Finding Reward in Getting Uncomfortable

by Gray Davis, a Hands On Charlotte volunteer

In 2010, I was “retired” by the Great Recession when my building industry job disappeared. It’s hard to do nothing and feel good about yourself, so I began volunteering with Second Harvest Food Bank. After a bicycle accident and knee replacement surgery made it unfeasible to continue, I reached out to Hands On Charlotte in search of something new.

Doug Macomb at Hands On Charlotte challenged me to get out of my comfort zone by tutoring kids. I don’t have grandkids, so I wasn’t used to interacting with children anymore. But five months into volunteering, the students enjoy my help and I’m getting as much out of the experience as they are.

In Charlotte, you’re not going to make it without a good education. If you have language barriers, the odds are stacked against you even more. So the Study Buddies program at Learning Help Community Center in south Charlotte helps immigrant and refugee children, particularly from low-income families.

I volunteer two nights a week helping elementary school students with their homework. Some are behind their peers, but they’re very eager to learn – they want to be there.

Others want to get ahead, like a 3rd grader from Cameroon. She’s amazing, speaks both French and English. She’s reading at a 5th grade level, but her parents encourage her to participate to advance further.

Volunteering has really given me a spark. I like the mental exercise, it keeps me sharp. And Hands On Charlotte and the Learning Center are very organized – I’m impressed with their focus and their mission.

At 68, I still have a lot to contribute to this community, and volunteering allows me to do that. Being able to share my knowledge has been extremely rewarding, and I encourage everyone to get out of their comfort zone too.

To learn more about the Study Buddies program or other volunteer opportunities, contact Hands On Charlotte’s Doug Macomb at

Turning a Crisis Into New Beginnings

Amir Behani is a Charlotte native, successful entrepreneur, and business owner, working in residential and commercial real estate across the Charlotte area. Over the past seven years, he has been a Hands On Charlotte volunteer and project lead for The Relatives, a United Way agency that helps children and youth find shelter and support. Amir currently lives in Plaza Midwood with his wife and daughter.

Seven years ago, Amir Behani found himself looking for opportunities to give back to the community. The stock market had just crashed and Amir lost everything – his job, his home, his car and a stable income to rely on. With much reflection, Amir concluded that everything happens for a reason, which led him to share his experience of loss to help others reach their next step in life.

Before the market crash, Amir had accomplished the American Dream. At the age of 10, he relocated to Charlotte with his family after living in Iran, India and California. He grew up in SouthPark, attended West Charlotte High School, and became the first student to graduate with three business degrees simultaneously from the University of North Carolina at Charlotte.

“I chose to attend West Charlotte over Myers Park. In 1994, West Charlotte’s football team was the national champs and it was one of two schools in the Charlotte area with a swimming pool,” recalled Amir. “But the reason I chose to go there and am still proud of that decision was for the diversity.”

Amir felt molded by his experiences living in and learning from other cultures. These life lessons are among the many stories he shares with runaway teens at The Relatives, Charlotte’s crisis shelter for homeless youth.

Each teen carries a different story, different experiences and different burdens. After his first few weeks volunteering and spending time playing games with residents of The Relatives, Amir decided it was time to encourage the residents to use their experiences as a strength and develop self confidence in their situations.

During his next volunteer night at The Relatives, he started the conversation with four questions: “What three things are you good at?” “Give two things you are proud of yourself for accomplishing?” “What’s one thing that makes you weaker and why?” and “What’s one thing that makes you stronger and why?” The answers he received blew him away.

One teen responded, “I feel weaker because whenever I make a grade that is higher than my step-siblings my stepfather hits me.” Another replied, “I feel stronger because seeing my father in jail is my motivation to make the right choices.”

Every week for the past seven years, Amir has continued to ask these questions. He shared that in many ways, the answers each teenager provides are relatable to his own situation and he feels stronger with each conversation.

“My daughter is now two and half years old and I started taking her to my Thursday night sessions about a year ago,” said Amir. “At one of the sessions, a 17-year-old boy, who was staying at The Relatives, brought his seven-month-old son. With both of our children nestled in our arms, we discussed the importance of parenting and being present in your child’s life. Already, his son had become his strength and reason for making the right choices.”

By giving back, Amir turned his crisis into a new beginning. In doing so, he has helped the teens at The Relatives embark on a new path as well.


Published in the Charlotte Business Journal: April 2017