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Dear Mrs. Stern,
I’m writing to say goodbye, but, in that sense, I am also writing to thank you. I’m writing to thank you for all of the wonderful work you have done for children everywhere, and I am writing to thank you for changing my life. On May 1, 2014, you strode into a classroom in Dallas and gave a presentation on your story and on UNICEF USA’s work more generally. I decided last-minute to attend. And when I left just an hour later, my life had completely changed. I have been involved with UNICEF ever since.
I still remember much of what you talked about. You told us the stories of your grandfather’s passage on the “Voyage of the Damned” and of the woman who helped your mother and uncle escape from the threat of the Nazis. I sat, rapt, as you made ever-so-clear what happens when the world turns its back on those who need it most – but also that even just one person can have an enormous impact. You told us that all around the world, three things were true: where there are kids, there is always a ball, kids would always come and sit on your lap whenever you sat down, and parents everywhere want the same basic things for their children.
In writing this letter, I find myself vacillating between two topics. On the one hand, you have overseen one of the largest and most respected nonprofits in the world. The work you have done has saved more lives and helped more children than I could even fathom. The world owes you a debt impossible to repay.
But I want you to know that you didn’t just change lives through vaccinations and school-in-a- box kits. During your tenure at UNICEF USA, thanks to the countless hands-on initiatives you have supported (e.g., the UNICEF Clubs program), you have positively shaped the trajectories of countless young people around the country. I can safely say that, in a number of ways, I would not be where I am or who I am today without you. Some of my closest friends, a significant amount of my extracurricular work experience, even my college scholarship – all of that was because you were willing to talk to a random group of twenty-five high-schoolers way back in May 2014.
Last spring, when I commented to a friend of mine on my upcoming five-year “UNICEF-iversary,” she laughed and replied, “Wow, your longest-lasting relationship!” While it was admittedly a solid dig, her joke also got at a deeper point, even if by accident. I have been involved with UNICEF for longer than nearly any other activity I have ever done.
I have been involved with UNICEF USA for over five years, but in some ways, I still just feel like I’m getting started. And I know that there are countless others like me, people whose passion for helping children will never cease to exist. My point is this: you may be leaving, but I hope you know that your legacy is not. It lives on in high schools and colleges, where UNICEF Clubs continue to provide students with leadership experience while helping them become involved in a great cause. It lives on in the halls of Congress, where the massive advocacy program you helped build sends hundreds of people each March to support UNICEF USA’s funding. And of course, it lives on in the hearts and souls of countless children around the world, kids you’ve never known but to whom you have dedicated over a decade of your life.
- Henry Goldberg, UNICEF USA National Council