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 care about you, and I believe in you. It is such a privilege to contribute to the lives of the children at the Jim and Jan Moran Boys and Girls Club in Deerfield Beach, Florida, alongside so many dedicated people. 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 continued commitment to help enable all young people, especially those who need us most, to reach their full potential as productive, caring, and responsible citizens. To all the parents and guardians with us here tonight who believe in their children, thank you for everything you do to help us fulfill our shared mission.
As a child, I was fortunate. I never had to look for anyone. My mother and father were always present. I had teachers who taught and inspired me and friends and family who cared. Examples abound of how they shaped my life.
Many years ago, I worked in boot camps, jails, and prisons to help inmates 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 inmate social services, I thought about applying for the position, but I decided against it. I thought I was too young and lacked experience. I told my father I wasn’t applying for the job and without any hesitation, he asked, “Why not?” I couldn’t think of a legitimate answer. For every reason I offered, my father explained to me why I could do the job anyway. His question–“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 believe in you. I decided to apply for that job based entirely on my father’s confidence in me and I got it. During my time in that role, I worked with thousands of inmates helping them to improve their lives and make our communities safer.
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 and mentorship as he gave me. I want to be the hero for these children that my father has been for me. 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. 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 only impression I needed. I felt at home. For that warm welcome and for every warm welcome that followed, I want to thank Curtis, 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 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 sister who flew here from New York City to celebrate this occasion, my mother, friends, and Kevin, whose dad passed away when he was only 10 years old. Before his father 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. I promise to continue to be present in your life. We’ll keep making healthy food together, working on community service projects, practicing kindness, and I’ll continue to beat all of you in chess. I think you’re all so incredibly special, and I see greatness in your future.
I can’t think of a more noble pursuit than to find those in need and lift them up. We should measure our achievements in life not by what we own, but rather by what we give. If we all work on being kind to people and animals, we can make the world a more humane place. Why not?
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