A few months ago, I pulled up to the Boys and Girls Club and saw a young boy looking out a window into the parking lot. When I entered the club, I asked him what he was looking for and he replied, “I was looking for you.” Perhaps no words a child has ever spoken impacted me more than those five words: “I was looking for you.” All across this nation, our children are looking for someone — someone to say I’m proud of you, I love you, and I believe in you. It is one of the greatest privileges of my life to be given the opportunity to play a small role in the lives of the children at the Jim and Jan Moran Boys and Girls Club in Deerfield Beach, Florida. On behalf of these children and every child looking out a window for someone who believes in them, I accept this award with humility and gratitude and a lifetime commitment to continue to serve this cause. And to all the parents and guardians with us here tonight who believe in their children, thank you for everything you do.
As a child, I was very fortunate. I never had to look for anyone. My mother and father were always there for me. I had teachers who taught and inspired me and friends and family who cared. Many years ago, I was working in boot camps, jails, and prisons helping inmates to prepare for a better life upon their release. When I found out about a new job opening at a jail in Broward County as the Director of Social Services, I thought about applying for the position but I decided against it. I thought I was too young and lacked the requisite experience. I told my father I wasn’t applying for the job and without any hesitation, he asked, “Why not?” I couldn’t come up with a legitimate answer. For every reason I offered, my father explained to me why I could do the job anyway. Those two words: “Why not” and his unwavering belief in me have resonated in my life and impacted me as much as any words he has ever spoken. This is what it means to have someone to love you and believe in you. I decided to apply for that job and I got it.
My Dad is also the motivation for my volunteerism with children at the Special Olympics, the Children’s Home Society, Big Brothers/Big Sisters of Miami, and now at the Boys and Girls Club. I wanted to give these children as much love as he gave me. My father recently celebrated his birthday and I’m so honored to have him here with us tonight. Dad, please stand.
When I decided to volunteer at the Boys and Girls Club, I had planned on visiting several clubs. The only club I ever wound up visiting was the Jim and Jan Moran Boys and Girls Club. And here’s why. I arrived at the club unannounced. I was greeted at the door by Jameel Smith. He was smiling and friendly. I told him I didn’t want to trouble him but he insisted on taking me for a tour. As he introduced me to everyone and we walked through the building, I saw children respecting adults, enthusiastically working on art projects, learning sportsmanship, teamwork, and leadership skills, completing homework, and having fun. Everyone I met — from the club’s remarkable Director Curtis Schoffner, to Sean in the gym, and Barbara in the art room, I could see the passion these people have for nurturing children. My mind was made up. The Jim and Jan Moran Club was for me. The first impression was the last impression I needed to see. I was home. For that warm welcome and for every warm welcome that followed, I want to thank Curtis Schoffner, Jameel, Sean, Marsha, Adriana, Mike, Krista, Ranel, Dennis, Natalie, Cindy, Whitney, Eddie, Jessica, Joe, and all of the other staff at the club for making my experience so fulfilling and enjoyable. I have endless admiration for the work you do. You are all my heroes.
Thank you to the late Jim Moran for his generosity, Mrs. Moran, the Boys and Girls Club Board of Directors, the always supportive Broward County Volunteer Coordinator Nicole Reed, all of the volunteers, my loving sister who flew here from New York City to celebrate this occasion, my dear mother, friends, and Kevin, whose dad passed away when he was only 10 years old. Before his Dad died, I promised him I would look after his son. Kevin’s father wrote him a birthday card for every birthday until he graduated high school so Kevin would know that he was proud. The cards are finished now but the memories live on and seven years later, Kevin is volunteering with me at the Boys and Girls Club, hosting school events to serve interests greater than his own self-interest, and preparing for his freshman year of college at the University of Florida in a few months. Kevin, I’m so proud of you. Most of all, I want to thank the children at the club who bring so much happiness to my life. Thank you for this award. It feels good to be appreciated but it feels even better to give and you have my commitment that’s what I’ll continue to do. No matter how bad our fortunes, there are always those less fortunate than us. We must find them and lift them up. Measure our achievements in life not by what we get but rather by what we give. Show mercy for the most vulnerable among us. Live a meaningful life. Be kind to people and animals – all of them. Together we can make the world a more humane place. Why not?
Click here to learn how to volunteer at a Boys and Girls Club near you.