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    The Kindness of Joe Young

    By Meals on Wheels America
    Joe Young zig-zags, purposely, back and forth through the Meals on Wheels kitchen area. If he’s not organizing something, he’s packing a meal. If he’s not packing, he’s finding something else to do. And if he’s not in the kitchen, he’s on the road, inbound to a client’s house. 

    There are no idle hands in his world. 

    He has a quiet strength. His chiseled arms, broad shoulders and strong jawline show marked physical strength to match.

    Joe—who I guess is approaching his mid-70s, though I never inquire—has a particular way about him: a militaristic, no-nonsense modus operandi. However, beneath a steely exterior beats the heart of someone who cares deeply about and has dedicated much of his life to serving others.

    Meals on Wheels Volunteer, Joe Young

    There’s a gentle focus in his eyes that you hear in his words and feel when he flashes a rare but warm and disarming smile. 

    His work is not heroic. His faith—he’s not known to preach, though faith’s influence on his life is evident—and the lessons he learned about compassion in his youth are constant reminders of that. 

    “Kindness goes a long way; between my spiritual training, working with kids, working in a church and being around a grandfather who was a minister, I was always taught to help somebody and trust in the Lord,” Joe shares. 

    He draws his true strength from valuing more than just reaping what we sow but in the tenacity to sow for the sake of it. 

    A Miles College Man

    Long before he delivered a meal, Joe was an ambitious young man. Born in Centerville, Alabama, 50 miles south of Birmingham, after graduating high school, he enrolled in Miles College, a private historically black college in Fairfield, Alabama, just 7 miles southwest of Birmingham. 

    The college was founded in 1898 by the Colored Methodist Episcopal Church and later chartered as Miles Memorial College in honor of Bishop William H. Miles, a former slave of Mrs. Mary Miles, who willed him his freedom in 1854. However, it wasn’t until 1864 that he was freed.

    A college namesake whose story is a testament to the perseverance of his people, a perseverance Joe would rely on early and often.

    As the story goes, things didn’t go as planned following his enrollment. He chose Miles College over Alabama A&M and Alabama State because of the promise of a job at a newly opened black-owned supermarket. That fell through when a friend who managed the store became ill, leaving Joe without employment and a commitment to graduate school in four years without a way to make money. 

    Joe, never one to shy away from hard work or a challenge, eventually secured part-time employment at United Parcel. He balanced academics and pursuing a degree in Business Administration with a grueling 4-7 a.m. shift. He then found full-time employment as a skycap with United Airlines, working from three to 11:30 p.m. 

    “If it had not been for Miles College, I don't know where I would have been,” Joe says, reflecting on his decision and how it shaped his journey's trajectory.

    His story is a powerful narrative about destiny and our will to control it. 

    After graduation, Joe remained with United Airlines before accepting a position as a utility worker with Southern Bell, the telephone and telegraph company. 

    However, Joe had bigger dreams for his career with Southern Bell. Eventually, his tenacity, hard work and perseverance paid off: He worked his way up the corporate ladder into management and spent 32 years with the company before retiring. 

    “I’ve come full circle to a certain degree,” Joe says. 

    “United Parcel, United Airlines, and United Way Meals on Wheels—there’s a pattern there,” another interviewer adds. 

    We all laugh, including Joe, acknowledging the beautiful symmetry.

    A Natural Leader

    Even in retirement, Joe hasn’t stopped moving (or leading). 

    Joe serves as his church's Sunday School Teacher Superintendent and trustee board chairman, among other roles. 

    “I never felt like a leader; I just always kinda got dumped into things,” Joe jokes. 

    But isn’t that the mark of a true leader: embracing and thriving amid uncertainty, forming an effective plan (when there isn’t one) when called upon, and opening up for others to connect with you authentically?

    Meals on Wheels Volunteer, Joe Young

    It’s undoubtedly a trait coveted in a Meals on Wheels volunteer. Volunteers deliver nutritious meals to homebound seniors and often serve as caregivers and, sometimes, emergency responders.  

    Joe, who learned about the United Way Meals on Wheels program in Birmingham from a Miles College classmate in 2014, recounts several occasions when he had to aid clients. He once called the paramedics for a senior who’d fallen and again for another client who said she couldn’t breathe—remaining by each client’s side until help arrived. 

    Joe's spirit of selflessness is ingrained. Every act of kindness pays homage to the men who raised him. 

    “Always try to help as many people as you possibly can,” Joe says of his father's advice.

    Joe is grateful for the opportunity to give back and witness the complex lives of individuals who benefit from Meals on Wheels. 

    “Working with United Way [Meals on Wheels] and particularly with clients has been one of the most humbling experiences of my life,” Joe says. “I don't think you really understand or appreciate what it is all about until you go into someone’s home and see them bedridden or [unable to] talk or get around.” 

    Joe uses his gift of well-placed humor to cut through the tension and manifest a moment suspended in time when clients can forget the challenges they are facing.

    “Some of our clients are in situations where they cannot do any better and need help,” Joe acknowledges. “If I can say something to make them smile, I feel good about it.”

    Joe’s enduring kindness tells clients in a powerful but subtle way: You matter, your happiness matters and I see you.

    “That's how I get ‘em to laugh, talk and respond to me,” Joe says. ‘Most of them seem to think I'm a blessing.”

    So Much More than a Meal

    Joe’s delivered many meals. In his early days as a driver, his route covered Jefferson County, the state’s most populous county with more than 674,000 residents. He traversed from Hueytown to Macedonia, Ensley, Pleasant Grove and Tarrant. 

    Going the literal extra mile means so much to homebound clients. It may be the only meal many receive that day and, perhaps, the only human interaction—a way to combat isolation. It is a mundane moment with significant meaning. 

    Knocking on a door and delivering a meal is more than a transaction; it’s a sacred ritual. And one Alabamian helping another, a stranger, is a kindness that’s not soon forgotten—one man of faith extending goodwill, graciousness and warmth to someone in need. 

    That’s Joe.

    “It means a lot when people you help send you a Christmas card or call you and say ‘Mr. Joe, I just want to say Merry Christmas and Happy New Year,’” Joe says. “Depending on my mood, it can make me teary-eyed, make me smile or just make me happy.”

    His example is one anyone can appreciate and be inspired by, whether you’re a person of faith in the spiritual context or not—a pursuit to help as many people as he possibly can while still able. 



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