Serena Simmons Connelly was the most generous person I have ever known.
Serena gave all the time. This week I read through every email from Serena, every meeting, visit, event, and looking back I see it with great clarity: every time, Serena was giving.
Everyone knows that Serena supported so much in this community with an amazing generosity of resources. But to me what mattered was how she gave. She gave with her whole being. She shared vast amounts of her time. She connected so many of us in this community together, new relationships, new projects, new ideas that would never have been born without her. She opened her home to us. She shared her family with us. She took us places. She brought the world to us.
Serena was a teacher to everyone who had ears. She taught me about children and education and refugees and women, about war and equity and culture and empowerment. She taught me what Montessori means, and the difference between deaf and Deaf. Serena taught me what a social enterprise really is. She taught me what it means to be a philanthropist and how to be an impact investor.
She gave us love. Serena had a huge smile and a warm hug and boundless optimism. Her encouragement gave so many of us courage to follow big dreams. She gave us permission to take risks that no one else would, because she knew the power of learning through experience. She believed in us.
She gave us each other. “You should know Byron Sanders.” “Have you seen the Deaf Action Center?” “Do you know the Texas Muslim Women’s Foundation?” “Come meet Ishmael Beah.” “Let’s go to the Montessori school.” “I want to show you BOMLA.” “Come learn about the Human Rights Initiative.” “Let me introduce you.” “Be my guest.” “Meet my friend. Tell her your idea!”
Serena gave us her name. “Tell them I’m behind you!” “Tell them to call me!” “Do you want to have a gathering at my house?” “Tell them I sent you.”
Serena never stopped. She worked hard, even when she wasn’t feeling well. She cared for everyone else, giving and sharing and supporting others all throughout many very difficult circumstances of her own. Serena served us at her kitchen table, when she couldn’t partake herself.
Serena was my friend. Her messages were love and hugs and hearts. I absolutely loved going to visit her. I never once left a time with her without feeling completely energized.
I was supposed to visit Serena this month at home. Shelter in place prevented our last visit. Knowing how close Serena’s family is and the loss they are experiencing, I feel selfish being heartbroken, but I am.
I will stop with all of you to grieve the loss of a great human being, Serena Simmons Connelly. Then, I will honor Serena the best way I know how – to do as she did. Give, teach, offer ourselves to each other, lend our names, believe in each others’ dreams, send our love, and work hard to create the shift we’ve been seeking.