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Nothing for nobody


Emily Purnell (Junior, featured center)

“If you wait till you can do everything for everybody, instead of something for somebody, you’ll end up doing nothing for nobody.”


This is a quote that has always resonated with me. Each time I read it, it always brings me back to reality and reminds me what is important. Ever since I was little, I had a passion for philanthropy, for giving back to the community around me. I was that kid who always tried to give her change to the homeless community of Baltimore around the baseball stadium. As I got older, I would donate money at church and always stop at lemonade stands in my neighborhood to donate to their causes. Then I got to high school and realized I could donate more than just my money, I could donate my time.


The summer after my sophomore year of high school, I attended my first ever “work camp” through my church. Work camp is a week that high school students spend in an underprivileged town working to help rebuild and repair homes as well as restore hope in the lives of the homeowners. We always said that if we didn’t make a single change on the house but got to really know and make a connection with the homeowner, that the week would have been successful. Of course, we always ended up completing as many repairs as we could, but this mantra we had always reminded us of what was really important that week: making an impact on a single person or a single family.


One year in particular stood out to me: the summer after my senior year of high school. I went into the week very anxious, as I had been chosen as the youth leader of my small group. I had my fingers crossed that we would be paired with a family that had a lot of little kids who I could play games with throughout the week. When we got our assignment, I’ll admit, I was a little disappointed as our group was placed with a single homeowner, but this single homeowner changed my life.


The first time I met our homeowner, I was a little nervous. In years past, our homeowners hadn’t really opened up to us or really wanted to have a connection with us. It was my last year doing work camp, so I had high hopes that this year would be different. Throughout the course of the week we built a new back deck, re-insulated the basement, fixed some plumbing, power washed the siding of the house, repaired parts of the walls and ceilings that had had water damage, changed out the outlets, and gave the living room a fresh coat of paint, but all of that could not compare to the time we were able to spend with our homeowner. She was a true godsend and immediately opened up to us, sharing her story and the difficulties she had had earlier on in her life and how her connection with God brought her through all the difficult times. Her faith was inspirational. Everyday, we would take a long lunch break, and sit in the street with her and eat our lunch and just talk. She would always make extra food for us as she loved to cook even though we brought lunch. We loved her, and to surprise her on the last day, we bought some green paint and painted an accent wall in her living room as she loved bright colors. We also all pitched in and bought a new welcome mat and a new toaster oven as hers had been through the works. As we were saying our goodbyes, she handed me an envelope that had a graduation card and money in it for me as she knew I had just graduated from high school, and I lost it. I couldn’t believe that someone who had so little could give so much to someone she had just met.


To this day, I still call this homeowner on the phone and talk to her. She always reminds me of what’s important in life and to stop stressing on the little things in life that don’t matter and to look at the bigger picture. I may not have made a huge impact on the world, but I was able to do something for somebody. I was able to give her home back to her and to help reignite her faith. And she impacted me. She has since been one of the biggest inspirations in my life, and I will never forget her for as long as I live.


So whether it’s your money you donate, your clothes, your toys, or your time, do something. Do something for somebody, no matter how little you think that something is. Do something for somebody, be something for somebody! You may never know to the full extent the impact that “something” has on somebody, and who knows, maybe that “something” will impact you too as it did for me. I have since dedicated the majority of my free time as a student to doing something for somebody whether it’s through Empower Orphans or the Penn State Dance Marathon. But if you wait till you can do everything for everybody, instead of something for somebody, you’ll end up doing nothing for nobody.