Paying it forward in Columbus — and making a difference

kedgerson@ledger- enquirer.comMay 23, 2010 

Just living your life will never mean much if you do nothing to help someone else.

That’s been my mission since the day I was matched up with Mrs. Washington through a volunteer program in Missouri. At the time, I had no clue what effect she would have on my life — until she showed me.

Mrs. Washington was the one who took me to amusement parks, the movies and the mall; the one who raised questions about my future when I didn’t even care about goals; and the one who was there for me when I felt like no one else was.

The impact Mrs. Washington left on my heart during the more than five years she was predominately present is unforgettable. And the bond we created is unbreakable.

After more than eight years and now living on my own, the things she taught me as a teenager helped me realize what I wanted to do as an adult — join a volunteer program so I could do for others what she did for me.

During my teen and college years, I served as a volunteer through many organizations. My busy lifestyle, however, didn’t allow me to give back to the community as I wished.

That was until I met Ben Holden, former vice president and executive editor of the Ledger-Enquirer, during an interview for a position at the newspaper. We discussed the job, of course, before somehow drifting off to what other things I wanted to do within the community if I was offered the job. He then told me about a program he was trying to start for underprivileged children.

The program, now named the Columbus Scholars, promises financial resources for college to children who successfully complete the program. I later told him I would love to be a volunteer and mentor to one of the children.

Columbus Scholars, which is partnered with Big Brothers and Big Sisters of the Chattahoochee Valley, picked its first class of seven fifth-graders in December 2009. I was named a mentor to Rawlanda Hercules of Clubview Elementary. We do many things together, whether the task is educational or just plain fun. I’m determined to play a pivotal role in Rawlanda’s life while helping guide her into her future.

Serving as a volunteer in the program has also helped me meet prominent members in the community.

Members of the council are Holden; Emmett Moore, director of Big Brothers Big Sisters; Patty Taylor, owner of the Academy of Fine Arts Dance Center; Stephen Butler, chairman of the W.C. Bradley Company; Betsy Covington, director of the Community Foundation of Columbus; Susan Andrews, superintendent of the Muscogee County School District; real estate agent Karl Douglass; Community volunteer Lauren Mescon; Valerie Canepa, president and publisher of the Ledger-Enquirer; and attorneys Ken Henson, Tripp Tomlinson and Jorge Vega.

We meet once a month with the scholars to offer educational tips and guidance that will help them stay on track on the road to success.

I urge everyone, whether you are new to the community or a native, to find a way to give back. And you don’t have to just become a mentor. You can also coach a Little League team, feed the homeless or tutor children.

Believe me, the smallest acts of kindness can leave the biggest imprints on someone’s life.

“Everyone can be great because anyone can serve,” the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. once said. “You don’t have to have a college degree to serve. You don’t even have to make your subject and your verb agree to serve. ... You only need a heart full of grace; a soul generated by love.”

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