Good day, team.
A few weeks ago, Portland lost one of its leading citizens: Harold Schnitzer. This man, along with his wife Arlene, impacted our city in so many positive ways that I couldn’t possibly list them all. They have funded the arts, our medical community and our schools. They have served on boards, helped organize charitable events and made huge efforts through their philanthropic foundation to important causes.
Harold was a humble man who was an extremely successful businessman. He had a strong set of values centered on the idea that people who are fortunate should give back to their communities. Herein lies this week’s challenge. How do we serve others? What are we doing to help support our communities, our team members and our social structures?
When I first moved to Portland in 1998, I met Harold Schnitzer on an airplane. He was with his son Jordan and some business associates. We were flying from Sacramento to Portland, and our flight was unable to land in the deep layer of fog that had descended over Portland. We were rerouted to Tacoma where they would put us on a bigger airplane that could land in such weather. All of this took awhile and everyone in the group was not too happy — except Harold. He took it all in stride. In fact, I think he took a nap on the Portland to Tacoma leg, while everyone else in his group fussed and complained about airline inefficiencies.
When we landed in Tacoma, we were told that our new airplane was being prepared and we would probably be flying out in another hour. As we deplaned, Harold could see that I was alone and asked if I would like to join them for a burger. Having not had dinner, I was glad for the invite. We began to talk, and I soon learned that Harold and my father had both gone to MIT and were actually there at the same time. We chatted like old friends, and I thought, what a lovely man. Of course, having only lived in Portland a few months, I had no idea who the Schnitzers were or what they meant to Portland.
At one point, when Harold went to buy a magazine, one of his business associates pulled me aside and said, “Do you know who these people are? I mean, they are the Schnitzers!” To which I replied, “Oh, you mean like Schnizerdoodle?” Little did I know that Harold and Jordan had overheard my comment and laughed and laughed. I realized that Harold thought it was great that I didn’t know who they were. I was treating them like normal people, which was exactly what Harold liked. For all the work he did to support the community and for all the fortune he had made, Harold Schnitzer knew that he was a human being like anyone else. He knew that having a lot of money didn’t make him special. When I asked him naively if he knew of any volunteer work I might be able to do in Portland, he chuckled and said, “I might be able to think of something that would be good for you.”
It was Harold who suggested that I read for SMART, a volunteer reading program that gives you the opportunity to read to young children once a week during the school year. Honestly, that program saved my emotional life. At a time when I was starting over and needed more love in my life, the SMART program allowed me to receive the unconditional love of some wonderful children. For the next four years, I reveled in that.
This is the kind of impact that Harold had on our community. And, now that he is no longer here, it occurs to me that it is up to us to follow in his footsteps. We may not have a fortune to spend or a philanthropic organization to fund major projects, but each of us can do one small thing to make a difference in our communities.
This week, look to see if you have included ways to give back in your life. Perhaps you can spend a day working at a local food bank or sign up to be a big brother or sister. You could volunteer at a local community center, hospital or care center. I have one client who volunteers at a hospice center once a week, and my mother-in-law still works as a volunteer at the front desk of one of our hospitals. She’s been there 15 years and, at the age of 90, still goes to work a few days a week to give back. She is one of my heroes.
Whatever it is, find ways to give back. We all have such abundance, and so many people are not as fortunate. One small act of kindness can change not just their lives but your own.
As Harold said, “I feel we each have a mission in life, so to speak. Decide what you want to do to help others, and if you’re fortunate like we have been, move ahead and do it. I’m very pleased with what we have done. I feel that’s what we’re here to do.”
Have a good week!
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