BWW Interview: Life Coach and Writer Chet Fery
There are many entertaining people in the Western New York area but sometimes there is that one person who just stands out.
This "stand out" is Chet Fery.
Chet performs his "act" ... which really isn't an "act"... it's a giving experience ... in front of an audience.
He is a Writer.
He teaches bread making. Yes. I said bread making.
He is a certified Life Coach.
Chet Fery is basically an entertaining good guy who gives.
Let's talk to Chet:
MCL: Where were you born and raised?
CF: I was born on the eastside of Buffalo NY and lived in a Polish neighborhood called Kaisertown. Picture rows of 2 story houses, streets lined with Elm Trees and Chestnut trees; with streets paved with red brick and people sitting on porches. We walked everywhere. Everything you needed was just around the corner. You name it we had it, churches, schools, taverns, grocery stores, candy shops, dry cleaners, fish markets, meat markets, fruit and vegetable stands, beauty parlors and of course Polish bakeries.
The bakeries in my neighborhood all ended in "ski" and would fill the streets with that wonderful smell of fresh baked bread. Like clockwork, the rye bread came out of the oven at 10 AM and we rushed to pick up our loaf. Hot bread from the oven is an unforgettable experience topped only by a taste torn from the loaf to be eaten on the way home. Mom would yell "half the loaf was gone" and send me back for a second loaf. I was careful that second time to only try a small piece! Bread and kindness were part of my life. The neighborhood was safe, people kept an eye out for you and I benefitted from many people who believed in me more than I believed in myself.
My parents and 2 siblings lived off Clinton Street on Barnard Street. My grandparents lived in the "flat" below us. Aunts, uncles and cousins lived one street away. Every Sunday was family day. The adults played pinochle around a large wooden table in my grandparent's dining room. The kids put the beer bottles back in the cases and we all enjoyed the wonderful Polish food. Looking back we were poor, but what we lacked in things was made up by being surrounded by a loving family.
I was fortunate to have many enriching experiences in my early years. This post WW2 era was filled with families wanting their share of the American Dream. People in the neighborhood were hard working, friendly, supportive and caring. My grandmother was an important part of my life.
My grandmother provided unconditional love and protected me from my mother who would wield her wooden spoon when I deserved a spanking. Grandma was there to love and protect me. Babcia (grandma in Polish) offered wonderful advice like "Do the Right Thing", "Try Your Hardest", "Be Nice to Others" and "Leave the World Better Than You Found It". Babcia has been gone over 50 years but her soft gentle voice still resonates in my mind.
I am grateful for my early years and in a way try to recreate this same feeling of community when I do my bread talks and give away bread.
MCL: You travel quite bit sharing your own brand of entertainment. Explain what you do.
CF: My speaking events always involve a bread-making lesson, a sharing of bread stories and a loaf of bread for each member of the audience. My bread-making lesson is always an attention getter and is rooted in my days as a classroom teacher. Add my strong voice, a good physical presence and everything comes together.
I wear a "Bread Man" apron, carry a "free bread" sign and wear a chef's hat. I'm gifted with an "eye" for a personal story and able to capture a heart or two with my stories of kindness. I've found that there is power in every story and that most people have a bread story of their own. The sharing of these stories creates an unforgettable bond and is a perfect example of how our stories bring us closer and take us to a kinder and gentler place.
I am amazed of the many "hot bread from the oven stories" people share. These stories may include a mom, grandmother, aunt who made bread and a family that stood guard seeking the first slice with a big glob of butter. These unforgettable stories bring a feeling of gratitude and love. Special moments that are the foundation of our lives!
I close my sessions by giving every member of the audience a loaf of bread. Many hold the loaf to their chests, all smile and all feel kindness that I believe they share with others. The feeling and sharing of kindness is the message that can change our lives and the world around us! I end my talks with the phrase "Change the world one loaf of bread at a time, one act of kindness at a time."
MCL: How did bread making and performing come into your life?
CF: I always enjoyed cooking and eating! As a teenager, I worked as a short order cook at a Howard Johnson's Restaurant. One day I announced to my wife and 3 children that I was going to make the world's best pizza. They just rolled their eyes. I remember every flavor of Bocce Club pizza, a Buffalo favorite, and certain I could copy it in my own kitchen. My first attempt was good, but didn't taste like Bocce Club. I made it the second day, using a sweeter sauce but it was still missing something. On the third day, I added some seasoning. I was getting closer. I was just trying to get it right!
After 3 weeks of attempting to create this unforgettable pizza, my children were worried about the mental health of their father and were secretly planning a mutiny. All they wanted was a normal meal and I was "just trying to get it right". My son, spokesperson for the family, convinced me to switch to making bread and Sunday became my bread baking day, thus averting the children moving to the neighbors. This marked the beginning of my bread making; I had no idea the impact it would have on my life.
Every Sunday our house was filled with the smell of fresh baked bread. Everyone waited and wanted the first slice with butter. Memories were created by this activity; an event repeated by people around the globe for centuries.
Monday mornings I would take the leftover bread to my workplace and place the bread on the table in the break room with a sign that read "Free Bread." What occurred was amazing! People would first go to the break room for the bread before going to their work areas. Many came to work 15 to 30 minutes early. Some held the loaf to their chests and all smiled.
I soon found that "a simple loaf" of bread changed people's lives. People would put troubles aside and feel a sense of hope. I noticed that people were happier, made better work decisions and even the problem makers became problem solvers.
I knew the bread was good but soon realized that people actually came to work early to "feel" kindness! And these days kindness is not that easy to find. I was intrigued and became hooked on this free bread thing. A transformational change occurred in people with each loaf of bread, each act of kindness!
My bread making started to expand. I purchased new equipment and increased my production. I would take bread to public events and give bread to strangers who would then look for me at future public events. Others received bread on their birthdays, seasonal holidays and just for being good!
Each loaf of bread, given with kindness, created a special moment that stayed with people for a while, maybe longer. I once did a talk to a group of 7 year olds and a girl whispered to her friend "I think I will remember the Bread Man until I'm 8." I learned that people remember how we make them feel more than anything else and an act of kindness can create an indelible memory.
To my surprise, I was asked to share my bread activities with the office staff of a local Pediatrician. I reluctantly shared my work and was amazed by the interest people had in stories of kindness. Since that time bread, kindness and a story have become a huge part of my life.
MCL: You are a natural performer.... better yet.... you are just a natural. How did it become easy for you to talk in front of large and small audience?
CF: I have to say that most of my presentations go very well but I attribute most of my success to the topic of kindness and not necessarily to me. I am not as comfortable as I appear. I will usually over prepare and over think my performances and then be hard on myself when reviewing my work.
Keep in mind that baking the bread is time consuming. Often a 60 minute presentation requires 6 hours of baking, packaging, cleaning up and driving. This gives me plenty of time to mentally prepare for my talks.
I like to say that making bread is my "Happy Place" but my arms and wrists are showing some wear from kneading all that dough. The bread is a critical part of my work and I am not ready to give up the free bread part of the presentation. People have commented that I will never give it up. They probably are right.
I will admit the talks have become somewhat easier but I still feel the challenge of engaging an audience and I tweak my script to continually improve. I have a bank of stories that I share and often decide on the stories to tell after meeting the audience. Arriving early to an event allows me time to eavesdrop, determine the interest of the audience and then decide on the stories to share. Many times the event just flows naturally and let the energy in the room guide me. It may sound strange but sometimes I think a voice other than my own is doing the talking.
MCL: What is it about bread that makes you want to pass it on to others?
CF: Bread is the universal food and consuming it a universal experience. People all over the globe rely on grains, some form of bread to survive and have been doing it for centuries. Bread has powerful symbolism based in faith, family, culture, literature and more. People remember sharing bread baked by a loved one. The taste, touch and smell of hot bread from the oven are unforgettable.
A bread story will often bring back a memory of momma making bread and then mouths begin to water. A story shared always brings a smile and sometimes a tear or two. Often faces will get flushed and a feeling of warmth comes over them.
Powerful feelings and emotions are felt around bread but I believe the real emotion comes from feeling kindness. Create a moment of kindness and you bring people to a higher level of consciousness. I don't completely understand this phenomenon but I recognize when it happens. Bread is a catalyst for a higher level of happiness and joy so I just do it!
MCL: You travel quite a bit. Please let us know about some of your favorite places and venues.
CF:I have found that the message of kindness resonates with people of all ages and all places. I've yet to have a person tell me that they don't care about kindness. I have baked bread with 4 year olds and 104 year olds. Putting hands in dough has a transformational effect. I met a woman who shared that her husband was losing his vision and was very unhappy. Of course I suggested teaching him to make bread. She laughed and said "he never even goes into the kitchen." She called me a few weeks later and said she taught him to make bread and he actually giggles when he kneads the dough. His friends now come to the house to enjoy his bread. He is happy again and she added that bread making is cheaper than the antidepressants he was taking.
My venues have expanded over the years and I enjoy all of them. I have travelled throughout New York State and as far as Shreveport, Louisiana. Bread is always with me and I give it away wherever I travel. Recently, I have started shipping bread across the country, some by request and some to give an unexpected lift to those in need. My bread has travelled to places like Townsend, Delaware, Denver, Colorado, Sedona, Arizona, San Diego, California, Naples, Florida and more.
Speaking to groups on the "Power of Kindness" make up half of my calendar dates but recently I have added school assemblies, school openings, staff development and training, literacy training events, conventions, fund raising events, church services, soup suppers and leadership training.
A few of the themes of these events are: Creating Schools of Kindness, Create a World of Kindness, Staying Strong in Care Giving Professions, Story Telling-a Prewriting Strategy, Leading with Kindness, Mindfulness Bread Making, Removing Your Barriers to Happiness, Baking Bread Using Root Vegetables, Acts of Kindness are Prayers in Action, A Checklist for Living a Fulfilled and Enriched Life and more. I work with educational and corporate planning groups to develop an event that is both meaningful and relevant to the audience.
Recently I started my work as a Kindness Coach. I am certified by New York State as a Counselor and now certified as a Life Coach specializing in bringing kindness to a person's life. My premise is that kindness is the foundation for reaching true happiness and your full potential in all areas of life! This work is done in person and online.
MCL: If there are a few things you want people to know about what you do.... what would they be?
CF:Every day I realize more and more the powerful results of this free bread effort. The world desperately needs more kindness. Audiences across the country are seeking a message that provides joy, hope, gratitude and love. People are changed by my message of kindness. It promotes personal reflection and a better understanding of our life journey. I remind my audiences that we all must do our share to create a world of kindness, it's too important to leave to others.
I have been blessed in countless ways and continue to seek new knowledge and new experiences. Living a life of kindness promotes personal growth and pure happiness. A life of kindness means never wasting a day and living every day to its fullest!
MCL: Time to promote...What's coming up for you in 2019?
CF: I am in the process of reinventing myself and planning on some changes in my bread activities. My website will be updated and my use of the internet to continue my work is on my agenda, possibly in the form of a podcast, blog or YouTube.
As I approach the 100,000-loaf mark, I anticipate fewer events but with larger audiences. My tired wrists and aching arms may cause me to bake less, but realistically not sure I can give it up entirely.
I anticipate an increased interest in the topic of Creating a World of Kindness and Creating Schools of Kindness. People across the globe need to be empowered to create a kinder world by doing acts of kindness. The task is too important to leave to others; all must contribute to this effort.
My timeline calls for completion of my book Bread Time Stories and More by Fall of 2019, with a book tour to follow.
My Kindness Coach work is increasing and will require a weekly schedule to meet the demand.
The bottom-line is this kindness effort will remain a huge part of my life. The physical demands call for a change but the meaningful work will continue. My goal is to maintain my capacity to change the world one loaf of bread at a time, one act of kindness at a time!
FOR MORE ABOUT CHET FERY:
BrockportStylus Local man teaches kindness though love of baking
55 Plus Magazine Meet the Bread Man