My name is Kevin Lilly. I’m 25 years old, I’m from Dorchester, and I am the the founder and executive director of Samaritans Steps. We are a nonprofit that works to empower and support Boston’s youth, veterans, and other disenfranchised members of the community through advocacy, education, resources, and more.
I started the organization in 2014 during my senior year in college after convincing my department chair into letting me work on it as my internship. In school I studied entrepreneurship, and for me Samaritans Steps is the perfect marriage of my love of entrepreneurship as well as my love of serving others. The organization seeks to help the forgotten, looked over, and marginalized in the city of Boston, but we do it in a different way than has been done before. We make service fun.
Whether they’re serving with us or being served by us, everyone has a blast interacting with Samaritan Steps. Serving others should be something people enjoy doing, not something that feels like a chore or an obligation. We hosted a storytime for homeless children a few months ago, and the Attorney General came out to read to the kids. We actually convinced the state trooper on her security detail to join in the fun by reading “Where the Wild Things Are,” to the children. The way he lit up was incredible. He got really into it, you could tell it meant a lot both to him and the families of the children. Moments like that remind me that it’s important to make our events fun and engaging for everyone involved.
I wish I had a budget that matches our big ideas, but until we get there it forces me to be strategic and creative with what we do have. Since founding Samaritan Steps, we have raised and distributed over $13,000 worth of clothing and directly served over 500 homeless individuals. We have created two scholarship programs (and are currently working on a third), launched the Rainbow Bridge Initiative which brings the faith community and LGBTQ community together to end youth homelessness, supported and advocated for important legislation providing funds for housing ad support services to assist homeless youth, and started a campus initiative creating student led clubs to address the immediate needs of homeless students. It is incredibly challenging to try and have maximum impact with very little resources and money. It might sound crazy, but something as simple as a smile on a child's face or a hug from a parent is enough to remind me why it’s worth it to keep going. That said, my vision for Boston's future is one where my organization and others like it wouldn't need to exist. A future where the idea of homeless youth is a thing of the past, just like T tokens.
What advice would you give to the aspiring leaders and changemakers among Boston's millennial population?
Just start. A lot of people hold on to their excuses for why they don't start. If you’re passionate about something, you'll make a way to make it happen. I would also add, remember why you started. Being a leader is going to get tough, and you'll have moments where you’re overwhelmed by all the pressure and stress. When you remember why you started in the first place, you realize that giving up isn't an option.
Lastly building genuine relationships with the people you lead and serve is key. You can't effectively serve people you don't know, or lead people you don't care about.
SPARK IMPACT AWARDS
SPARK Boston is Mayor Walsh’s millennial engagement initiative. Our mission is to engage the next generation of civic leaders and social entrepreneurs in the work of city government. From dedicated public servants to community builders and connectors, millennials are some of Boston’s most impactful citizens. Each year, the City of Boston celebrates the millennial contribution to our city with the Annual SPARK Impact Awards.