Charles Cox had always heard the pitch about charitable work, how volunteers gain more satisfaction helping others than serving themselves. 


 Memphis Local 881 Business Manager Charles Cox, left, received a Canadian National Railway award for community service.

But Cox, business manager of Memphis, Tenn., Local 881, who represents workers at Canadian National Railway, was busy with his own family and his job representing workers from Centralia, Ill., to Baton Rouge, La., and Paducah, Ky.

That was until a friend, Neal Heaslett, a member of the board of directors of Youth Leadership of Memphis, convinced Cox to get up early on Saturday mornings to help young people from some of the city’s toughest neighborhoods go to work cutting grass or cleaning up their neighborhoods, earning money desperately needed by their families.

“When the kids we were helping showed how appreciative they were,” says Cox, “it made all my time worthwhile.”

Last year, CN recognized Cox’s good works by naming him one of six of the carrier’s “Railroaders in the Community,” donating $5,000 to Youth Leadership in Memphis, a church-based fund that pays young workers in the program. Cox was featured in a story in the company’s newsletter, CN People.

Plagued by crime and drug activity, Memphis gets a bad rap, says Cox. So the leadership group is “trying to make kids into men,” instilling a work ethic in youth who, Cox says, come from dire economic circumstances.

The program insists that participants stay in school, attend church services and show up ready for work to earn their pay.

Before heading out to work, mentors and participants go to a local restaurant for breakfast.  “Some of their families’ rarely have enough money to go to a sit-down restaurant,” says Cox.

Participants contribute some of their earnings to their families and save some for their own purchases, helping them learn to manage their own finances. Older youths gain leadership skills by directing younger participants.

“We have an 80 percent success rate, helping keep kids out of the criminal justice system and find productive work,” says Cox, whose grandfather and great grandfather worked for Illinois Central Railroad, CN’s predecessor.

Cox, an electrician, says he appreciates being recognized with an award for his work, but says that his employer’s support has gone much deeper. Bo Harris, a CN manager, has contributed his own money to help buy backpacks and T-shirts for Youth Leadership in Memphis participants.

Cox says he derives satisfaction from representing his 70 members. But few things, he says, compare to having young participants in the youth leadership program come up and thank him for getting involved in their lives.