Greg Lewis didn’t initially intend on becoming a decades-long volunteer with the FIRST LEGO League robotics program, but after volunteering when his son was in the program, he stayed. Being a volunteer with FLL changed his life, giving him a sense of purpose and a schedule after his first wife passed away from breast cancer.
Lewis has mentored more than 600 youths, has been a part of giving a multitude of scholarships out since joining the program in 2009, and has even grown his volunteerism beyond the FIRST LEGO League to help high school and college students. He coaches and mentors youth on the weekends and even helps a soccer league and dance group transport equipment when needed.
What inspires you to volunteer?
What initially got me to volunteer was when my late wife was going through chemotherapy for breast cancer. She wanted to find something for me and my younger son to do. Our younger son is autistic and he loves computers, so we found the First Lego League Robotics program that offered students robotics and computer programming here in Chandler in 2009.
So that’s what got me started. Initially it was just for him, but then he went through his junior year of high school and on to college. I stayed with the program as a volunteer because I saw how much impact it has on kids; I saw it in my son. I’m inspired today to continue this work because when I was a kid, something like this didn’t exist. These kids get to come and learn on weekends, sometimes spending eight hours with us on a Saturday, and they’re genuinely excited to be there. It gives them opportunities for scholarships, relationships and growth. They have to learn to communicate what they’re doing and working on, so it’s a great pipeline into work experience as well.
Tell us about your volunteer roles with the organizations you’re a part of.
The vast majority of my time is spent with the robotics teams at First Lego League Robotics. We have anywhere from two to 12 teams a year. We mentor the kids, set them up into teams, guide them with picking the projects that they do and give them a little bit of guidance on building the robots. We try to leave that more in the kids’ hands so that they actually do it ourselves. From that standpoint, the Lego League is mostly mentoring. I don’t coach any individual team, but I do coach for the whole group. I try to bring in doughnuts and pizza and stuff like that when they’re there on Saturdays. We make sure they get something to eat since our program mostly centers around underserved families — everything is free. Nobody has to pay to join a team or anything.
The Si Se Puede Foundation and As I Rise Foundation are kind of one in the same as FLL to me; I started working with the founder Alberto Esparza in 2009 as well and they focus more on college and high school robotics. We also help out a soccer league and dance group, Baille Folklorico. I mostly help them haul around equipment, it’s part of having a truck. We have about 500 kids in the local school district playing soccer and everything is free to the kids like nets, soccer balls, goals, water and stuff like that.
Mostly I tell people I’m not in charge of it all; I’m not the boss or anything. I just want to make sure that everything happens and that there’s never a time that we can’t do something. I want to see all of these kids continue to have these opportunities.
What’s been the most rewarding part of your work?
Seeing my son learning to have and interact with friends. He built a group of friends through the robotics program and in high school he started joining clubs then actually got a scholarship. He actually works in Dallas right now for Ernst and Young as a programmer and he’s gone from being a person that really couldn’t tolerate anybody to being very successful.
I’d love to see any of these kids come back and visit us after they get scholarships to colleges and get jobs all over the country. We’ve seen a lot of kids do that. So we’ve really tried to at least give them the preparation and skills for college and the workplace. Most of the underserved kids that we have might be the first generation to ever go to college and we want to make sure that they continue to see these opportunities.
What have you learned through your experiences as a volunteer?
The main thing I’ve learned is just how lucky I’ve been in my life. I’ve always had people support me and I think we take that for granted sometimes. But I’ve learned that even just a little tiny bit of help makes a huge difference to these kids. It’s nice to learn that even a small act can have a huge impact on somebody and even their whole family.
Any advice for people who want to start volunteering?
I always try to tell people to pick out something that they genuinely like doing or feel a personal connection to. It doesn’t have to be robotics or engineering. People should go out and visit places that pique their interest instead of just reading about them.
Why is it important for others to get involved with causes they care about?
I believe it’s always important for anyone to volunteer. People reach their own success because of the people around them helping. There’s a lot of hidden people around the country who may be under-resourced and they just don’t have the opportunities that a lot of other people have. So it’s good to give back to anybody.
I’m retired now so something like this still keeps me busy and gives me a schedule that I can keep following. I’ve been very thankful for this volunteering opportunity, especially since my first wife passed away — it really gave me something to do and kept me going and kept me doing something good for my community.
Tell us about future partnerships, programs or events that you are excited about.
The soccer team is continuing to do scrimmages on weekends and on December 8, FLL Robotics has an event. Our underwater robotics program picks up in the springtime.
Do you want to make a difference in your community like Greg? Find local volunteer opportunities.