So I had the wonderful good fortune of meeting a woman a few months ago– a teacher– who adopted not just one of her students but all of her student’s siblings. I had the even better fortune of being able to celebrate this woman and her family in a viewpoint essay for University City magazine‘s December issue. As we reflect on the end of one year and the beginning of another, I wanted to share the story with you, too.
What is the most generous thing you can do?
Becky Doss wasn’t particularly fulfilled. She had been a teacher’s assistant for several years. It was a job that allowed her to be home with her two sons after school and in the summers. But her home was almost an empty nest, and in the classroom she realized she preferred teaching over assisting. So, she returned to school to earn her certification. It was a decision that would ultimately change her life, the lives of each of her family members – and the lives of nine other children. It would inspire her life’s purpose.
Love Walked In
On an October day that started like any other in Becky’s fourth grade classroom at David Cox Elementary, Eli Turrubiartes, a new student with immigrant parents and eight siblings at home, walked into Becky’s life.
“She just absolutely caught my heart and my eye,” Becky recalled. “She was so very shy, very small, and ill. There were lots of things that she needed.”
That need was something that Becky, who always had a giving nature, could address. She tutored Eli and had her over for dinner. The whole family fell in love with Eli.
“But you can’t just help one,” Becky explained. “You end up getting involved with the whole family.”
Over the next few years, Becky taught two of Eli’s siblings, and she and her family offered Eli’s family as much support as possible. In February 2005, Araceli, the oldest of the siblings, called Becky and Brian Doss one evening to say that all nine children needed to come stay with them. Their parents were unable to care for them all but didn’t want to see the children split up. It was the first night of the rest of all of their lives.
How will you help?
In each of our homes, the fixings from Thanksgiving are a distant memory. We are tired from the merrymaking, from the sluggish economy and the long election season. And, yet, we are also yearning. We are considering how we begin this new year with a sense of purpose. We want to be of use, to have our happiness be decided on our own terms and not by the news or what others’ think. We want to be fulfilled.
Right now, ask yourself: “What is the most generous thing that I can do?” Keep asking yourself that question until you know the answer. Then act from that place.
For the Doss family – Becky, Brian, Andrew and Jeremy – the answer was to open their home to the Turrubiartes children. Becky and Brian became their legal guardians. Andrew and Jeremy became big brothers many times over. All of them gained so much love, happiness and hope. Thanksgiving at the Doss home is a parable that explains the meaning of the holiday.
Becky knows that loving the Turrubiartes children is what her family was meant to do.
“My life in retrospect seemed black and white versus now where it is so rich with color and depth. It just didn’t have a whole lot of anything to it. It was almost just existing,” she said. “With the kids came a purpose. They have added richness.”
But the Doss/Turrubiartes family could not be what it is without community support. Those around them answered that question about generosity by delivering meals, donating book bags and school supplies to the family, helping with home repairs and donating money.
At first, Becky struggled with the outpouring. Shouldn’t she and her family be the ones giving?
“It was very different to be on the other side – accepting,” Becky said. “We were raised to always help other people. But the lawyer who did our legal work told us that a lot of people want to support us. She said, ‘They want to be a part of what you are doing. They can’t do what you are doing, but they can help you do it. This is the only way that they can be part of what you are doing. You need to say yes.’ ”
That advice is true for all of us. It is in giving and receiving that we acquire our great richness. We need to say yes to those who wish to engage with us, but we also need to say yes to our community, to fulfilling our purpose, to giving back. It is how we become better, how our community becomes better, how our world becomes better.
It does not take an Ivy League degree, a big-time contact, a bulging bank account to positively impact a person’s life or a community. Just like the Turrubiartes children needed the Doss family, today, more than ever, the world needs its champions. You are that champion. What is the most generous thing you can do?