Portrait Project


"Tell me, what is it you plan to do with your one wild and precious life?"

Aaron Chadbourne

"Worms? There are no worms in my corn! If you find one, bring it back and I'll give you a dozen corn for free." In the small town of East Waterboro, Maine, the short Greek woman with jet-black hair, wrinkle-free skin and mesmerizing dark eyes was famous. She was also my grandmother, Yiayia. Although the fresh native produce at her roadside vegetable stand was among the finest in the area, customers were largely attracted by her theatrical flair and infectious enthusiasm. Waving her hands in the air, she would brandish an ear of corn, peeling back the green husk to display the golden-white kernels beneath.

Enlisted at age seven to spend summers helping my grandmother, I soon discovered that this effervescent saleswoman had the ability to transform a modest picnic table into a public stage where she could affect the world. Her unique blend of honesty, humility and self-sufficiency inspired admiration and loyalty. Her customers were "her people," and she believed that even the briefest interactions could change their lives for the better. As her dutiful apprentice, I delighted in our afternoon conversations that revealed a lifetime's worth of lessons drawn from her deep Christian faith, her selfless commitment to her family, and her days on the assembly line of a shoe shop. In those formative encounters, I was imbued with her passion for serving others and for living life with a flourish.

Yiayia's vivacious spirit has inspired me to use my education and my resources to embrace life's toughest challenges, to transform the ordinary into the extraordinary and to measure impact one person at a time. I long to build organizations, to change public policy, and to imagine new solutions that enable others to realize their dreams. My actions will bear testament to the powerful realization that in the vegetable stand of life, there are no worms in my corn.

— Aaron Chadbourne