A Lifetime's Purpose

Posted by Sarah Welch on Mar 22, 2017 9:07:34 AM

Renee.pngRenee Hardman is so passionate about volunteering that she tears up talking about it.

“I have always thought there was a purpose for our lives here on this earth,” she said. “That purpose is to live beyond ourselves and to always reach back and pull someone else along.”

For 30 minutes every Thursday morning, Renee reads with four-year-olds at Oakridge Academy as part of Book Buddy, a United Way-led initiative to reach children in the critical year before kindergarten. The volunteer program engaged 135 mentors to read at local preschools last year.

Renee sees the benefits in the students who smile when their mentors walk into the room. “Starting those young minds off at age four gets them excited about reading,” Renee said. That ultimately is part of their healthy development that leads to long-term success. Children who participated in Book Buddy had an average increase of 66% in print literacy skills over the 2015-16 school year.

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The need for support early in life is something Renee understands well after growing up with a single mother who raised three children. Despite the challenges her family faced, Renee’s mother made sure her children understood the value of giving back to the community and ensured her children had other role models to help shape them.

“She taught us the value of being appreciative, and helpful, and kind to others,” Renee said. “I’m trying to live out that legacy.”

When Renee graduated from Drake University in the early 1980s, she signed up for Big Brothers Big Sisters and began to mentor a six-year-old girl from Sierra Leon for 2-4 hours each week. This grew into a long-lasting relationship through college, and she remains friends with the family today.

Throughout her professional career as an executive in human resources and now as a small business owner, Renee has carried the philosophy of not just giving to a cause but also rolling up her sleeves and being a part of that organization’s work. With a focus on women and youth, she has served as president of Chrysalis Foundation, the board of the Latino Leadership Initiative, and on the board for Dress to Success. She has also served on United Way of Central Iowa’s board of directors, and now serves on its Volunteer Engagement Cabinet.

Renee, age 55, continues to believe in giving her time, talent and treasure to meaningful organizations.

“Our discretionary time is important and limited,” Renee said. “That time that I give on Thursday mornings to those four-year-olds, they are going to remember that. They are going to remember that someone took the time and cared enough to read to them, and it’s going to make a difference.”