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Robin Easter Reeves, Principal and Creative Director at Robin Easter Design

Featured Article

On the Importance of Giving

Four Professionals Who Prioritize Others

To spotlight this season of giving, we talked to local community leaders about their priorities when it comes to philanthropy. We hope you’ll be inspired by their stories. 

Was philanthropy modeled for you when you were younger?

Tim: When I was younger, my grandmother lived and worked in a home that housed mentally disabled adults and cared for them day and night, even on holidays. When we wanted to see her, we had to do so at the group home. This showed me from a young age that if you were healthy and able, you should share that blessing helping others who are not as fortunate.

Was there something (an event or experience) that marked a shift in your perspective on giving?

Robin: For years I put in lots of hours and worked really hard in my graphic design business. I was living on a pretty tight budget, but I was determined to make it. I had the opportunity to do some work for a few nonprofits that were doing great things to benefit our community. I didn’t have a lot of money to donate, but I could donate time and design work, and I noticed the difference strong branding and graphic design could make in helping them raise awareness and money to further a good cause. I also noticed that as I gave to others my business began to thrive.

Melissa: When I was a teenager, I saved money from part-time jobs for a trip to Israel with a friend’s church. Following the September 11th attacks, I felt moved to give the money I’d saved to charity to help support the families of those who had perished in the attacks. While not a large sum of money in perspective, it was my first sacrificial gift. It was then that I learned the joy felt in giving cannot be replicated and is worth much more than the value of the dollars themselves.

Tim: As I became older, I noticed no matter how good things were going for myself I still did not feel truly happy. It was when I started to help others, life started to have more meaning and true happiness.

What life lessons have you learned through your experiences serving on boards, donating money or resources, being a part of a nonprofit, etc.?

Robin: I’ve learned that you "reap what you sow." I noticed that as I donated time and resources my business became more successful. You don’t have to donate a lot of money to make a difference. Serving on boards and committees, I’ve learned so much and I’ve met people that I wouldn’t have otherwise … The more I give of my time and resources, the more I enjoy my experience of being involved and the more impact I am able to have on things I care about.

Melissa: Both volunteering for and serving on the board of Knoxville’s Harmony Family Center have taught me the great impact that even a small amount of time or financial resources can have on a local organization. While large, national nonprofits are certainly still deserving of our support, there are so many local charities for whom even a few hours or dollars a month can move the needle in a large way. Pouring into the nonprofits in our local community can have an exponentially larger impact than a gift of similar size to a large organization.

Jim: I’ve served on the Boys and Girls Club board for ten years. Walk into a Boys and Girls Club after school and see the commitment, passion, and education that people are providing to kids in our community… Sometimes this is the only hot meal they get. You can walk through and see people helping kids with homework, teaching them to be better stewards of their time.

Have you been the recipient of generosity in a way that inspired you?

Melissa: It took my husband and I many years to start our family. It was an emotionally and financially draining season of our lives. One physician walked through each year of the difficulty with us. In one particularly painful year, I received a call from his office with the message that he’d said ‘enough’ to their billing department. He ‘zeroed out’ our balance owed and did not charge us for the remainder of the year’s care he provided. I will never forget the feeling that gave me. It brings tears to my eyes to this day. It wasn’t just about the money to me and my husband. It was about our physician’s kindness. When he said ‘enough,’ he was not just acknowledging the financial weight we were bearing, but the emotional weight as well. What a gift to have a quantifiable reminder that we were not on the journey alone. I’ll be forever grateful for his generosity and kindness. Generosity moves people.

What impact have you seen on the community, either from your own experiences with giving or from a collective effort?

Jim: When you’re a company like ours, one of our big pushes is to buy local, buy from small businesses. It takes the community you’re in to make that come true. When I look at that, the community is giving to us. It allows me to provide 29 jobs. The give-back for me is simple. It’s an obligation. The company supports me and my family, and my employees, and the community grows. Youth is our future, so we have to invest in them.

Robin: I’ve seen a very tangible impact on the Old City, where my office has been located for 33 years. For a while it was like a forgotten ghost town, but with branding and promotion, a collective voice and the creation of events and activities, it is vibrant and growing. We have such a great community of residents and businesses. The work I put in, along with many others who volunteer on our board and committees, have created events like the Old City Market and Dolly Fest which has helped the small businesses thrive … I’m now very focused on The University of Tennessee College of Architecture + Design. I think it is important to give back to the University that helped me achieve a career that I have loved so much.

Why is giving back important to you?

Jim: I think the most important thing is that when you’re giving, if you’re giving because you believe in what you’re doing and not because you’re looking for a pat on the back or being recognized, the gift will come back tenfold. What you do today, you may not reap the benefits for five to ten years. You don’t need to know. Your heart is in the right place and trust the rest of it.

Tim: I have noticed that giving and volunteering, whether it is time or resources, is the true backbone of any great community. Knoxville is a great example of this, so I just want to do my part to be a true member of this great community.

  • Jim Caughorn, Jr., President of Graphic Creations
  • Jim Caughorn, Jr., President of Graphic Creations
  • Melissa Ballard, CFP®, Director of Financial Planning at PYA Waltman
  • Melissa Ballard, CFP®, Director of Financial Planning at PYA Waltman
  • Robin Easter Reeves, Principal and Creative Director at Robin Easter Design
  • Robin Easter Reeves, Principal and Creative Director at Robin Easter Design
  • Tim Willis, General Manager of Walk-On’s Sports Bistreaux
  • Tim Willis, General Manager of Walk-On’s Sports Bistreaux

Businesses featured in this article