When I finally hit babysitting age, I had big dreams for the wads of cash I’d soon stuff into my faded jean pockets. Topping my list – my very own record albums. I’d had enough of Elton John to last a lifetime (sorry, Elton). Unfortunately, my older sister had not. For months, he sang me to sleep night after night. What kind of name is Levon, anyway?

I was ready to make it big in the babysitting world, but Dad had other plans. He told me his friend needed a babysitter for his bratty (my word, not Dad’s) five-year-old daughter, and he’d suggested me. Okay, I could make that work. KC and the Sunshine Band’s That’s the Way I Like it spun inside my head. But then I heard something else, something even louder. “And you’ll do it for free,” he said. Excuse, me? “It’s the right thing to do,” he added. “They need the help.” About the length of time it takes for Elton to sing Benny and the Jets, I learned that my onetime babysitting for free gig had morphed into a weekly chore. I resented it and my dad.

Dad passed away two months before I graduated from high school. I never thanked him for the valuable lesson on volunteerism and the importance of helping others. Back then, I still hadn’t fully grasped my father’s teachings.

Guess what my daughter did when she reached babysitting age? That’s right. She watched our youth pastor’s children every Sunday night for free. It seemed only fitting.

Since those days, volunteering has played a huge role in my life, shaping me into the person I am today. For 11 years, I worked at a non profit senior center where I oversaw a huge fundraiser every summer. And every summer, my family traveled to Wisconsin to help. They slept on air mattresses scattered across my floor, woke up early, worked hard, and served others. Why did they show up year after year to work for no pay? Because it’s the right thing to do.

Thanks, Dad.