Giving Back in L&D: How Do You Serve Others?

I am in the process of moving to a new position within The Ohio State University and it got me thinking about how I got to this point.  I was thinking through some of my favorite L&D experiences and was reminded of a work experience I had a number of years ago, and the changes I saw in people’s lives as a result of the training program. That place was the Region 2 Workforce Development Board in West Virginia and that job was as an adult educator.

What is Region 2 Workforce Development Board? To provide some context, in the state of WV when you receive public assistance such as Medicare, HUD, WIC, etc you have to do something to “earn” it.  The options are to maintain employment at least 20 hours a week or enroll in a job-like activity. The center I worked for provided the job-like activity. We were a one-stop shop to help folks earn their GED, create a resume, learn technology skills, enroll in university classes, and even earn college credit during the class. The tenure of each learner varied.  

Depending on their goals, some would leave after they earned their GED, others when finding jobs, and some came and went as they pleased.  If they did not reach the 20 hour a week attendance requirement, they were kicked out and I had to notify their Department of Health and Human Services caseworker.  After a month or so, many would usually come back to my class. Some learning from past mistakes and others still making them. On average, I’d have a classroom of 25-30 adults at one time ranging in age from 17 to 60+.  Each person had a specific reason for being there and a specific goal.

This photo reminded me of all the great and not so great things I saw during my time there:

  • I saw a single mother gain the confidence to earn their GED and later graduate from a local community college.


  • Another woman had a drug felony in her background because she was 17 years old and her parents got caught selling drugs out of their homes and the system threw the book at her too.  She found employment as a court reporter and thrived.


  • Another woman had the courage to leave an abusive relationship and faced the harsh realities of being on her own for the first time in 10 years and quickly found herself homeless.


  • One time when I went to one of the satellite centers to work for the day, I had a knife pulled on me by a man that busted in the center looking for his “old lady”.  It was the rare time I had a co-teacher who happened to be a retired prison warden so that got taken care of quickly.


I could continue story after story after story.  These are real people and it’s important to remember that when we provide an L&D product.  I didn’t build eLearning. I didn’t put these folks through a formal training program. I delivered to the best of my ability the three C’s: compassion, curriculum, and cause.  Each one of these folks was dealing with hardships that I couldn’t imagine and had never experienced. By being an instructor there, it made me a better person. It also made me realize that that “L&D thing” you are making, well a real human is reading it, listening to it, and wondering how it can help them in their current situation.  

Poverty has a name.  Poverty has a face. There are many poverties all around the world. Being able to help someone work towards defeating it, that is some major power. It was something that I certainly didn’t expect in this role.  To be honest, seeing real people improve, isn’t that why many of us got into L&D? Do you have that feeling in your own organization?

I’d like to throw out a challenge for you to give back in some way.  In the next few weeks, I’ll be launching another 6-week challenge, this time dedicated to service. Adult education centers are just the tip of the iceberg.  This is equally a challenge to myself as well. Myra Roldan has been kind enough to provide me with some guidance setting it up to make sure it’s easy to understand and participate. I hope that you too will participate.

Many of the L&D professionals I know are kind folks.  If each of us takes time to give back in some way, think of how much better the world will be.




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