'Four For Good' recognized for making a difference in Houston-area communities

Neighborhood Centers honors four individuals who embody the 'For Good Movement' seeking to inspire people to make commitments to improve communities: (From left) Samir Rahi, Amy Mena, Diane O'Brien and Liz Adams
March 18, 2013 11:40:10 AM PDT
Houstonians are making pledges to do their part to make Houston an even safer, stronger, happier city.

It's all part of the For Good Movement -- a campaign started by Neighborhood Centers Inc. to inspire people to make commitments to improving their communities.

During a launch event this month, Neighborhood Centers honored four individuals who were nominated and selected because they embody the For Good Movement. The "Four. For Good." are: Samir Rahi, a high school freshman who started the LiveSmart Initiative nonprofit two years ago; Amy Mena, immigration attorney and community leader; Diane O'Brien, Trees of Hope associate director; and Liz Adams, a volunteer tutor.

We spoke to all four to find out more about their efforts:

SAMIR RAHI

Not many 14-year-old students can say they started their own nonprofit, and even fewer of those 14-year-olds can say their nonprofit has already been going strong for two years, but Samir Rahi isn't your average kid.

Rahi was born in Houston and lives in Sugar Land with his father, who is originally from Pakistan and came to the United States at 17.

Raised by a single dad since age two, Rahi grew up traveling with his father on business trips to places like Malaysia, Ecuador, Paris London and Mexico.

"I used to sit in on his business meetings, often in a corner of the conference room playing or coloring, and I saw firsthand how he stayed organized, motivated and managed people and teams, and handled conflicts in a professional environment. I took these to be 'normal' life experiences and modeled these behaviors as I grew up," Rahi said. "Being raised by him and having this unique experience while growing up has been a big influence on me and was a major factor in the reasons for starting LiveSmart."

Rahi created the nonprofit LiveSmart Initiative in May 2011. He was in seventh grade.

"I felt there was a need for students to learn the life skills that I had seen and learned while growing up with my dad," Rahi said.

LiveSmart follows a peer-to-peer mentoring model. It's organized and led by kids for other middle school and older students. LiveSmart works with these kid volunteers to develop lifelong habits of public service and continued personal growth. The organization coaches them in life skills such as managing conflicting priorities, planning and budgeting time, working well with teams that have different viewpoints, setting and keeping priorities and more.

"These soft skills are critical to success in school, work, and even in one's personal life," Rahi said.

Rahi said he started LiveSmart because the current school system either doesn't place much emphasis on these skills or lacks the ability to teach them for one reason or another. Also, he said, the skills LiveSmart cultivates are what employers want to see.

"Our case for teaching these skills comes from the National Association of Colleges and Employers, who show that skills in the areas of communication, teamwork, decision making and planning and organization -- all of which fall under what we call life skills -- are the highest valued among employers," Rahi said. "Furthermore, data from McKinsey shows that 43 percent of employers believe that college graduates are unqualified to fill entry level positions due to their lack of life skills, creating the urgency to act now."

Rahi said he was surprised when he was selected as one of the Four For Good, but he is also excited to use this award to spread the word about LiveSmart.

"With this recognition, LiveSmart can now project its voice to a larger audience, and we can reach more people than before," he said.

If you're considering volunteering and don't know where to begin, Rahi suggests volunteering with multiple of organizations. When you find something that resonates with you, stick with it and make it yours, he said.

"Over time, that cause will develop into a hobby, a routine and, eventually, a part of your life story and one of the ways in which you'll be remembered by others," Rahi said.

At just 14 years old, Rahi's resume is already impressive and many would consider his individual impact on his community significant. But he says the idea of the For Good Movement isn't that every individual who makes a pledge make a huge impact. Instead, he said, the For Good Movement is about each person playing their role -- big or small -- and together making a difference.

"It is the sum of these actions that will define the movement," Rahi said. "One alone cannot move a boulder, but one hundred in unison can roll the world."

AMY MENA

Immigrating to the United States can be an emotionally-trying, frustrating, difficult experience. Often, the person who makes someone's journey to citizenship understandable and manageable is their immigration attorney.

That's what Attorney Amy Mena does.

Mena grew up in Pasadena where her parents still reside. The oldest of three children, she lives in Houston with her two dogs -- Sunni and Scottie -- and has her own law firm downtown.

Mena has been an immigration attorney since 2005, specializing in immigration issues and assisting people who want to move to the U.S. alone or with their families.

She says one of her favorite parts of her job is listening to her clients' stories about their journeys to the U.S.

"They are fascinating and sometimes harrowing," she said.

Mena said she also loves helping her clients attain their goals, which first begins with regularizing their immigration status, and vigorously representing them before the U.S. government in their immigration matters.

"I love my job," she said.

With thousands of immigrants coming to Houston annually, her job is important and in high demand. But Mena's service to Houston's immigrant community doesn't end at her office. She's also a member of the board of directors for the Immigration Counseling Center -- a nonprofit organization that offers low-cost legal representation to immigrants and their families -- and she co-hosts a radio show dedicated to immigration law called Coming to America on KPFT 90.1 FM.

Her goal in her work and volunteer service is to make help available to as many immigrants as possible.

"I see so many people who struggle to find help in resolving their immigration matters so they can improve their lives and the lives of their families," she said. "Everyone who desires legal advice in these matters should be able to obtain such advice without having to save money for months and months just to get answers to their questions."

Mena said she was surprised and honored to be nominated and then selected as one of the Four For Good.

"My award is prominently displayed in my office," she said.

She wants to encourage everyone to be a part of the For Good Movement and make an effort to improve the world around them.

"Get involved today! Every individual has something special that only they themselves can offer our community," she said. "Whether that something special is teaching someone how to read, teaching English to newly arrived immigrants or assisting in a citizenship workshop class for permanent residents studying for the Naturalization test; your involvement in the For Good movement will improve lives and by improving lives will make our community stronger."

DIANE O'BRIEN

Diane O'Brien is a native Houstonian and associate director of Trees of Hope, a nonprofit focused solely on raising funds for Star of Hope -- Houston's largest agency for the homeless.

Since she took her position in August 2011, O'Brien has been in charge of development operations management, social media management, fundraising and special events, including Guild events for the children living at Star of Hope and the Trees of Hope Holiday Gala. (The 2012 gala raised $475,000 to benefit Star of Hope children's programs.)

"I love Trees of Hope because of my love for Star of Hope and the opportunity to create a better life for homeless children," O'Brien said. "Star of Hope is committed to ending homelessness -- one life, one family at a time. I am fortunate to get the opportunity to make an impact on youth homelessness through Trees of Hope and Star of Hope."

And her community service doesn't end there. O'Brien has also been a Girl Scout leader at Port Houston Elementary for more than five years; she's the Spring Walk to Run Program Assistant Coach for Houston Fit, a running organization in Houston; and she runs social media for RESULTS Houston -- a Washington-based nonprofit grassroots advocacy group committed to creating the political will to end hunger and the worst aspects of poverty.

Even with all O'Brien does in her community, she was still shocked when she found out she was selected as one of the Four For Good.

"There are so many great people in Houston who do so many good things," she said. "I am humbled and honored to have been nominated alongside such other great humanitarians doing good in Houston."

Do you want to do good, but don't feel like you have the time? O'Brien said you don't need to work for a nonprofit or spend all of your free time volunteering in order to make a positive impact on the world around you.

"You can do good by smiling at the person who made your coffee or taking the time to get to know who cleans your office. We all get the opportunity to do good every day," she said. "Our lives are far richer when we take the time to invest in the people we pass in our everyday lives."

LIZ ADAMS

Elizabeth Adams is a tutor, lending her heart and mind to people of all ages across the Houston area.

Originally from the Clear Lake area, Adams moved to Houston's west side in 2011. She's mother to a grown son, Chris, and educator to so many more.

Adams' current tutoring started when she moved to Houston. She now volunteers her time and services at Literacy Advance of Houston, The Mission of Yahweh -- a homeless shelter for women and children -- and Memorial Assistance Ministries.

At Literacy Advance, she's taught English as a Second Language to people of many nationalities. She's now teaching a Work Ready class to help students become familiar with job skills. At The Mission of Yahweh, she's done after-school tutoring and is now doing Adult Basic Education. At Memorial Assistance Ministries, she teaches a financial literacy class sponsored by the Women's Resource Center of Houston.

"I love teaching any kind of literacy. I consider these survival skills," Adams said.

Not only does Adams tutor, she teaches others to do the same. She trains other adults to become tutors for Adult Basic Education and English as a Second Language for Literacy Advance, spreading her knowledge so others can do good in their communities as well.

"I was very unsure as to whether I could do this, but each time that I have questioned them, Literacy Advance said of course you can," Adams said. "They were right."

Adams has helped people of all ages in her time as a tutor -- from kindergartners to people in their 70s.

"If I can help one person have a better life, I will have left the world a better place," she said.

When Adams found out she was selected as one of the Four For Good, she said she was surprised.

"I am just an average person with no extraordinary skills," she said humbly.

But Adams was recognized because of her extraordinary willingness to help people by teaching skills to help them succeed in school, in the workplace and in life. And she wants others to share in the joy she's experienced by helping others.

"If you want to meet the nicest people in Houston, volunteer. It will take you on an amazing journey that helps you connect with so many good people," Adams said. "Their success is the greatest gift that you can receive."

For more information about the For Good Movement, visit iamforgood.org. There, you can make your own commitment and share it to inspire others. You can also upload photos, make donations and sign up to volunteer for Neighborhood Centers.

For more information about Neighborhood Centers, visit neighborhood-centers.org.
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