In 1993, I returned to the Baltimore area after spending seven years in Richmond, Va. Prior to moving to Richmond, while I was in Richmond, and then again when I returned to Maryland, I remained active in insurance professionals associations. My involvement in these associations led to a number of friendships and opportunities to get involved in the community.
Two individuals had an influence on my reasons for becoming involved in various charitable events. Brian Walsh was a good friend I tragically lost a couple of years ago. Brian was the president of what is now known as the Baltimore Chapter of the National Association of Insurance & Financial Advisors. This organization has been holding parties at local children's hospitals since 1939. Brian twisted my arm to become involved with these events in December 1993. As part of these events, we would purchase and collect toys and other items to wrap and distribute to children in the hospital during the holidays. We initially held events at Johns Hopkins Hospital, University of Maryland Medical Center, Mt. Washington Pediatric Hospital and Sinai Hospital. We would try to arrange for an Orioles or Ravens mascot — or cheerleaders — and Santa Claus to run around with us. Initially, I went to the hospitals to wrap the gifts and help distribute them. After a few years, I started accompanying a couple of other people to shop at a local toy store. We also drove around to different drop-off locations to pick up any toys or other donations.
Prior to my return to Baltimore, a group of insurance professionals had the vision to create the Greater Chesapeake Charitable Foundation, which holds a variety of charitable events. I joined the foundation in 2000 as a member of the board of directors, before becoming the secretary/treasurer in 2003, and eventually the president, a position I held for three and a half years. Most recently we held a book drive for Maryland Book Bank. Some of the beneficiaries of the foundation have been the Make-A-Wish Foundation, CoolKids Campaign, Ronald McDonald House, Chesapeake Habitat for Humanity, First Tee, Heroes Helping Heroes and most recently, Catch-A-Lift Foundation.
The second person who was a great influence in my life was my uncle John Guidera. Uncle John was a Jesuit priest in India for more than 60 years. In the early 1950s, a group of Jesuit priests were sent to India to build schools and other facilities for the poorest people of India's Jamshedpur province. The sacrifice and dedication it took for that group of men to start out living in tents and strugge to educate children was amazing.
When my uncle passed away in May 2013, I wanted to do something to honor his memory. He always spoke about how important it was to educate people so they could lift themselves out of less fortunate environments. Once educated and given the right opportunity, a person would be able to give it forward.
Knowing there was no way I would have the resources to develop an educational program, I began to think of the less fortunate who were struggling to find work. One of the hurdles such individuals face is trying to find the right clothing to make that important positive first impression in an interview. Then, if lucky enough to land that job, where would they find the right clothes to wear to work until they were stable financially?
The solution was easy. As the then-secretary/treasurer of the Greater Chesapeake Charitable Foundation, I pitched the idea of donating professional clothes to people in need. The foundation sent out a notice to insurance and financial professionals in the Baltimore region. The response was overwhelming, as we collected over 500 bags of men's and women's professional clothes. Then the challenge was finding organizations capable of taking those donations and getting them to people in need. That led us to Attire 4 Hire, Suited to Succeed and Maryland New Directions. House of Ruth also benefited from this event, because the other organizations simply could not handle the volume of clothes. I volunteered to pick up all donations from the various drop-off points in the Baltimore area.
This started a relationship with Maryland New Directions that I have continued ever since. Twice a year, I pick up more than 20 bags of women's clothing from Time & Again, a consignment shop in Timonium, and donate them to Maryland New Directions. The great staff at MND also asked me to participate in Connection Fridays. These weekly events allow MND's clients to interact with various people in the community and get suggestions on how to handle the interview process or search for employment. And, though I am the immediate past president of the charitable foundation, I will still be planning the hospital holiday parties for the next five years.
I believe it is important for people to become involved in their community. Not everything has to be about monetary donations. Giving your time is as important to many organizations as giving money. I know participating in the holiday parties and assisting Maryland New Directions has been very rewarding to me and I would encourage others to find the time to become involved.
The Volunteer Voices section highlights outstanding volunteers in the Baltimore County area. If you're a volunteer and are interested in submitting to the series, please email firstname.lastname@example.org.