The older I get, the more I like to reflect back on the memories I’ve had and the lessons I’ve learned from growing up.
One of the biggest was the example that my parents set for me about community service. It’s what has driven my own passion for philanthropy in my life today.
My parents were always extremely active in community service for as long as I can remember.
My mother was especially passionate about helping other children, and my dad loved community organizing, bringing families together, and doing whatever he could think of to promote neighborhood wellness.
Growing up as young adults in the 60s, they were both instilled with a desire to help their community because of the turmoil of that time.
There was so much struggle for African Americans in the 60s, and there was a desperate need for people to come together, stand up for each other, support each other, and protect each other.
Growing up in the 60s — and living through this major civil rights era — cemented a giving nature in my parents, and ignited the part of them that deeply valued vibrant, connected communities where families and individuals were supported.
They both have spent the rest of their lives doing their part to make it so and instilled in their children the same sense of community and giving
Throughout my entire childhood, my parents took my siblings and I to nearly every community service project or event they did. We didn’t mind because It was always fun — and there were always lots of other kids from the neighborhood there.
Whether it was a community clean up, an event where we were handing out food and other resources, or a cookout that brought families from the neighborhood together, my parents always made a point to make sure we got the bigger context of what our community service was for.
We were definitely there to work in our community, but we were also there to learn about the importance of family, the need to connect with and support each other, or how critical it is to give and share with those in need. We also always had fun.
My parents were determined to let us know — through their own words but more than anything their own example — that a community is only great if it’s invested in by the people who live there.
And that was the bigger meaning to everything they did for ours.
That bigger meaning has had a tremendous impact on my life and as I reflect on all they did, I’ve realized that it might have a great impact on your life, too — because what my parents really were were “everyday philanthropists.”
They didn’t have a ton of money to put into their community and that was okay, because their commitment was all that was truly needed.
Here are the top three things I learned from their approach:
- When you set out to do something, make it your intention to do something good. You don’t have control over how your actions are received or what other people choose to do, but you always have control over yourself and your actions. Make it your intention to be helpful and come from a place of service and kindness.
- The smallest acts of kindness are often the biggest forms of charity.
In these times we’re living in right now, you never know what someone is going through. Be generous and offer what you can. Sometimes something as small as a smile is all it takes to make a big difference in a person’s life.
- It doesn’t take a lot of resources to be a great philanthropist.
What my parents gave the most of was their time. Especially when I was young, we didn’t have a lot of money, but that didn’t stop my parents from giving what they could. For them, that was time and love — whether it was my mom using her amazing cooking skills to make food for anyone who needed it, or my dad organizing a community event to bring people together. They gave what they could, and it was always more than enough.
So many years later, I still run into people who knew my parents from our old neighborhood, and they always ask about them and share memories and impressions with me about how my parents work made a difference in their life and in their community.
I can’t think of a more rewarding way to live — or a greater way to be remembered — than to be known for the way you’ve helped others, and made your community and your world a better place to be.