By Sallie James
Eric Shaw’s life has been one of service.
The 77-year-old is the longest-serving board member for the nonprofit Boca Helping Hands and a career-long academic with nearly 40 years teaching and mentoring students at Florida Atlantic University.
“I have always believed my purpose is to give back to other people in life in every way you can,” said Shaw, who recently stepped down from the Helping Hands board after 18 years but will remain a board member emeritus. “I have had a wonderful career. There are so many people who are underprivileged and lack opportunities. It makes me feel good.”
The Boca Raton resident and FAU emeritus professor of business decided years ago to split his time between Boca Helping Hands and FAU. His involvement at both organizations changed lives.
Shaw, who is single, joined Boca Helping Hands nearly 20 years ago when it operated from the small Friendship Missionary Baptist Church. Today it has its own building at 1500 NW First Court in Boca.
“At that time we were feeding a couple dozen people a day and now we do about 80,000 hot meals a year and about 80,000 pantry bags,” Shaw noted.
Shaw fell in love with Helping Hands after he spent time volunteering for the organization so he could get an up-close look at its programs. He worked in the kitchen, the pantry bag line and everywhere else possible to find out more. He liked what he saw, so he joined the board, staying for 18 years.
“I was so impressed with it. It was an opportunity to do good,” Shaw said.
The nonprofit gave Shaw the chance to enact his motto of giving back: Do all the good you can, in all the ways you can for everyone, as long as you can.
He is especially proud of the jobs programs he helped coordinate during his tenure at Boca Helping Hands.
“We made a big decision to not only be a soup kitchen but to also help people get jobs. We wanted to be a bridge to get them into the workforce,” Shaw said. “We also started teaching them life skills. It was wonderful to see some of them get off aid, become independent and then return to become a volunteer to help others.
“It gives meaning to your life. You are making a contribution. We showed them they could do something,” Shaw said.
Board President Gary Peters said Shaw’s determination to serve and enduring kindness will be missed. However, in mid-February, the organization made Shaw a board member emeritus, which means he will still attend board meetings, he just won’t be a voting member.
“Eric has been a steadfast, proactive supporter of BHH from the very beginning, and I am confident that our close relationship will continue. We are greatly indebted to his service and wish him all the very best,” Peters said.
Shaw’s busy career at FAU was in full swing at the same time he was so involved at Boca Helping Hands.
Shaw has completed scores of teaching appointments, had numerous leadership roles and advisory positions, such as chair of a department, acting director of a school, associate dean of a college, and president of the FAU faculty. He has also published nearly 100 papers, engaged in consulting jobs and served as an expert witness.
As an undergraduate FAU student, Shaw still holds the all-time top spot on the President’s List for quality points, having completed 24 credit hours with a 4.0 GPA in the spring term of 1972. His Ph.D. dissertation involved efficiency, and he has continued to publish academic papers on the topic.
Shaw is currently mentoring graduate students via video-conferencing.
“When you can see someone’s eyes light up when they get something, seeing people get connected when they weren’t connected. It never gets old,” Shaw said.