The Wests have a family motto. It’s not emblazoned on a coat of arms or adorning a crest—but it is drawn from family history.
“Live to give” are words the Wests live by every day, most recently putting them into action in Kenya’s Maasai Mara.
Parents Olivia and Norm are two sides of the same coin. Growing up, Olivia joined her mom for Christmas visits to nursing homes and spent Easters at the hospital, spreading cheer to those without a family. Norm, meanwhile, lived in a motel after his father passed away and the family home was foreclosed on; Thanksgiving meals were provided by the generosity of strangers.
“I grew up on the giving side while life just happened to Norm, so he was on the receiving side,” explains Olivia, flanked by their two sons, Jeremiah and Joshua, 12 and 10 respectively, and eight-year-old daughter Jordan. “So, when the two of us came together, and even more with our kids, we realized what we wanted to do for other people.”
Putting others first is a challenging philosophy to live by—especially when children grow up in comfort, not exposed to the need many face. Olivia and Norm have been creative in bringing their motto to life. “It means being intentional in everything we do,” says Norm, thoughtfully.
Before they moved to Charlotte, North Carolina, to take care of Olivia’s grandmother—who is recovering from a stroke—their life in Rochester, New York, was imbued with service. They’d visit the neighborhood where Norm grew up, bringing meals to people living in the motel that was his one-time refuge. “We won’t face those struggles firsthand,” he says, turning to his children, “but you can help people who are going through them.”
More recently, while at the hospital with her mother, who was receiving chemotherapy, Olivia noticed how many people were by themselves while being treated for cancer. The family made cards to hand out to patients, so they would know they were not alone.
Olivia and Norm’s infectious desire to give has left a mark on their children. The three have fundraised for water filters for people in Flint, Michigan, provided Thanksgiving feasts and Christmas parties for local families in need, and assembled birthday care packages for less-fortunate teens in their community. Norm explains, “None of these actions alone change the world, but little things add up.”
Beyond their local community, Olivia and Norm long dreamed of expanding their children’s perspective. Then WE called—offering an opportunity to visit a developing community in Kenya that benefits from sustainable projects supported by Walgreens.
Select products sold in Walgreens stores carry a unique ME to WE Track Your Impact code corresponding to a life-changing impact in a rural Kenyan community, providing clean water, access to health care, healthy food, economic opportunity or education—the physical embodiment of the Wests’ belief that small actions add up to a big impact. During their time in Kenya they met many people who benefit from these impacts: mothers working to provide a future for their children, young girls who are the first in their family to attend high school and community members whose lives were transformed by access to clean water and health care.
The five Wests talk excitedly of their experiences abroad and the perspective and gratitude they gained. “They gave us so much and taught us about family, togetherness and what it means to welcome strangers into your lives,” says Olivia.
Back home, they want to ensure their impact is as sustainable as WE’s work in Kenya. That starts with ensuring that “live to give” is a daily part of their children’s lives that they’ll one day pass on to their own families, creating impact across generations.
As for Jeremiah, Joshua and Jordan, they’re too focused on the next project to think that far down the line. “Once you see the impact of what you’ve done,” explains Jeremiah with a wide smile, “it motivates you to strive to help even more people, to work harder and change more lives.”
Jesse Mintz is a lifelong learner and believer in the power of stories to educate and inspire. He knows everyone has an interesting story—it’s just a matter of asking the right questions.