Dave’s Desk@Ditch: Paying It Forward: The Youth Edition

According to an article on the Sittercity website by Alex Onion, “Teens have a better understanding of the problems facing society, and once in high school, volunteer experiences can be life-changing – service can help broaden a young adult’s horizons, set her on a path that leads to a rewarding career, and expose her to a diverse world.” I know firsthand that doing so at a young age (as I was taught), set things in motion for a lifetime of opportunities to pay it forward.

Ironically, one of the first “teachable moments” that my father chose to explore volunteerism with me came when I was 10 years old, as a direct result of my grandfather passing, of all days, on Thanksgiving. 

“Papa,” as he was affectionately referred to by my brothers and me, was a sweet, generous man when it came to his grandchildren, on full display at every occasion. My fond memories of him visiting our family up in Westchester every few months (in addition to one summer vacation in Montauk), to this day, remain quite vivid indeed.

It was no more than a week or so after Papa’s memorial service that my father traveled to Brooklyn, where he collected my grandfather’s personal belongings, the bulk of which consisted of several bags filled with business suits, an assortment of clothes, and a deep collection of LP records. Despite his blue-collar subsistence, he was an avid fan of both classical music and the opera; a perennial ticket-holder at Lincoln Center.

After pulling out a few of the items and examining them, I recall asking my father what he planned on doing with the lot. After all, they weren’t his size. 

He suggested that maybe there was a men’s shelter somewhere in the county that would accept our donation, and began calling around. It didn’t take very long before he came across a facility (known as St. Christopher’s Inn), only 30 minutes north of where we lived, which graciously welcomed such articles for their residents, in addition to placing some in its on-site thrift shop where visitors could purchase items to raise additional funds.

The following weekend, once everything was washed, organized, and re-loaded into our car, we made the short trek to the shelter, giving my father ample time to explain to me the economic disparity that existed not only throughout New York, but, more broadly, across the entire country. Most importantly, he stressed the countless opportunities that existed to complete simple acts such as the one we were, in order to help those who were less fortunate than us. 

Upon our arrival at the shelter, we were greeted by several of the residents, who immediately insisted on carrying the bags to the appropriate inventory room, then escorting us to the manager’s office. My father had some ideas that he wanted to share; ways in which we could increase the frequency of drop-offs in addition to the amount in each delivery. 

One such method discussed (which subsequently had the greatest response rate), was to place an ad in the local weekly circular offering free pick-up of men’s clothing, along with our contact information. No sooner had we placed the ad that the phone began to ring. The feedback we received was overwhelming. With each pick-up, donors expressed heartfelt gratitude, knowing that their unwanted clothing was being hand-delivered to those most in need.

My father and I maintained this system well into my late teens, until I left home to pursue my undergraduate degree out of state. I’d like to think that this particular shared experience from my youth laid the foundation for so many others thereafter. 

Robert Kiyosaki, author of the best-seller Rich Dad Poor Dad posted this passage on his webpage a few years ago, asking readers to give some consideration to the following: “This Thanksgiving and throughout the holidays, I encourage you to sit down, reflect, and determine where you are simply “being” thankful versus where you are “doing” thankful. What you find out may surprise you.”

Dave Davis

Dave Davis teaches preschool for the Head Start program based at the Children’s Museum of the East End in Bridgehampton, NY. He is also a frequent contributor to “Who Smarted?,” a popular educational podcast for elementary school children.

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