Recently, social scientists have carried out experiments that demonstrate how acts of kindness can have a domino effect, rippling through social networks and triggering similar generous deeds that extend far beyond that original act.
That’s something that ORIX Staff Accountant Andrew McAllister thinks about, and it’s this kind of mindset that leads him to volunteer with organizations such as The Rise School in Dallas.
Based out of the Moody Family YMCA at the Park Cities, the Rise School provides occupational, physical, speech and music therapy services to children with developmental delays such as Down syndrome. The idea is to give the children a jump start to a productive life, since research has revealed that 85 percent of a child’s cognitive and language development occurs by the age of 6.
From Monday through Friday, the Rise School serves about 60 children—ages 6 months to 6 years—each day in classes comprised of 10 children at most, with a child/instructor ratio of 3:1. What sets the program apart? While two-thirds of the children have a developmental disability, the rest of the kids are typically developing children. The result: extraordinary achievement on the part of all the children.
Andrew says his wife, Lauren, who is a teacher at the Rise School, talks a lot about the benefits to how the classes are comprised. “For the kids who are considered typically developing, they know how to relate to people who are different than them,” Andrew says. “It’s nice for the kids who have disabilities, too, because they’re learning how to relate to people who don’t have disabilities.”
And the numbers back up the Rise School’s success: Since its inception, the Rise School has graduated over 150 children from their program, and Andrew is involved in a lot of different activities—from reading to the students and helping them eat to assisting with field trips and at fundraisers. Each April, the Rise School hosts a family fun run—complete with bounce houses, face painting, a petting zoo and more—and is always looking for volunteers to help out at the event. Monetary donations are always put to good use as well, since 60 percent of funding for the Rise School comes from fundraising.
Ask Andrew what he likes the most about volunteering with the Rise School, and he’ll tell you about the everyday interactions with the kids. “You go in, and the kids don’t know who you are, but they’re so nice and so happy to see you,” Andrew says. “They have no judgment bone in their body.”
There’s no doubt the kids appreciate the time Andrew puts in—just ask Maude Pampel, director of the Rise School. “For every event he’s at, Andrew shows up early and stays late,” Maude says. “He’ll even show up and have lunch with the kids, which goes a long way since having special guests always makes the children feel special.”
Outside of time spent at the Rise School, you might find Andrew playing ultimate Frisbee or basketball—or hiking a 14,000-foot mountain while he visits his family in Colorado. And his experiences with the Rise School has helped him put things in perspective.
“Everyone has their own set of skills and abilities, and now I can see more clearly how everyone contributes to society in their own special way,” Andrew says. “The children I’ve met through the Rise School just love people—they don’t care about your appearance or how you act. Their love of life is contagious.”
“The simple things in life—things that many of us tend to take for granted—make a big deal to them,” Michele says. Often, she would hand over her camera to the children and get it back later in the day after they’d filled it with images of themselves, chickens and bunnies.
It’s experiences like this that led Michele to join Rotary, the largest service-based organization in the world. When she attended the group’s international convention years ago for the first time as a guest to her friends, she thought it’d be a great opportunity to explore some parks with them they’d planned on visiting after the convention. Instead, she was blown away by all that Rotary was accomplishing throughout the world, and she was hooked. She became a member in 2008, and Rotary has been a constant in her life ever since.
“Rotary filled a void I had in my life,” Michele says. “I think a lot of people are looking for something they feel they can give back to.”
And the numbers back up her sentiment: Today, Rotary is made up of 1.2 million members scattered around about 33,000 clubs located in some 200 countries. The goal of each Rotary club is to bring together dedicated individuals to exchange ideas, build relationships and take action. One cause the organization rallies behind is their quest to end polio. Since beginning a project in 1979 aimed at vaccinating 6 million children in the Philippines, Rotary—along with its partners—has reduced polio cases by 99.9 percent worldwide.
And it’s not just worldwide issues that a local Rotary club will tackle. Anything that each club’s members are passionate about, from a local or international perspective, the club will see how its members can help. “If you have something meaningful to you, Rotary is a great way to get people to help you do whatever you want to do,” Michele says.
Short North Rotary, Michele’s local club in Columbus, bills itself as being “not your grandfather’s rotary.” The club is what their current president, Terry Traxler, considers the new age of rotary. Rather than weekly meetings, Short North Rotary members meet only twice a month and partake in one social event and one service project each month. “We don’t believe in attendance—we believe in community engagement,” Terry says.
Formerly the president of Short North Rotary, Michele and her fellow members recently served food at a homeless shelter and regularly visit the local Ronald McDonald House in Columbus—the country’s largest—to engage with the children and help with things like making ornaments and decorating for the holidays. The group is always open to donations—things like art supplies and clothing go a long way, and monetary donations are put to great use to help with local and international projects.
On a recent visit to the Ronald McDonald house, Terry remembers talking to the mother of a 19-month-old, who had just had his third open heart surgery. “It puts things in perspective of how good you really have it when you’re able to participate in things like this,” Terry says.
And the impact that Michele makes in particular can’t be overlooked. “She takes initiative,” Terry says. “There’s no doubt, anything I need her to do, she figures out the best way to make it happen.”
That same initiative has carried her far in other aspects of life as well. She’s played a key role at RED Capital Group since December 1999. Hailing from Pittsburgh, Michele moved to attend college at Ohio State and saw more job opportunity in Ohio at the time than Pittsburgh, so she stayed put. These days, you can find her cheering on her Ohio State Buckeyes.
“It’s necessary sometimes to step outside of your own bubble,” Michele says. “I’m lucky enough to have a roof over my head, clothes and food, but so many people in this world are not blessed with all of that. I’m the type that likes to get my hands dirty, because if you can see the interaction with the people you’re helping, it goes a long way.”