What Utah community advocate and social entrepreneur Pamela Atkinson learned doing service

Published: Wednesday, Oct. 10 2012 12:30 p.m. MDT

Pamela Atkinson smiles at attendees in Salt Lake City Thursday, May 3, 2012. Atkinson was selected as the 2012 Distinguished Utahn by the Salt Lake Chapter of the BYU Management Society.

Jeffrey D. Allred, Deseret News

Pamela Akinson is an elder in the Presbyterian Church, a nurse, a hospital administrator and a mother. Though she more than has her hands full, Atkinson always makes time to volunteer among Utah’s poorest people. For the last twenty years Atkinson has been a tireless advocate and friend to Utah's homeless men and women.

Atkinson's sympathy for the homeless and disenfranchised is born of her personal experiences with poverty. Raised by a single mother in England, Akinson knew the ache of hunger. "There was never enough to eat. We lived in an awful, awful mouse-infested house with an outside toilet," she told Lois Collins of the Deseret News in December 2010. "When she took a paper route, all the money went to support the family. At age 15, other girls made fun of her clothes. When she went to a friend's home, she saw things her own lacked, like a table at which to study and indoor plumbing," noted Collins.

Atkinson's in depth experience with the homeless face makes her an expert adviser for local and national governments. Governor Gary Herbert, for example, relies on Atkinson's advice on a number of issues, according to KSL. Of her he said: "Pamela Atkinson's humanitarian service is legendary. She leads by example. She is the personification of the scriptural admonition to 'love thy neighbor as thyself.' Our state is a better place because Pamela calls Utah home."

In her years of humanitarian service Atkinson has learned important lessons about how to be effective. She recently sat down with author Devin Thorpe for Forbes.com to share some of her insights about service:

Small Things Make A Difference: Over the years, Atkinson has learned that “it doesn’t always have to be huge,” wrote Thorpe. Some times the things homeless people lack are simple socks, underwear and hygiene items. Atkinson told Thorpe that she once arrived at the home of a low income family to find they had no hot water, no soap and no shampoo. Atkinson gave the family a hygiene kit she had in her car. She recounted the joy that little bar of soap brought her friends.

Everyone Can Do Something: While speaking about the importance of service Atkinson she was once challenged by a woman who said, “I’m 80 years old, I rarely get out of the house and I have a limited income, how can I make a difference?” Atkinson challenged her to donate a can of soup to the food bank each week. She took the challenge and for several years thereafter, she did just that, ultimately providing hundreds of meals for people who otherwise might have gone hungry.

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