PEMBROKE, N.C. — When Kendra Danielle Chavis’ rental home burned down three years ago, the college student lost everything she owned except for a hamper of dirty laundry.
The event was traumatic and she still misses the dog she lost in the fire, but the support she received from the community has helped shape a new perspective on life.
“It pushed me to a different maturity level,” she says of the fire. “You can have everything in one second, and lose it all the next second.”
A local charity gave Chavis an $800 Wal-Mart gift card, the clothing retailer where she worked donated several hundred dollars worth of clothing, and local community members donated a television, an entertainment center and other household items.
“That meant a lot to me,” she says of the donations, some of them anonymous. “They didn’t even know me. They just knew I was going through something and they wanted to help.”
That outpouring of generosity led Chavis to make community involvement the centerpiece of her platform when she competed in the Miss Lumbee pageant earlier this summer.
Called UNITY, which stands for Uniting Neighbors Initially Takes You, the platform encourages people to become involved in their communities by helping their neighbors next door, across the country and around the world.
“You never know where you’ll be or who you will need,” she wrote in her platform summary. “The act of helping can have profound results and the beauty of it all is that it only takes one person to instigate unity.”
A Lumbee Indian and public affairs specialist with the Lumbee Tribe of North Carolina, Chavis was born in Florida but spent part of her childhood in the Lumbee Tribal Territory in North Carolina, where both her parents grew up.
After graduating from the University of North Florida in Jacksonville, she came back to the Lumbee community to live and work.
“When you’ve grown up here, you take for granted the culture you’re from,” she says. “Because since I didn’t grow up here, coming back is like a new experience. You get reconnected and gain perspective on who you are and where you’re from.”
She brought with her the notion that “it’s the initiative that counts,” that small acts of kindness can make a big impact in a person’s life.
“The small things in life light up someone else’s world,” she says. “That gives me the passion to do things for others.”
Since returning to the state, Chavis has volunteered with the American Cancer Society’s Relay for Life, and with Special Olympics, where bonding with children with disabilities has given her new energy and purpose.
“Making that kind of impact is amazing and it doesn’t cost anything, just your time,” she says.
Chavis hopes to work with NCGives, a Raleigh-based effort that promotes giving among women, communities of color and young people, to keep UNITY going.
She’s not sure what shape that will take, but wants to find ways to get other people involved in giving back.
“It truly is the small things that can make the biggest difference,” she says.