"My mom was very outspoken in the community," says James Joseph, a UPS package car driver in Baton Rouge, La. "I'd call her an activist. If she saw something that needed to be fixed or made right, she didn't wait for help... She did it herself. If she saw a child without shoes, she would get them shoes. Clothes, food, whatever was needed. I'm just continuing the work she started long ago."
Joseph has spread so much love around Louisiana in his 21 years at UPS that he just received the highest honor bestowed upon a UPS employee, the Jim Casey Community Service Award. The award, created in 1995, is named in honor of one of UPS's founders and its long-time CEO.
Everyone in the Baton Rouge area seems to know Joseph as "Big Brown" – that's a nickname easy to decipher. Joseph stands 6 feet 8 inches tall and wears a lot of brown.
Joseph played college basketball at Abilene Christian University in west Texas. After graduating, he toured the world for two years with the world-famous Harlem Globetrotters. After playing pro basketball for several more seasons overseas, he returned home and took a seasonal job with UPS. He's never left.
Joseph' community service is far-reaching. In fact, it is so vast that he started a nonprofit, Big Brown Reaching Back, to bring order to all his work. He selflessly supports those around him, just as his mother, Lillie Joseph, did before she passed away in 2006. "We didn't have much to offer," Joseph remembers about his childhood, "but we shared all we had."
In Pointe Coupee Parish in 2009, Joseph happened upon a rather dilapidated house. Inside, an elderly woman suffered in the heat of the Louisiana summer. Her home had no air conditioning. The situation moved Joseph to act.
He launched Beat the Heat, a program that donates fans and air conditioning units to elderly and needy members of the community. Joseph and fellow UPS volunteers have installed hundreds of units during off-duty hours, making life bearable for many residents.
After that start, no heat wave or rising waters could stop Joseph. And he works for the simplest reward: A smile.
"It means a lot that all the hard work is being noticed," he says. "But for me, the most important reward is seeing the smiling face of a child who gets a toy for Christmas … or a homeless person who receives a mattress and blanket … or an elderly woman getting some air-conditioning for her hot house."
Joseph's Big Brown Reaching Back fund supports 20 different organizations, and has helped people made homeless by recent flooding in Baton Rouge, delivered toys for needy children, equipped schools, and provided meals for those in need. Many of Joseph's fellow UPSers in Louisiana also have donated their time and money to assist with these efforts.
"James Joseph is bigger than life," says John Spain, executive vice president for the Baton Rouge Area Foundation. "He has a constant smile, a constant laugh, a good word, an engaging personality. You like him the minute you meet him."
"He knows everybody on a first-name basis," Spain marvels. "If I were going to write a description of what the perfect employee ambassador for UPS would be in our community, it'd be James."
"James is all about seeing a need, responding without reservation or weeks of advanced planning, and making a difference," says his UPS manager, Jeff Hill. As Joseph's list of community good deeds grows longer and longer, one thing's for sure: His mom would be very proud.
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