Raised in a small steel town outside of Pittsburgh, Vanda Kennedy grew up without a lot of things, but always with a lot of love. Her grandmother, who she cares for today, was always serving somewhere in the community, filling the buckets of others.
“She reminded me – and lived it out herself - to whom much is given, much is required,” said Vanda, recalling the influencers who shaped her. Another influencer, although she likely didn’t realize it at the time, was her childhood best friend’s brother, who had Down syndrome.
“He was always fun and kind,” she said. “So many people with mental disabilities are forgotten, overlooked or deemed not viable contributors to society when they have so much to offer at a different level.”
That fondness stuck with her and later, after having a son and starting a real estate career in Raleigh, she found herself signing up to volunteer at the 1999 Special Olympics World Games.
“She reminded me – and lived it out herself – to whom much is given, much is required."
“I was drawn back to this community,” she said. “I wanted to coach track or swimming, but I didn’t have much time so I ended up hosting a family from West Africa. We spent a week together and I loved learning about them. Even though they only spoke French, we seemed to always know what one another were saying.”
After the Games, though, life filled the spaces. She moved from Raleigh to Hampton Roads, continuing to build her real estate business and raise her son. In late 2019, though, just before COVID, she again felt the tug and filled out a Special Olympics Virginia volunteer form online. Unfortunately, volunteer opportunities were few and far between in 2020, but the connection wasn’t totally lost. Vanda suddenly found herself helping a Special Olympics team member search for a home in the area.
“We started talking and I knew she’d been put into my life for a reason,” Vanda said. “I needed to find a way to help – even though things were busier than ever in the real estate world.”
So she did. For every home sold, Vanda now gives a portion of her commission to support the program. For Vanda, each gift is a gift of opportunity; a gift to help Special Olympics athletes get back in the game.
“Everyone can give something,” she said. “Giving back is my purpose, but it should be everyone’s. If you could enrich someone’s life, why wouldn’t you? Even if you just have $5, it adds up when we all give together. What a beautiful thing.”