This post is part of a new series to profile some of the exceptional leaders driving #GivingTuesday movements in their countries and cities around the world.
This week’s post features William Esposito from #NewMilfordGives in New Milford, New Jersey. Here’s what William had to say about his experience so far championing #NewMilfordGives.
Q: William, tell us a little bit about yourself. Where are you from, and how did you get involved with the social good world?
William: I was born and raised in Milford, New Jersey. At my core as a person I think I have always tried to give back to others what I didn’t have growing up and what I have been given in my adult life. I have always viewed mentorship and having role models as so important. You never know what someone can accomplish once they get some validation and support, and I think that motivates me to try and be a role model in my community and why I naturally gravitate towards the social sector.
Q: What inspired you to get involved in #GivingTuesday?
William: I wanted to provide high school students in New Milford with the mentorship and guidance that I felt like I didn’t always get in school growing up. When my childhood friend and I were getting ready to finish college and trying to figure out what we wanted to do, we had this vision to do some good in our community but we just weren’t sure how or when. Unfortunately, my friend passed away in a tragic accident, and I decided to take that as my fuel and motivation to pursue some of the work in our community that we had envisioned. I got a group of friends together and we were looking to do some good and we came across #GivingTuesday which sounded like the perfect day to align ourselves with. It felt serendipitous. #GivingTuesday kind of validated the vision we had for our community, and really gave us the platform to give back while collectively feeling like a part of a bigger social good movement.
Q: What has worked well for #GivingTuesday in New Milford so far?
William: Rallying the community around homelessness. New Milford is a working-class, small and diverse town. While the homelessness is not always immediately visible to the community, if you travel two miles down the main strip, there’s a homeless shelter right in our own community. Convening the community to be a part of that relief has been really important. The students we work with and their families have become more and more engaged, and it’s becoming something in our town that people look forward to every year.
Q: What challenges have you faced in getting #GivingTuesday in in New Milford off the ground?
William: It can sometimes be challenging to engage the students to come out to events. Once we get the students on board they are very engaged, but each year with new groups of students you have to kind of reignite the flame of the movement.
Q: What's the potential or impact of the movement in your community?
William: In the community, there’s the potential to shift a whole new way of engaging our youth. I like to think that #GivingTuesday provides kids with the platform to see the world through a different lens and to do good. Developing a sense of empathy and compassion is so important at a young age, and we are helping to encourage this by bringing students to the homeless shelters and seeing first-hand the inequalities in our community. These students have shared with us that their lives are being affected by these experiences.
Q: What is one of your favourite #GivingTuesday stories?
William: The amount of people who come out to the event every year at New Milford high school amazes me. We host a community-wide toiletry and food drive and it’s always fun to see the middle school competing with the high school to see who can contribute more. Letting the students realize that there’s no real reward other than the feeling that you get is pretty powerful.
Q: What are you most looking forward to for #GivingTuesday 2018?
William: We want to challenge other communities and other schools to follow our model. Ideally we’ll create a toolkit or a playbook so that other schools can follow suit, and Jamie from the #GivingTuesday team has been helping us to shape this. This #GivingTuesday, we would like to see even one school take it on with the longer-term goal of eventually encouraging a network of schools following the #NewMilfordGives model.
Q: One of the reasons the #GivingTuesday movement has been so successful globally is because of the vision and leadership of country and community leaders like you, who step up in the name of social good. What does leadership mean to you?
William: I think leadership, to me, means doing what you think is right even if no one else is stepping up and doing it. Leadership is also providing a platform for others to take on leadership roles. Trusting your gut and leading with your heart are important to me. I had a feeling that #GivingTuesday had the potential to be a part of the fabric of our society just like Black Friday and that it was only a matter of time, so I worked to convince others in my community of this. It has worked well so far.
Q: Do you have any advice for leaders thinking about starting a #GivingTuesday movement in their country or city?
William: Just step up and do it! Keep it simple and don’t overthink it. Put yourself out there, be explicit about what you want to accomplish, and you’ll attract the people that want to help. Have a brainstorming session, or go out to a networking event in your community and start talking about your ideas. You’ll be surprised at what you find.
Q: What is a quote by one of your favourite leaders? Or Who is someone you admire for their vision and leadership and why?
William: “He who is not courageous enough to take risks will accomplish nothing in life.” - Muhammad Ali
I admire anyone who believes in themselves and are actively pursuing their vision, dream, passion or whatever. A lot of these people are local small business owners or my friends who have start-up companies. It’s not easy, but I admire those who do not let the voices and dogma of others hold them back.