I vividly remember the first time I understood the concept of “giving back.” It was the summer before high school, and I volunteered at summer camps at an elementary school in East Austin. The camps were for fourth and fifth grade students who were already on the road to dropping out of school. They shared stories of their parents going to jail, extreme poverty, and devastating health problems. These 10 and 11 year old kids had already experienced more pain than I even have today.

At the time, I became enamored with creating an immediate fix. The kids had never used a camera—so I taught them how to use a camera. They had never been hiking—so I took them hiking. It was only later that I truly grasped the impact that those camps and similar programs have. Since then, I have been dedicated (maybe even obsessed) with trying to achieve large, systemic change to fix social problems—to the point of ignoring the everyday, immediate opportunities to make a difference.

So, in the past, I would turn up my nose at the Petsmart cashier when she asked if I’d like to give a dollar to help homeless pets, just as I would run past the Greenpeace volunteers, saying I had no time to spare for the environment.

Like so many other things, Ru has taught me to think differently about generosity. The other day, an elderly man approached us about fixing a crack in our retaining wall—a task that Ru can easily do for about $4 and 15 minutes. When Ru saw that the man was there with his family, encouraging his teenage grandsons to develop their work ethic instead of bum around with their friends, Ru agreed to hiring them—for $150! To me, this was outrageous. But really, it was generous.

It made me realize that sometimes the best way to give back isn’t the big, long-term solution. Most of the time, it’s the small things that end up having a huge impact on a person and their family.

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