Like many (most?) members of my generation, I had drummed into me by my parents the lesson that if we’re blessed with success in any form, we have to give something back. When I left process-equipment manufacturing and became involved in HVAC in the late 1990s, I was pleasantly surprised to learn our industry, as competitive—some might even say ruthless or cutthroat—as it is, is actually quite generous when it comes to giving back to our communities and professions.
This, of course, takes many forms. Donating money probably is the easiest. Donating time can be costlier, but usually is more rewarding. Most of my colleagues do both: They contribute financially to and serve in various capacities organizations they believe are making a difference. Contractors in particular, at least here in South Florida, are very generous with their resources and time. And they’re not just serving organizations that can provide tangible benefits to their business, such as industry groups that afford networking opportunities; they are involved in activities as diverse as youth sports, church, PTA, pet rescue, beach cleanup, jobs for veterans, and organizations supporting medical research, treatment, and rehabilitation. The MEP engineers with whom I work most closely are active in both professional and charitable endeavors. They serve in ASHRAE and on building commissions, host exchange students, and volunteer as camp counselors.
Mentoring is another way to give back to the community and the profession, as is participating in high-school career days and taking on students as summer interns.
The secret to giving, whether it is of your time, talent, or treasure, is not to wait until you have a lot to give. We have a local pelican-rehabilitation program that’s thrilled with $25 donations, and for $250, Smile Train will perform a complete surgery on one of the more than 170,000 children in developing countries born each year with a cleft lip and/or palate. If you think you’d rather not try to solve world hunger, you always can help to prepare or serve a meal to a homeless veteran in your community.
For those of you who never saw the 2000 movie “Pay It Forward” starring Kevin Spacey and Helen Hunt, it’s worth renting. Giving back is, I believe, a moral duty. Paying back is an ethical—and sometimes legal—obligation. And paying forward is, according to the movie’s storyline, a way to change the world for the better.