said they were going to do.”

Written by Sarah Fornshell’15


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