In life, I feel like there are moments that smack you in the face and give you the opportunity to be the person you actually want to be.
Ten years ago I had one of those moments.
In the summer of 2005, both my family and my cousin’s family both moved to Las Vegas.
For us, my father had taken a new job in the company and that meant moving to Las Vegas. I was of course against it. I had spent five years fooling a handful of people that I was worth being friends with. I had just tried out for a dance company. Instead of the life I thought I’d have, I was shoved headfirst into starting high school in a new state with zero friends. I was resentful, angry, didn’t understand why we had to go?
The same summer, 10 years ago, Hurricane Katrina ripped through New Orleans on August 29. 140 mile per hour winds stretched across 400 miles. The storm was horrifically damaging – and then levees broke. It was catastrophic, causing more than $100 billion in damage. That was the reason my cousins had to move to Las Vegas. It wasn’t just moving schools that they were worried about. It was everything they’d held dear ripped away in a second. That’s why they had to go.
When I thought about charity, I think about this duality. I think about how charity helped my cousins begin to make a new life and come out the other side. I also think about how easy it is to become ungrateful, involved in the things you need and want and can’t have and do have but they are already two gens out of date and you want a new one.
Do I want to be here to collect things for myself or to do things for others?
So when I think about what I do for others, or try to, I really think about the lucky happenstance that brought me to this job. How did I get here? It’s pretty simple – and luckily it begins with family.
- My father taught me the value of changing a pet’s life
The first time I met a beautiful black lab named Georgie, she didn’t have a name, and I didn’t have a clue. I was frightened, frankly. My family moved so much that we hadn’t gotten another pet since my father’s Doberman Friday died, so when Georgie stood up on her hind legs, she grew to match my diminutive seventh grade height easily.
I ran up the stairs, hearing her run behind. I figured under the bed would be the best place to hide. Then, I saw her eyes. I heard her panting. I felt her lick the side of my face and kiss me. I petted her and she nuzzled me, and I knew I was in love.
So when I saw the opportunity to work in animal welfare, I knew I identified with it.
- My sister taught me that work in nonprofits was attainable
My sister is about three and a half years older than me, and since I’m the baby of the family, I made it my life’s mission to annoy her. But it was mostly because I wanted to be cool like her so badly when I was a kid – and I can’t say that that want has changed as an adult.
She sold me on going to the University of Arizona with her own pursuit of a degree there and by working at the American Red Cross and the Girl Scouts, she showed me a path toward companies that do things for their communities.
My sister taught me that at any age, you can dedicate your time and efforts to helping, even if you are young and green and probably still need some help yourself.
- My mother taught me the rewards of helping others.
My mom has always been an incredible artist. She’s had some exhibitions in local Phoenix galleries, even in a couple bookstores, and was really making a name for herself in Arizona when we made the aforementioned move to Vegas.
But instead of letting it fall by the wayside, instead she began to volunteer, doing art therapy with the seniors at a care center down the street from our new home.
The center was so impressed by how these people with dementia and Alzheimer’s came to life when she was there that they begged her to work there full-time, a job she’s had for a decade and loves with all of her heart.
When I started volunteering and working beside her in high school, having people pull me aside to tell me how much my mother meant to them, well that let me know that doing something for others pays you back dividends, even if they aren’t monetary.
So when I ruminate on the topic of doing things for others: I think of my father, my sister, my mother; I think of my cousins coming to Las Vegas; I think of all the great stories I get to tell every day, and I think, what I am doing to help pets and the people who care for them is important.
But I also think, man, I’m so lucky that Ralph Waldo Emerson was right: “It is one of the beautiful compensations of life that no man can sincerely try to help another without helping himself.”
I’m lucky I get to do that every day.