Paying Her Rent

“Service is the rent each of us pays for living. The only thing that lasts is what is shared with others.”- MWE

I sometimes quote Mrs. Mary Wright Eldeman’s famous words on Twitter to be “profound”. Mostly though, I post it because I wholeheartedly believe these words to be true. I’m sure many other people do too. But I know two women who really do….

Meet Leleah Robinson and Jeanine Taylor. They are Friends of Ebonie but they are also friends to me. 🙂 In both cases, I wish I could tell you how we met but I don’t remember. Lol. However, I do remember the common bond of service we share is what strengthened our friendship.

Leleah and Jeanine give back with the fortitude of women beyond their years. That’s probably because, coincidentally, they both have been inspired by the matriarchs of their families. “My mother was a volunteer with the rape crisis center in our hometown,’ recalls Leleah, ‘and I remember her taking calls in the middle of the night helping women she didn’t even know. That showed me that sacrificing to help others was the right thing to do.” In Jeanine’s case, it was her grandmother that laid her foundation. “She has always been an advocate for young people and education. And as I watched both she and my mother make a difference in the Roosevelt [Long Island] Public School system as administrators, and through our sorority Alpha Kappa Alpha, I knew I wanted to do what I could to make a difference as well”, Jeanine explained to me.

With such early examples of community leadership, it’s no surprise Leleah and Jeanine have used the majority of their adulthood making a difference in the lives of others.

Leleah and I taking five feeding the needy at Convent Baptist Church in Harlem on Thanksgiving Day 2010

At age 25, Leleah is already a team leader for New York Cares, Inc. What is a NY Cares team leader you ask? NY Cares Team Leaders are the super volunteers that help the organization reach over 400,000 NYers a year! For three years Leleah has been a tutor for a free Kaplan-based SAT Prep program for underprivileged youth offered through NY Cares. This is her first year as a Team Leader. “I sought out NY Cares when I first moved to New York because I wanted to get involved with an organization that truly made a difference in my new city….Since becoming a team leader, I’ve seen first hand how they really make their programs work. Their work is quite impressive. I’m glad I’ve been able to help so many young people improve their [SAT] scores who may not have been able to otherwise”, she says.

“Making a sound difference takes more than writing a check”, Jeanine believes. She has incorporated this belief into her term as the youngest chapter president for the Epsilon Pi Omega Chapter of Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority, Incorporated. “Leading my chapter is an opportunity to take my passion for service and multiply its effect within the community,” says the 29 year-old President. Under Jeanine’s leadership, the Queens Alumnae Chapter has turned their annual holiday volunteer projects into a 365- day-a-year opportunity to do “active hands on service”. So far, the chapter has done programs with organizations such as Dress for Success, Mentoring USA, the Oshieye Basic School in Ghana, West Africa and is preparing to implement a local mentoring program with PS 116 in Queens, NY. (Oh yeah, Happy 7th AKAversry Jeanine!)

Jeanine completed 13.1 miles and kicked the butt out of cancer!

Independent of her chapter, Jeanine also has a personal cause. Cancer research. This past fall, Jeanine signed up with Team in Training (TNT). Through TNT, Jeanine trained for a half marathon that took place in Arizona, while raising funds to help support cancer research through The Leukemia & Lymphoma Society. “When I learned their research stretches beyond blood cancers, I jumped at the opportunity. At the time my mother was a colon cancer survivor and I wanted to be able to help someone else.” While training for her half marathon, the cancer Jeanine’s mother fought so hard to beat, returned. “The news pushed me even harder to want to find a cure,” Jeanine says of her new sense of dedication. While the physical rigors of the training and the race are tough, “…there is an emotional side to cancer many people don’t know about. People don’t understand that sometimes the emotional part of the [cancer] battle outweighs the physical pains,” Jeanine shares. “So when I was at mile 9 or 10 and my muscles were aching, I pushed past the pain because I knew that the person I was running for wasn’t giving up so, how could I?”

*You may pause here to wipe your tears*

Leleah too has taken on a if they can do it, why can’t I?, mind frame as a result of her volunteer work. As a mentor-coach for New York Needs You, Leleah shapes and guides the minds and career paths of first generation college students. “I am in awe of my mentee.  She extremely driven and doesn’t use what others would assume as “limitations” to stop her from achieving greatness. She perseveres with such a positive and uplifting spirit. When I leave from helping her study or train, I am the one left inspired.” While working with the New York Needs You organization is extremely time consuming, “it is worth every minute. It really helps to put my own life in perspective”, Leleah says of her experience.

Welp! There you have it. Service at it’s best! How can you not love these two women?

They don’t lend themselves for the glory but their dedication to the lives of others, honorable causes and their own communities, deserves to be applauded. I am proud to call them my friends. If you’d like to contact either Leleah or Jeanine, email

I’ve definitely enjoyed interviewing each of the women highlighted this month. I really appreciate the opportunity to share their wonderful work. Happy 2011 Women’s History Month!!!

I hope you have been inspired.

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