The father-in-law of my U.K.-based LRN colleague, Debbie Alameddine, was diagnosed in 2014 with pancreatic cancer. Unable to manage his pain relief by himself, she and her family contacted Thames Hospice to see if it could help.
"We were extremely lucky that a bed became available and he was able to receive everything he needed to make him as comfortable as possible until he sadly passed away 10 weeks later," said Alameddine.
Since then, she tries each year to give back to the hospice, which provides its services free of charge to anyone who needs them. They have several charity stores and, rather than sell her unwanted household items, she takes them to their shops for them to sell and raise money to stay in operation. It costs more than $10 million a year to keep the hospice open, and half of its funding comes from donations.
"In addition to this, I take chocolates and biscuits to the hospice staff and patients and to two of their stores as a reminder that we are eternally grateful for everything they did for us," said Alameddine about her experiences at the hospice. "It’s nice to remind them that we appreciate everything they do."
And she hopes to do more. "To be given the opportunity to help them in a small way is so rewarding," she said. "In the future I hope I will be allowed to become more active within the hospice."
Debbie was one of many LRN employees to volunteer their time on #GivingTuesday. Others chose to give money to charities, including helping to rebuild communities devastated by the recent wildfires in California.
In New York, LRN employees helped the homeless by fixing meals and organizing clothing donations, and mentored young people from challenging upbringings with advice on how to prepare their resumes and improve their interviewing skills.
LRN Chief Executive Dov Seidman told the students of the Per Scholas program that leaders no longer are born or made but now are self-made. Framing leadership as a choice between born or made is a 20th Century construct, as Seidman said the reality now is young people are declaring themselves as leaders and acting accordingly. He encouraged the students to reflect on that, and to approach each of their endeavors knowing that they can bring leadership to it. In so doing, he said they will strengthen their own leadership.
Giving is about more than making financial contributions, said Seidman.
“Whether welcoming the students from Per Scholas to LRN, supporting those at the end of their life at Thames Hospice, and the many other engagements that LRN colleagues committed themselves to, #GivingTuesday is about all of the ways one can give back, from sharing knowledge and experience to simply lending a hand," he said. "It is about big deeds, and small. Each of those interactions help strengthen our shared ethos and reestablish humanity at the core of our interactions.”
"We felt good knowing that we are doing something good for society," said Naznin Kotwal, from LRN's Mumbai office. "It was a moment for us to pause and appreciate our own privileged lives, and also to help the needy and become an inspiration to others by our actions."
In Los Angeles, an LRN staffer spent her afternoon at a store that sells donated clothes, handbags and shoes to help the homeless, women in domestic violence shelters, veterans and victims of natural disasters.
"My tasks included making sure the store was organized and greeting customers," said Keshia Martin. "However what resonated with me was that the staff member was inspired to launch the Gardena Community Closet based on a clothing drive she participated in to benefit the victims of Hurricane Harvey. She took the initiative and it has paid off. It has inspired me to continue to help out regularly."
Back in New York, seven colleagues and myself spent our time at The Bowery Mission, which has been providing assistance to the homeless and downtrodden in New York's Lower East Side since the 1870s. Others helped to make lunch at a Brooklyn shelter. Two of my colleagues were so moved by their experiences, they are planning to go back on their own time and volunteer--and want to bring their children.
That's what happens when you feel the emotion of doing something selfless; it moves your spirit. And no one better exemplifies what that means than the liaison we had at the Bowery Mission, a man named Charlie.
Charlie was introduced to the work of the Mission like many of the staff that work there are--they arrived seeking food, clothing, shelter or all three, found love, support and acceptance and were so moved that once they had their lives back together, they chose to give back and help those coming in looking for the same type of help.
As Charlie told us, volunteers are the heart of what is being done at the Mission. "Volunteers can demonstrate to our homeless population that someone cares for them, that they matter," he said. "Volunteers can be a source of hope for our residents and our homeless population."
My colleague, Jan Stanley, who also worked at the Mission on Tuesday, summed up what #GivingTuesday means and why it matters to the people who give their time.
"I am pleased and proud that LRN offers colleagues the opportunity to serve others...it is a source of meaning for me, and for the other colleagues who participated," she said. "Leaders can help build trust in organizations when they find ways, like providing volunteer opportunities, for employees to make contributions and to find meaning when doing so."
One thing I would add: #GivingTuesday is important because it focuses attention on the idea of helping others--but it's just one day a year. Make a difference every day, in whatever way you can. You never know how one small act of caring can change someone's life. Or your own life, as my colleague Danielle Schlar noted.
"While the intent of the day is to give back, those of us that participate get much more than we give," she said.