Kathy Francoeur
Kathy Francouer

When I think of my own philosophy of service, I think of Ralph Waldo Emerson’s quote on the “Definition of Success”—one that has been ingrained in me from childhood and is the basis of the values that I live by today. Within this famous quote, he states: “…to find the best in others; to leave the world a bit better whether by a healthy child, a garden patch, or a redeemed social condition; To know even one life has breathed easier because you have lived. This is to have succeeded”.

For me, this is the definition of service and is what motivates me in all I do and gives great meaning to my life’s work. Service is about opening one’s heart, mind, and hands to help others without any thought to monetary gain, recognition, or the advancement of oneself in the work. It is simply a calling because it is the right thing to do for others and the communities in which we live. It is fostering another person’s voice to be heard. It is advocating for policy or systems change to better a social condition for one or many. It is encouraging and inspiring others to find their own voice to make change. It is bringing diverse groups and thinkers together to find common ground for it to work for the common good. 

One may ask, “What motivates me to conduct service?” Besides the great legacy left behind by my grandfather and father, it is knowing that even one life has breathed easier, simply because I helped and got involved.

It is the youth who took a chance in RENEW who envision a bright and meaningful future they want and deserve. It is seeing people work differently once they get involved in a youth’s journey to understand and support that youth in all that they want to accomplish. It is seeing youth reach their goals as young adults that sparks a chain reaction. It is teaching, supporting, validating, and inspiring professionals to build proactive and equitable systems so all can reach their potential and be part of a community in which they truly belong. It is seeing the learning from my teaching transform leaders to “redeem a social condition” to advance promising or proven practices that improve the lives of all.

Service is ongoing. It is being open to learning from others without judgment. It is about unconditional care and showing up even when not expected and not walking away from the table. It is staying the course even when things are tough. It is knowing that creating great change requires partnerships as one person cannot do this work alone.

If I want to inspire good leaders and service to others, I need to model it, be present, and demonstrate integrity and excellence in my work.

I must value the participation of all people and learn from them. My greatest teachers have been many of the youth and families in RENEW. They have taught me ways of looking at the world through a different lens that I may not have experienced. It is making sure their voices are present to make needed changes in our systems and practices. These are personal values that I hold dear and reflect the work at the Institute on Disability (IOD). The IOD’s mission is to promote “full access, equal opportunities, and participation for all persons by strengthening communities and advancing policy and system change, promising practice, education, and research.” It is my hope that, in my definition of service, I am just one among many who advance this work with integrity and respect to provide excellent service to others.