What inspires people to give? And what do they get out of it? We asked readers to tell us about people who make a real difference in their community, then asked experts in the science of altruism how their generosity pays off for more than just those they set out to help.
Three years ago, injury changed Miranda Kamal's life.
"For years, I was a mortgage broker, which I never loved," she recalls. "When I got injured, it forced me to do what I really wanted to do – work with kids."
She had been a competitive boxer and was determined to stay connected to the sport, so she arranged with the charity Youth Assisting Youth to launch a free program that teaches life skills to "at risk" young people through non-contact boxing.
Since then, she estimates, more than 3,000 kids have learned to tap into their potential, talent and skills – all while wearing padded gloves and bags to soften their blows.
"Boxing is truly a catalyst for most kids," says the Nova Scotia-born Kamal, 35, who runs the program in Toronto with husband Ibrahim (Firearm) Kamal, an eight-time national lightweight champion, and about 50 volunteers.
"They get a sense of family, as most come from single-family homes. They're also often new to Canada, so language is a big challenge for them. Boxing teaches empowerment but we are also able to bring them into an inclusive environment."
Putting on the gloves, she says, certainly empowered her. "At the age of 16, I was a victim of sexual assault and the sport of boxing healed me. I wanted to feel safe – I never wanted to hurt anyone.
"We've noticed a lot of the kids have baggage they are trying to work out. Boxing helps to heal whatever those kids are battling."
Kamal says that funding for the program comes primarily "from the goodness of the people of Toronto who donate their time, resources, space, snacks and food," with some financial support from Maple Leaf Sports & Entertainment.
"We rent space from all around the city, with our biggest partners being the Toronto District School Board and Toronto Police Services, specifically the 11 and 14 divisions."
Friend Randy Phipps says Kamal works "tirelessly – Miranda sees these kids as more than their circumstances and she motivates, inspires and encourages them to find their own light within and shine bright. Many have gone on to become leaders in the communities, as coaches, professional athletes, scholarship recipients and youth leaders."
Kamal's story exemplifies a core character strength from positive psychology: resilience. This is the ability to get back up, even stronger than before, when life knocks you down. Not everyone possesses this quality. Psychologists have found that it is associated with a positive attitude, optimism, the ability to regulate emotions, and the ability to see failures as constructive feedback. Kamal appears to have it in abundance and is teaching a generation of kids to be resilient as well.
– The Canadian Positive Psychology Association