Since the Russian invasion of Ukraine, more than four million refugees have fled the bombing and devastation. I read recently that nearly a million displaced Ukrainians have settled in Poland. Over 150,000 are now living in Krakow, increasing its population by 20 percent in a few short weeks. The Polish government quickly enacted a law allowing refugees to legally live and work in the country—apparently tens of thousands of Ukrainians have already found jobs—and countless households have taken in displaced families. I’ve seen footage at the train station of Polish families holding up signs like “I’ll take two families!” or “I’ll take three!” After weeks of terrible news, it warmed my heart to see the deep compassion of the Polish people. I’ve traveled to Poland several times in my life, and each time I’m in awe of how special and beautiful a place it is.
Watching that news report brought me back to when I was six years old. I was traveling with my parents to John F. Kennedy International Airport to pick up my newly adopted eight-month-old sister, Michele Joy, who had been abandoned at a police station in South Korea. When we arrived at the gate, there were a dozen sets of parents waiting to meet their new baby boy or girl for the first time. When the nurses left the plane cradling the infants, everyone started crying with joy. It was the happiest moment of my life.
It would not be the first time my parents opened their home to someone in need. During the 1970s, in the aftermath of the Vietnam War, hundreds of thousands of Vietnamese refugees fled the country in search of a better life, many of them on tiny boats. The “boat people,” as they became known, had to brave hunger, disease, and even piracy to escape Vietnam, and many settled in America, Canada, Italy, Australia, and other countries. When I was growing up in Suffern, New York, a group of boat people were sponsored by the local Catholic church. They were all orphaned boys about my age. Every Saturday morning, my father, who was a teacher at a nearby junior high school, drove to the church and volunteered his time to teach them English. Our family fell in love with one of the boys, Dewey, and for years he came over to our house for dinner, sleepovers, ball games, and pool parties. We considered him part of our family.
It seemed there was always someone new we were opening our doors to. On any given night, we hosted Christians, Jews, Muslims, Africans, Koreans, Vietnamese—every race, ethnicity, and creed were welcome in our home. It was truly a melting pot of diversity, and I’ll always love my parents for introducing me to values like tolerance, acceptance, and generosity.
These are values I cherish to this day. Several years ago, when the son of a dear friend was struggling with anxiety during his freshman year at the University of Denver, I picked him up from his dorm and for the next six months he lived in our basement. Like Dewey and Michele, he became a part of our family. Recently, a young man I’ve been mentoring for many years separated from his wife. When I learned he was living alone in an Airbnb, I immediately called him. Soon after, he moved into our house. He, too, has become part of our family.
Today, too many Americans measure their success by how big their home is. We live in closed-off communities and wrap big fences around our property. It’s time we start measuring our success in more meaningful ways. When you sit down for dinner tonight with your family, I want you to look at the empty seats around the table. Think about those beautiful Polish people holding signs at the train station. I’ll take two families. I’ll take three. You may not be able to welcome a Ukrainian into your home, but if you open your eyes and your heart, you will see that you are surrounded by all kinds of refugees. People going through a divorce. People diagnosed with cancer. People who have lost a loved one. People who have no place to call home. People who simply need to be loved and accepted.
We have an opportunity every day to be a positive influence on the lives of others. So, here’s my challenge to you, right now: Who will you open your doors to? How many are you taking? Your generosity will not only change their lives, but also change yours.