This has been an exciting month for me. My first book, What Makes a Hero?: The Surprising Science of Selflessness, has officially launched! It's been an incredible journey so far—one that unexpectedly began several years ago. Recently married, living in Silicon Valley with my new husband, and looking for a way to feel more comfortable in the community, I joined a volunteer organization called California Community Partners for Youth. CCPY's tagline was, “If you ever wanted to be part of a miracle, this is your chance.” It paired adult mentors and coaches with San Jose high school students who were considered “at risk.” Some struggled with academics, some with drugs or family problems, and others grappled with the larger question of what to do with their lives.
As a new volunteer, I was initially skeptical, thinking I might be prodded to teach the kids tired life-skills principles from the corporate world (Teamwork! Organization!). But what I actually witnessed was a small but dedicated group of people who—quietly and without fanfare—transformed the lives of the teens in the program by giving them hope. If a kid needed a ride late at night to get out of a bad situation, they'd pick him up without a second thought. If a senior needed to pass a state-mandated English exam to graduate, they’d spend time with her after school to make sure she was prepared. The selfless service of CCPY’s staff and volunteers showed me that heroes weren't just people who engineered death-defying rescue attempts or launched campaigns to free political prisoners. A heroic life could be less showy, less ostentatious, but just as significant.