When I was 10 years old, a 7-year-old boy named Rayshaun spent the summer at our home through the Fresh Air Fund.
The Fresh Air Fund allows children from New York City’s low-income communities to enjoy summer experiences in the countryside through visits with volunteer host families. Sean Combs, better known as “P Diddy,” recently revealed on “Jimmy Kimmel Live!” that he participated in the Fresh Air Fund as a child. In Lancaster, Pa., Diddy said, he milked cows, picked berries and got a chance to appreciate life outside of the hustle and bustle of the city.
“It really teaches you how to just relate with each other,” he said.
The first summer Rayshaun spent with my family, he had never played in grass before, and he thought the floor was more comfortable than a bed. Through the next several years, he learned to swim, fish, play baseball, hit a golf ball but, most importantly, be a kid. We would spend our summers making new memories together, working on reading and writing skills, as well as just sharing a stable family environment. Rayshaun is now 22 years old, a college graduate and an important member of our family.
Recently, I attended the opening retreat for Leadership Harrisburg Area Class of 2019.
During the retreat, we discussed servant leadership, color-code personality assessments, community service and nonprofits in our area. We also talked about our region as a whole by reviewing county information from the U.S. Census Bureau’s 2012-16 “American Community Survey” five-year estimates.
Even though I grew up in this area, seeing some of the statistics still shocked me. As I mentioned, my family was involved with the Fresh Air Fund, which helps children in New York City. However, when you look at the statistics, the poverty rate is lower in New York City than in Harrisburg. In New York, 20.3 percent of people live in poverty, while poverty affects 31.7 percent of people in Harrisburg. Also, 36.2 percent of New York residents over the age of 25 have a bachelor’s degree or higher, which is double the education level of Harrisburg residents.
Helping children and communities anywhere is important, and we loved our experience with the Fresh Air Fund, but what about places right outside of our own windows?
Research shows that, while over 90 percent of us want to volunteer, only 1 out of 4 Americans actually do. Studies also show that children whose parents volunteer were significantly more likely to do so themselves. From my personal experience, I have valued volunteering because my parents wove it into our lives. They never directly said, “You have to volunteer.” But watching them live with the desire to help others was very influential in my life.
We have all heard the excuses before: “I’m not sure how to get involved,” or, “I don’t have the time.”
My advice would be to just start here now. My employer, Gunn-Mowery, LLC, has an “Upside of Giving” committee. In the past few months alone, we have donated shoes to a local school, spent a day organizing clothes at Dress for Success, painted rooms at the Methodist Home for Children, volunteered at the Special Olympics, painted faces at the Girls on the Run 5K and cooked a meal at the Ronald McDonald house. Those are just a few examples of volunteer opportunities, and there are so many others.
My late grandfather, Sen. Hal Mowery, was a state leader, well-respected businessman, diligent advocate for children, education, healthcare and business and an exemplary, community-minded citizen. He often used the quote from Margaret Mead, “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has.”
I urge you to go alone, get your friends together or assemble a small group from work. Even better, make it a family outing and expose your children to volunteerism at a young age. Just as a simple action has the ability to alter society, a single volunteer can help improve our community. Start here now.
Jamie Mowery Lewis is a marketing executive for Gunn-Mowery, LLC, a community publisher for TheBurg.