In less than 48 hours, most of us will be sitting at the dinner table with family and friends enjoying a Thanksgiving meal. If your family is like mine, you go around the table saying what you’re thankful for, taking a moment to reflect upon the meaning of the holiday. It’s a good thing we always do this before the meal, since afterwards we can hardly remember our own names in the (delicious) haze of our turkey and stuffing-induced food comas. As we wash dishes and fix plates of leftovers after our brief time of reflection, we usher in the holiday season and all of the busyness that it entails. But how often do we allow ourselves these moments of reflection during this season of giving and of service? For entrepreneurs, these types of experiences are an important part of the journey.
I was reminded of the importance of expressing gratitude through service when I participated in the Santa’s Little Hackers event last month, the brainchild of local entrepreneur and NC State alumnus Chris Evans. Through his experiences in the community, Evans identified a problem that existed: many toys we see on the shelves are not adapted for children with special needs. Consequently, parents and other family members have very limited options when shopping for toys that their child can play with, especially during the holidays. Evans’ solution to the problem resulted in a partnership with Santa’s Little Hackers to put on Raleigh’s first toy hack-a-thon, and the group’s first event outside of their home state of Colorado.
It was a fun day with hundreds of volunteers playing Santa’s “elves” for the day. I saw many student entrepreneurs soldering, sewing, disassembling and reassembling toys of all shapes and sizes. We were encouraged to lend a hand where needed if our work area wasn’t busy, which enabled the volunteers to work with different people on different projects throughout the day. Volunteers used a blend of creativity and technical expertise to modify a standard toy to meet the needs of a person who may lack the mobility to hold a stuffed animal or press a button to hear it speak. At the end of the day, our team of “elves” had modified 350 toys to go under Christmas trees this year.
This experience not only reinforced the value of expressing gratitude through service, but was also an example of the power of entrepreneurship. From the moment Evans identified a problem, conceived a solution and built a team/partnership to do something about it, the entrepreneurial-mindset was in full force. I believe that the entrepreneurs who volunteered found value in improving upon a product that already exists, helping them to see something familiar in a new and different way, and inspiring bursts of creativity that will add value to their own entrepreneurial endeavors.
Experiences like this allow us all a moment to reflect and break from our daily routine to add value to the community in which we live. And for entrepreneurs, it can provide a creative spark that propels them forward to create more solutions to challenges we face as a society. I can’t think of anything more appropriate during this season of giving, so I encourage you to find an area where you can lend your talent and creativity to be of service to your community.