One of the most positive byproducts of the past year’s political turmoil has been the overwhelming wave of attention regarding those who cannot advocate for themselves. This reinvigorated sense of activism is palpable, and taking many different forms across the country, leaving many to wonder how to pick a group to support.
Like Dorothy in the Wizard of Oz, the answer may be no further away than your own backyard.
What groups have helped you in your life?
Who from your hometown can benefit from what you have to offer?
Two people I recently met through the YMCA of Greater Boston are great examples of this.
The first is Michael L. Bivins, who received BET’s Lifetime Achievement Award on Sunday for founding the popular R&B groups New Edition and its spinoff group Bell Biv Devoe, best known for their 1990 hit Poison.
Bivins grew up in Boston’s Roxbury neighborhood, and still lives in the area today. He is reaching out to his old neighborhood by sponsoring the Roxbury YMCA’s Michael L. Bivins Get Summer Scholarship, which offers 700 free summer memberships for teens who can’t afford the membership fee. The gift is fitting, since Bivins spent part of his youth playing basketball at the Roxbury YMCA. It was there, Bivins said, that he found both friends and mentors – relationships that took hold on and off the court.
The YMCA staff who hopped into their pickup games soon guided Bivins and his friends to the after school programs, which furthered their leadership and developmental skills. “They always found a reason to keep us there, to keep us engaged in a place where we’d be safe during the day,” Bivins said. “It made sense for me to give teens today that same gift – somewhere positive to go that will keep them off the streets.”
Bivins is a shining example of how the best way a successful person can thank those who helped them along the way is to help someone else.
The second is someone I met last week at the YMCA’s 50-Year Member Luncheon. Retired U.S. Colonel Gerard (Gerry) Lozeau isn’t famous, but he is proof of how homegrown investment doesn’t take the form of stereotypical volunteer opportunities.
Lozeau is a man who grew up going to the YMCA. Now 50 years later, he is paying it forward. Lozeau has been a mentor to Stone Montgomery at the Huntington Avenue YMCA for nearly 20 years. Montgomery hasn’t enjoyed the same success as Lozeau in his life, but the two share a love of handball. Although they are in their 70’s, Lozeau takes Montgomery out to eat once a month, in addition to seeing him at the YMCA twice a week. As an educational consultant, Lozeau helped Montgomery find, prepare for, and secure job interviews along the way.
“Did he tell you he’s my biggest fan?” asks Montgomery when Lozeau introduces us.
Bivins’ and Lozeau’s charitable acts look starkly different, but have two common threads. Both started with an existing nonprofit who helped them, and used their success to help others through the same organization.
So when thinking about what charity to support, look at your own life and people who have made a difference to you. Then ask yourself, what can I do – that will have that same impact? Look around your neighborhood and find out.