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Bloomfield Hills

August 12, 2013

Lighthouse intern makes giving a family affair

Local student takes her place among three generations of community volunteers

By Tiffany Esshaki
C & G Staff Writer

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21-year-old Aidan Keenan, of Bloomfield Hills, is finishing up a summer communications internship at Lighthouse of Oakland County. The nonprofit was founded by her grandfather, Jack Keenan.

BLOOMFIELD HILLS — Earlier this summer, Aidan Keenan applied to be an unpaid intern at Lighthouse of Oakland County. The staff was drawn to her desire to help people in her community, and they gladly welcomed her to the team.

Little did they know, the Bloomfield Hills teen is the granddaughter of the organization’s founders, Jack and Ellen Keenan.

It’s been more than 40 years since Jack and his late wife opened the doors of Lighthouse of Oakland County in 1972. Jack, a World War II veteran and retiree from J. Walter Thompson, said it was the need he saw during the late 1960s and early ’70s that prompted him and his wife to launch the organization. Their intention was to help their neighbors in the midst of financial crisis find their way to self-sufficiency.

Their mission quickly grew from a one-room operation housed within a church to one of the state’s most recognized nonprofits that has helped thousands of families find the help they need. From food, housing and medical assistance, to senior and teen services, and even financial literacy seminars, Lighthouse of Oakland County has become an integral resource in southeastern Michigan.

That tradition of service is something that Keenan desperately wanted to be a part of since her childhood. So when the communications major at Xavier University in Cincinnati entered her senior year, she knew exactly where she wanted to go to fulfill her internship requirements.

According to Lighthouse Chief Development Officer Priscilla Perkins, Keenan was just “a natural fit” for the staff — though her ties to the organization went unnoticed for some time.

“We had no idea who she was when she interviewed with us, and Aidan didn’t tell us. But we could tell she was the right fit and had a passion for service,” said Perkins in a prepared statement. “We finally put two and two together after she was on the job awhile.”

Growing up, Keenan joined her family in Lighthouse’s Adopt-a-Family program and several food drives. Now, with most of her college education under her belt, she’s using her communication skills and innate tech-savvy to contribute to the nonprofit, keeping the Lighthouse website and social media up to date.

“I really enjoyed it. It’s been a wonderful experience. I learned a lot, especially in the communications field,” said Keenan, who said she’d now like to make social media management part of her career. “My dream job would be working with social media for a company, doing their social media sites. And I really enjoyed working for a nonprofit. I liked the fact that they’re trying to send a message out and trying to inform people.”

Keenan said she didn’t want to mention her family ties in her initial application because she wanted to have an authentic interview experience based on her own credentials. Though, she admits, she did mention to her grandfather that she was applying to the organization.

“He was excited when I applied, and then of course he was very overjoyed once I got it,” she said, noting the close relationship she has with her grandfather. “He’s one of my favorite people, and such a good guy. He’s a great role model to have. My favorite piece of advice he gave me was just to do what you love and be happy about it. He always just wanted us to be happy, and I think picking out a job or activity that makes that possible is really important to him.”

The Keenan family mission to inspire is more important than ever. In the book “Bowling Alone,” penned by Harvard Professor Robert D. Putnam, volunteerism in the United States peaked around the time the Keenan family founded Lighthouse, but it’s been slowly on the decline ever since. At the same time, the need for volunteers has been growing, coming to a head in recent years with the lagging economy. Data Driven Detroit reported recently that between 2000 and 2010, southeast Michigan experienced a 48 percent increase in individuals living in poverty.

This week, Keenan will complete her internship, though she knows she’ll always be a part of the Lighthouse legacy. She only hopes that others will do their part to support the community, as well.

To learn more about Lighthouse of Oakland County, visit www.LighthouseOakland.org or call (248) 920-6000.

You can reach C & G Staff Writer Tiffany Esshaki at tesshaki@candgnews.com or at (586)498-1095.