by Daniel P. Scholfield
Dan Scholfield is the Immediate Past President of DESK’s Board of Directors. He became Board President in 2017, and in that time moved with all deliberation to not only shore up the governing processes of the Board, but also to create a sense of duty and commitment at the Board level, ensuring that Board members have the tools and resources needed to make decisions that will affect how DESK serves our Guests and clients for years and even decades to come. In doing so, Dan made DESK a top priority in his own life, giving his time whenever it was required out of a belief that it is best to lead by example. We are extremely indebted to the honesty, openness, and passion that Dan brought to this important role.—ed.
I had only known of DESK for a year. When I first was elected to be Board President, DESK was in a period of transition; we were stable, but not flourishing in a way I thought we could. We survived day-to-day on the goodwill of our dedicated donors and volunteers; but at the same time, I felt that DESK—as a small, grassroots nonprofit in a crowded field—was vulnerable. The loss of a key staff member, an economic downturn, or changes in the political tides could mean disaster. With that in mind, I accepted the post of President believing my job was to steward the organization to better stability, eliminating any factors I saw which might threaten it. I would have done my job well if DESK was merely serving more people, or raising more money, or keeping longer hours, or hiring more staff.
But I was worried. I thought to myself, What happens if DESK closes its doors on my watch? What will happen to all those people who rely on DESK? Will people blame me? What will I say? These sorts of self-oriented thoughts consumed my first months as Board President.
It quickly became apparent, however, that these fears arose out of the arrogant belief that I, on my own, was the key to DESK’s success. It did not take long, of course, to realize that DESK hardly needed me at all. We’d survive with or without me. Anyone who has spent enough time with us knows that DESK’s strength does not come from the Board President. Indeed it does not come from any one person. It doesn’t come from the Board, the staff, or even any particular volunteer group.
DESK’s strength comes from our community.
And that community is built upon relationships—among our staff, volunteers, and the Guests who join us each night. Over the years, we have built a community in which our Guests and our volunteers and our staff come to us not because they have to, but because they want to. They come to fulfill a basic need—not for food, but for community. Through these relationships, DESK’s Guests and volunteers truly serve each other.
Bill Millikan is the founder of Communities in Schools, an organization that helps struggling youth graduate from high school. He once said: “I’ve been working in this field for fifty years, and I’ve never seen a program turn around a life. Only relationships turn around lives.” DESK embodies that truth.
At the end of my term as Board President, I’m proud of DESK’s programs and services. We do important work providing freshly-prepared, nutritious meals; we strive to offer meaningful choice at our Food Pantry, and we do our best to connect our people to housing, jobs, healthcare, substance use treatment, and other services. But I can’t escape the belief that DESK’s value is more than the programs and services we offer; it’s in the relationships we foster and the community we build together. DESK’s strength comes from all of us; not from any one person, and certainly not from just the Board President.
When given the freedom to flourish, relationships evolve into a feeling of deep commitment and lasting joy. In his recent book, The Second Mountain, David Brooks writes, “There is something almost involuntary about a deep commitment.” Commitment represents the turning away from oneself in favor of love for others. It is commitment, Brooks believes, that explains why “we are capable of great acts of love that self-interest cannot fathom. . . . [T]he main activity of life is giving. Human beings at their best are givers of gifts.” When we engage in our communities in meaningful ways—whether through volunteering, serving on a Board, or in some way dedicating our lives to uplifting others—we realize that deep commitment and become “givers.”
At its core, DESK does something very simple: we offer a place for people to build community and foster commitment among each other. DESK will endure, no matter the unknown challenges and regardless of who is Board President. So long as we are a place where our Guests, clients, volunteers, staff, and others can share in a common purpose and sense of dignity, DESK will be fulfilling its mission. It has a been a great privilege to serve as DESK’s Board President, not because of what I have accomplished as a steward, but because of what DESK has taught me about community.