Modeling Community Service

Posted by Laura Otten, Ph.D., Director on February 26th, 2016 in Thoughts & Commentary

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I had a visit from a former MBA student who had recently completed a prestigious international exchange scholarship in South America.  He was, in many ways, a misfit in the MBA program in that he worked for a Catholic high school in a very needy area, had spent extended time working with a nonprofit in another South American country and had no designs whatsoever on ever working in the corporate sector.  He knew where his heart belonged.

And well he should, as he had nonprofit blood coursing through his body.  I told him I had met his father while he was away, at a board training.  I learned that his father had founded one organization and only left thirty years later after the state-of-the-art building was completed.  He’s since gone on to other nonprofit endeavors, including the organization where I met him.  His mother too, is immersed in the nonprofit sector.

This young man will turn 28 next month; my son will turn 27 the end of this one.  My son also grew up immersed in nonprofit service, although he has since taken a different path from my former student.

My son has joined the corporate world but has committed part of his practice as a financial advisor to helping nonprofits and their employees plan for stronger, better futures, and another part to helping families with special needs children plan for a time when the parents won’t be there for the children.  He serves on the governing boards of two very different organizations, and on the young professionals board of a third.  And, truthfully, he donates to more nonprofits than his father and I do combined.

Maybe as a parent you do what I do as my son’s birthday approaches:   reflect back to the months leading up to his birth, to his actual birth and the years since.  I remember all the things his father and I worried about, and which ones seem important now.

I realize now I could have spared myself concern over how we were going to make sure that this child who was growing up in total comfort understood that he had a responsibility to give back, to help those who could not help themselves, did not have a voice (or a loud enough one) of their own, were less fortunate than he due to no fault of their own.

Part of his life was buying toys every holiday season to distribute them at homeless shelters, packing  food at the local food distribution site, shuttling the elderly on their errands so they could age in place, and cleaning up local parks.

Whenever circumstances allowed, I took him on my meetings with clients and to class where he would doze under my desk as I taught.  His dad did his part by telling him stories of people he encountered on the job:  buying coffee and burgers for the homeless people; taking beggars into the closest convenience store store to buy them whatever they wanted to eat, but not giving them money to spend on alcohol and/or drugs; distributing Halloween candy in the worst neighborhoods of Philadelphia; or filling our vehicle with dog food for the local animal shelter.

None of what my husband and I did was out of the ordinary for us.  And so it is with our son.  It never hurts to be reminded of what a powerful learning tool role modeling is, especially because it is so simple:  do as I do.  Get the gist and then make it your own.  And that is certainly what each of these two young millennials has done.  I celebrate them both.

The opinions expressed in Nonprofit University Blog are those of writer and do not necessarily reflect the opinion of La Salle University or any other institution or individual.