It's World Kindness Day! As a child, Schellman's Hiren Desai was deeply influenced by his trips to India. At an early age, his grandfather instilled in him important values on how to treat those less fortunate: give back, don't look down on anyone, and treat each other with respect. In 2015, he started a foundation to raise awareness and provide relief for NYC homeless. Read his story:
My name is Hiren Desai, and I’ve been a senior associate with Schellman for just under two years. I’m happy where I have landed in life, and I—like many people—credit profound experiences in my past that have paved the way to my fulfillment today.
"As we worked, he was consistently adamant that we should never look down on anyone, no matter their station in life."
When I was a child, my family and I often visited my grandfather in India. During those trips, he would take my brother and me to homeless shelters where we would all volunteer. As it’s not a typical activity on vacation, the concept of bringing food to a shelter and handing it out to strangers was odd to me—a child under the age of five—but my grandfather insisted every time, and I obliged. As we worked, he was consistently adamant that we should never look down on anyone, no matter their station in life, and that people should always treat each other with the same level of respect.
Despite my seemingly minimal interest as a kid, my grandfather’s values stayed with me and subsequently embedded themselves into everything I did growing up. So engrained were his lessons, I continued to live by those virtues even after I left home—during college, I made the choice to expand my philanthropy and began work with various organizations.
I couldn’t have known it at the time, but it was only the start.
In 2015, I started a brand new nonprofit organization of my own in the place that I now call my home. The foundation is called the Elpis Foundation, and we work towards raising awareness and providing relief for the homeless population in New York City. When the idea struck me to branch out on this mission that is so dear to me, I started by creating a website to solicit donors. Those who were interested by my pitch and contributed were provided with a backpack full of supplies to distribute to any homeless person they encountered within their everyday lives. The idea was to provide our donors and volunteers a simple and seemingly instant path to become citizen activists while helping the homeless in a very tangible way—a jump-start, if you will.
"...I believe that we should never lose hope in our fellow people, even as chaotic or despondent as our world can get."
I chose the name Elpis Foundation because I’ve always been fascinated with Greek mythology. Elpis, or ἐλπίς, is the personification or spirit of hope. In Hesiod’s Works and Days, Elpis was the only thing left in Pandora’s legendary jar (or box) after all the evils were released--hope was the only thing that remained, despite all the miseries that were let loose. That story resonates with me, because I believe that we should never lose hope in our fellow people, even as chaotic or despondent as our world can get.
Thus, the Elpis Foundation was born, and since its inception, the organization has distributed several hundred backpacks within the NYC area. We’ve expanded beyond the direct street outreach since then, and through various collaborations with other charitable organizations and individuals, we have been able to make an even larger influence locally. Recently, Elpis partnered with a local soup kitchen to stage a benefit concert that was thoroughly advertised over social media and eventually raised over a thousand dollars. With those funds, Elpis has organized a new effort for distribution of toiletries and clothing to those people in the soup kitchen.
Running a non-profit organization while working full-time does present its challenges, however. I work alone at Elpis during my free time, and growth has been slower than optimal as we continue to press for funding. But even at this stage, it has been a tremendously rewarding effort. Homelessness is not a problem that can solved overnight, and through continued efforts to expand, my long-term goal is provide a physical shelter with its own kitchen that would be worked by those populating it. With some more time and more resources, Elpis will hopefully continue to create positive change in New York City, and I continue to look forward eagerly.
If you are in the area and would like to volunteer, or your organization is interested in a collaboration with Elpis, please visit www.elpisnyc.org for more information.
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