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Simple Gifts

by Sue Gorman

February 8,2009

“For everywhere we look, there is work to be done.”
President Barack Obama inaugural address

Early in my professional life – when I had the desire for making a difference in my community, but not the financial means to do so – I set my mind on making a significant and meaningful difference in the life of just one other person by offering my talents in an area I was passionate about.

I received training in teaching illiterate adults how to read and before I knew it, I was assigned my first student. Henry was 78 years old and had attended school only through the 1st grade. He had a family, a driver’s license, and a job, but for all intents and purposes, he could not read a word. Henry was smart. He had made his way, he had raised his children and he was keen enough to know – as I witnessed at our first time together – that men of his age always put on reading classes when they sat down to read.

As strangers coming together on that first Saturday, we both had hopes and dreams that this could really work; after all I was not a teacher by profession and he had not found success in reading in 78 years. Yet by the end of first Saturday morning together, Henry was already beginning to read. He was hooked and so was I!

After a few Saturdays together, Henry trusted me enough to tell me, with tears in his eyes, that he had never expected that he would ever read. As much as he had wanted to, as much as he preferred to not have to admit to his own children, as much as he wanted to “know his own business without somebody else reading it,” Henry had never thought reading would be something he could do. Every Saturday morning for two years Henry and I got together and he read. It was a life changing experience for Henry. It was a life changing experience for me.

From that moment on, I realized that I could be the catalyst to make the difference in others simply by refocusing a bit of my time to make myself available to someone else in a purposeful and meaningful way. And it was done by simply using the talents that I already possessed.

As I reflect now, my “talent” for reading was not really that outstanding of a gift. It wasn’t a specialized skill and it did not relate to my professional training. My “talent” really was my willingness to give genuinely of myself and my ability to put someone else’s needs on my schedule ahead of my own for a couple hours every week.

It seems so simple, really. But what if that was just the point?

What if everyone took their most simple gift and turned it into something that could change the life of someone else? What if EACH of us purposefully found that one other person in our community for whom we could make a difference with the talents we already possess? They could be to help someone old or someone young, it doesn’t matter. There is that one someone out there who needs each of us for a gift of ourselves we can share.

Today, more than ever, there are people who need us. There is much work to be done.

In the past 20 years since I first worked with Henry, I have had the opportunity to consider my additional passions and consider other talents I may have for making a difference. This knowing “in my heart” about what I care about – and how I can use my gifts – has given me a keen sense of purpose and an unwavering desire to help in making a difference in the communities I have been blessed to be welcomed into. It is with pride that I engage in creating positive change in the lives of others.

Today it is not just enough to wish for change…in yourself, in others, in our community or country. We must bring change to action one person at a time, starting now, starting with you and me with the hands on, sharing of ourselves. There IS much work to be done.

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