THE BLOG
06/20/2013 03:26 pm ET Updated Aug 20, 2013

"How Can I Help?" The Sam Beard Question

My friend, the multi-Emmy-winning journalist Giselle Fernandez, told me she wanted to connect me with someone that was interested in the way my organization executes our mission - especially with youth. I agreed because Giselle has a knack for connecting people with productive outcomes. In addition, I always consider it a privilege that someone wants to meet with me, even telemarketers. She mentioned his name and it didn't ring a bell but when I called, the man on the phone's voice projected an engaging-warmth garnished with the energetic timbre of a true community activist spirit. He mentioned he had his own awards program and wanted to see if there were any synergies because he loved what we were doing with youth through our Latinos On Fast Track (LOFT) program and of course our Hispanic Heritage Awards at the Kennedy Center.

It was a very busy day so I didn't have time to research him although I had heard of the Jefferson Awards, which is the organization he was representing. So we set up a quick meeting at my office.

When I met Sam Beard, I was shocked to find a man whose energy, curiosity and willingness to challenge status quo bellied his stature and mature age. As he continued to pepper me with questions about my personal journey, commitment to service and unique approach to moving the Latino community and America forward, I tried to ask him about the Jefferson Awards or his own personal journey.

"Ah, I'm not here to talk about me, I already know all I need to know about me. I want to know about you!" and with that scribbled on a notepad incessantly as I rambled on and on.

After an hour, I became self-conscious and uncomfortable monopolizing the conversation. "Please Sam, I haven't had a change to Google you so can you tell me about your involvement with the Jefferson Awards and a bit about yourself on a personal level?"

He paused and began to describe the beginnings of the Jefferson Awards in 1972 as an American version of the Nobel Prize for community service. I asked who founded the awards and he described in a perfunctory manner a conversation about creating the new awards with a co-founder named "Jackie." So I asked a question you ask as a Washingtonian, Jackie who? "Well at that time she was Jackie Onassis ..." (Jackie O!)

And then he stopped talking about the history and turned his focus on the Jefferson Awards youth-related programs how we can work together. His vision was palpable. His enthusiasm was contagious. His questions were challenging. His respect for the work of my organization was gracious. It was as if I was having a meeting with a young promising leader with a great future - except I was talking to the founder of the venerable Jefferson Awards who has accomplished more than I could possibly fantasize about accomplishing in several lifetimes.

At the end of our time together, which I wish could have lasted all day, Sam looked at me with a very serious tone asked the most profound question you can ask another nonprofit leader, "How can I help you?" Usually the question I'm asked is how I can help the person asking the question.

Since then, Sam has been a source of inspiration, energy and problem-solving for me as a leader.

And by the way, I Googled him as he left my office and found out Sam has been involved in other efforts beyond the Jefferson Awards, which have honored top leaders in American history. According to his biography:

Sam has initiated and chaired programs for each of the seven Presidents of the United States: Nixon, Ford, Carter, Reagan, Bush, Clinton and Bush including the National Development Council (NDC). "In 1965, I was thrilled when Senator Robert Kennedy called and asked if I would work with him in Bedford-Stuyvesant's low-income revitalization. After the Senator's assassination, I started the National Development Council in my apartment in 1969. I wasn't smart enough to know you needed money." Since then, NDC has initiated and executed four Presidential job-creation programs for Presidents Nixon, Ford, Carter and Reagan. Sam's efforts through NDC have been responsible for over $100 billion of revitalization financing and creating over 1 million jobs.

In the early 90s working with President George P. Bush, Sam was a driving force creating the President's Youth Service Awards to attract thousands of young Americans into service. Later on in the early 2000's with the recommendations of Sam, President George W. Bush created the Presidential Service Awards. President George W. Bush then appointed Sam to be a member of the President's Social Security Reform Commission.

In 2006, Sam founded the non-profit, GIFT, the Global Investment Foundation for Tomorrow - which seeks to encourage individuals, non-profits, and corporations to use the power of compound interest to double charity around the world.

(There was more but I'm running out of space for this post.)

After researching this humble servant leader, I better understood his poignant question to me at the end of our meeting "How can I help you?"

Sam Beard has made a career out of asking that question.

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