Do you ever get that overwhelming sensation? It’s not a physical one, like exhaustion or hunger. I’m talking about an emotional one. It has been happening to me a lot in the last few years. It’s the emotional response that rises up inside me when I hear about a young person’s success or when I read an article about how someone has improved their local community. I am overcome with the feeling that I must help make the world a better place.
Alan Jennings knows that feeling. He is the executive director of the Community Action Committee of the Lehigh Valley, an organization he has been a part of for more than 30 years. I don’t know Jennings personally, but I can certainly relate to him. He was featured recently in an article in The Morning Call, saying that he had the “overwhelming sensation” as a young child that he was “born to save the world.” Jennings joined CACLV fresh out of college. He has been instrumental in not only saving it from shutdown, but growing it into an organization with a $20 million a year budget. CACLV is the engine behind numerous neighborhood improvement programs, homeless shelters, and soup kitchens throughout the Lehigh Valley.
Few of us are fortunate enough to realize our calling at such a young age. For some, it may take 50 years. For others, it may never come. For me, it’s finally arrived and has been transformative. I believe this passion was born out of my role as a parent, to help my daughter become the best person she can be. I have seen this evolution taking place, that my hope to improve people’s lives has grown beyond just she and I. If I make this effort for my child, I can take many others along on the journey.
A few weeks ago, I received an email from the Volunteer Center of the Lehigh Valley, advertising a “speed networking” event geared to help local non-profits find volunteers. I had barely finished reading the first few lines when I knew I needed to participate. This was an opportunity that I simply could not pass up. It was a way for me to act as a liaison — to bridge the gap between Girl Scouts and the larger world of service organizations for the girls and adults that I work with. Because if I am to support the mission of Girl Scouting, which is to build girls of courage, confidence, and character who make the world a better place, then I have to help girls to connect to the community and world beyond Girl Scouting.
I was utterly overwhelmed at the speed networking event. There were about 25 organizations represented, and I had to choose five to meet with. It was difficult to narrow it down to five! I chose Community Bike Works, The Center for Humanistic Change, The Lehigh Conference of Churches, the Third Street Alliance, and Gress Mountain Ranch. I was able to meet the executive directors of all of these organizations, present them with my resume, and talk about the passions that we have in common. My goal now is to get to know these groups better, introduce others to them, and find ways to help them expand their own missions.
I began last weekend by taking my daughter for a tour of the Third Street Alliance in Easton, PA. They are based in the Simon mansion, a beautifully restored building in the heart of downtown Easton. You cannot tell by looking at the French revival façade of this building that it houses a homeless shelter for women and children. Additionally, this dynamic organization provides the community with a Keystone Stars accredited child care program and an adult care program for seniors with special needs. It’s a stunning mash-up of art, architecture, and social service. We learned that they need help to sort donations, to make care packages for clients, and to garner additional funding to make their swimming pool ADA compliant, just to name a few.
I left there with my mind reeling, mulling over the many possible ways to help them. And I could see that it made an impression on my daughter as well. She’s 13, and yet she wasn’t underwhelmed, as is so often the case at this age. She was intrigued by the interior design and the art work, and listened intently to our tour guide’s stories. There’s a world outside of herself, and she’s beginning to open her eyes to it.
Our next stop will be at the Community Bike Works. We are visiting them this week, donating an old bike and taking a tour. I can’t wait!
I have tremendous respect for the individuals that serve at the heart of these organizations. They often dedicate many hours of overtime and accept less than adequate wages. They are all “saving the world” in their own unique ways. Jennings states in the Morning Call article, “Let’s face it, I’ve been at this a long time and the world is still really screwed up. I’ve failed a lot.”
I have to disagree. Mr. Jennings, you have not failed. I am certain that you have changed the lives of many individuals for the better. In fact, even if you have only changed one life, you have still left the world better than you found it. That’s accomplishing your mission. That’s leaving a legacy. That’s making lives better beyond your own.
In the words of Ralph Waldo Emerson, “The purpose of life is not to be happy. It is to be useful, to be honorable, to be compassionate, and to have it make some difference that you have lived and lived well.” That’s my new motto.
© Vulnerable Path, 2015