Paying It Forward

August 27, 2018

By Sally Yu, VPP 2018 Intern

Author Sally Yu and her mentor, Jimmy Lynn, at her high school graduation

Winston Churchill said, “We make a living by what we get, but we make a life by what we give.” This quote hits a homerun for me. It plays such a significant role in what I aim to do for my community. We work for the things we want in life but by giving what we have, we’re giving a bigger meaning to what life should be. By giving, we create satisfaction and contentment for others—but those who give also find satisfaction.

My long-time mentor, Jimmy Lynn has always pushed me to understand what “paying it forward” means and the significance

Sally performing at an Asian American LEAD event

behind it. Essentially, it’s when someone helps you – and then you, in turn, help someone else as a way of giving back. When I was young I participated in a program run by Asian American LEAD, a nonprofit in Washington, D.C. that focuses on helping children from immigrant and low-income families on their education and provides guidance for college. Back in 2002, Venture Philanthropy Partners (VPP) invested in AALEAD to help the organization strengthen its program and increase the benefits for underserved children.

Jimmy was a long-time board member of AALEAD and has always been very kind to me and my family. We made a very strong connection during my time at AALEAD. Ever since then, Jimmy has not only been my mentor; but he has also become a father-figure in my life. He always gives great advice on every aspect of life, teaching me many life lessons, and being supportive in every way. Not only that, he also made a generous offer to help fund my college tuition, as well as my brother’s. Now imagine meeting someone for a couple times and being given such news.

Growing up, my family and I always worried about paying for college. Coming from an immigrant and low-income family, it was never easy knowing that my parents left everything in their home country to come to the United States for better opportunities for me and my brother. When my mother asked why someone would want to help an immigrant family from China, he explained that he was “paying it forward” – repaying a good deed by doing something good for others.

Sally and her brother, Dazhi, surprising Jimmy on his birthday

With support and guidance from Jimmy, I realized the importance of giving back to the community. Throughout my high school career I served over 200 hours of community service. Some of my activities included volunteering at an elementary school, a gala theater and Howard University’s business school. Now, as a student at the University of Maryland, my internship at VPP also gives me the opportunity to give back to the community, while gaining valuable work experience. It allows me to help solve and strategize about what can be improved to better the lives of young people.

My journey with Jimmy has been a blessing because he has put my brother and me on the right path to success. I believe that being well-connected is such an important aspect to have in life. Jimmy is a well-connected man and through him, I was able to meet many successful people ranging from doctors, business owners, actors and more.

These connections led me to an internship with VPP, a nonprofit that seeks to build strong organizations to help improve the lives of the youth in Greater Washington. As an intern at VPP, I have gained insights on what a philanthropic organization does and how it gives back to the community. Through discussions with some of the team members at VPP, I have learned that everyone has their own different connection to the community. Sterlind Burke, a Ready for Work In-School Director, directly interacts with students and participates in a school environment, while other members strategize and provide ways to improve the community.

Sure enough, VPP’s summer interns have also had several experiences with the concepts of paying it forward, varying from providing for the next generation to helping elders through different programs. One intern, Cam Wiley, has experienced serving the community because of his dad. Through his own father, Cam learned to live by the term “paying it forward.” Cam has participated in many mentorship programs that have impacted youth and continues to do so.

Jimmy has been a father figure for over half my life and I know he will always be one of my biggest supporters. To me, paying it forward means helping the next generation. I have not only experienced this myself, but know that Jimmy also had a mentor who helped and guided his way: Ted Leonsis was a long-time mentor to Jimmy, who came from a Greek immigrant family living in Brooklyn. A wonderful Jesuit priest, Father Durkin, mentored Mr. Leonsis, creating a legacy of paying it forward. Mentoring isn’t just about helping one another but guiding them on to the right path and passing on the tradition to the younger generation.

Ever since joining AALEAD, meeting Jimmy, and interning for VPP, my life has always been about paying it forward, whether it’s helping others or others helping me. With the experiences that I have achieved in life, I will always live by the phrase paying it forward. As life continues, I hope to serve the community more by engaging with younger generations in any way possible to lead them onto a path of success—and I hope that others will do the same.

Jimmy, Sally and Dazhi