A lifelong volunteer in the United States works through the worst to make the world better

Steven Reps and Lisa Shepherd
IBMers Steven Reps and Lisa Shepard volunteer together for the Connecticut Special Olympics. “The athletes have a great many physical and/or mental challenges. However, they remain undaunted. I've never seen anything more inspirational,” Steven says.

For more than 18 years, Steven Reps, a team lead for Distributed Storage Management—and an IBMer since he was an undergraduate college student hired under the Cooperative Education Program—has volunteered for a wide range of organizations, including the Special Olympics, the Avon Breast Cancer walk, and Sandy Hook Elementary School.

“I have been blessed with a lovely home and family, an excellent career, good food and enough money to keep my family and me comfortable in this wonderful, free country. I know there are a lot of people who do not have all these luxuries and advantages. So I prefer to give some back whenever I can,” says Steven.

One of Steven’s first entries into community service was in 1995, when he began serving on the Board of Directors for the Hudson Glen Condo Association in Bethel, Connecticut. “As the condo board president, I had to be not only a leader of the board of directors, but had to wear many different hats as well: on any given day during my tenure, I had to be constable, traffic cop, property manager, landscaper, mediator, accountant, interior decorator, handyman, child psychologist, and judge and jury.”

Steven explains how this has helped him in his career at IBM. “Here at IBM, leading a team of 23, I also wear many different hats, some of which are similar to the ones I wore as president of the condo board. Volunteering has been instrumental in making me a well rounded leader, capable of managing any problem or crisis with skill, infinite patience, stamina, and a great deal of discipline.”

ConneCTing the cables

Steven has also taken advantage of IBM-sponsored opportunities. Well before he had a family of his own, he volunteered on a project called "ConneCT 2000."

“In the spring of 1996, IBM was helping the local Connecticut schools get connected to the relatively new and wondrous technology of the Internet,” Steven recounts. “A group of IBMers spent the weekend setting up a network and running Ethernet cables throughout the ’East Farms Elementary School’ in Waterbury, Connecticut,” since renamed ’The Margaret M. Generali Elementary School.’

At the end of the weekend, Steven offered to continue helping the school with its IT. “The principal, Ms. Margaret Generali, was astounded that I wanted to volunteer to help them in this manner. I gathered that they did not get too many offers like the one I made to them on that day. I stayed with them for several years.”

Continuing to serve in schools

As Steven’s life changed, so have the volunteering opportunities. Now the father of a young daughter, in 2012, Steven was invited to his daughter’s school for their Veterans' Day breakfast. The day included a visit to his daughter's first grade classroom at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut, US, to talk about what he did as a noncommissioned officer in the United States Navy.

“My daughter loved the fact I was there with her and her class. So when the opportunity came to volunteer again to help her class build gingerbread houses for the holidays, I jumped at the chance to do it.”

That was the morning of December 14, 2012, a day that is seared in the minds of most Americans. At 9:35am, a gunman entered the elementary school and fatally shot 20 children and 6 adults. Steven was there at 9:30, waiting outside his daughter’s classroom for the other volunteers.

“I heard a very strange, loud, and disturbing sound around the corner. No other volunteers had arrived at that point. I thought perhaps the custodian dropped a stack of folding chairs or a toolbox. It did not immediately occur to me what the sound actually was. The sound was definitely out of context. A few seconds later, I heard the sound again and then realized what it actually was—another volley of gunfire.”

Steven ran into the classroom, slammed the door and informed the teacher that there was a "commotion down the hall." He and the teacher calmly and quickly shepherded the 16 students to the back of the classroom and onto the floor.

Steven continues to volunteer with the school children. “I am proud to continue to volunteer. Since last year's tragedy, I am especially interested in helping the children in any way I can. I volunteer to help my daughter’s second grade class during their math period, I volunteer for PTA sponsored projects and I will once again be there for the Veterans' Day breakfast. I feel it's necessary to continue to volunteer enthusiastically and without reservation. Otherwise, those who choose to wreak havoc and terror might get the impression that their tactics are actually working.”

Giving to children and adults equally

In addition to sitting on the School Based Building Advisory Committee which is designing a new elementary school to replace Sandy Hook Elementary, Steven also gives his time to the Connecticut Special Olympics as well as a host of other organizations.

“Volunteering for Special Olympics is certainly one of my favorites. It's always with mixed emotions, though, as it's literally heartwarming and heartbreaking at the same time. The athletes have a great many physical and/or mental challenges. However, they remain undaunted, even if they don't have the inherent capabilities to win or even perform the basic tasks to fully participate. I've never seen anything more inspirational,” he says.

Steven ends with a final thought. “I have always been interested in supporting worthy charitable causes not only monetarily, but with my time and effort, as well. I feel devoting my time to a worthy cause is just as important, if not more so than monetary donations.”

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