As a young Baltimore Orioles fan, Parker Ramsdell noticed something about the ballpark where he’d go to watch the team play: The surrounding streets were lined with homeless people asking for money.
“I remember being struck by that and asked my dad for a few dollar bills and handed them out to folks when we left the stadium,” Ramsdell said. “Every time we went back for a game, he’d give me money for a soda or hot dog and let me pocket the change so I could give it away later. My dad showed a lot of heart and compassion when it’s easier for a parent to take his kid’s hand and scurry away.”
Instead of learning apathy or fear on those outings as a boy, Ramsdell gained empathy. Now 32 and an ambassador of communications for the full-service product company Perfect Sense in Northern Virginia, he has never stopped walking toward people who are disadvantaged.
When he was 14, Ramsdell’s mother got him involved as a volunteer swim coach with Special Olympics, to which he continues to be devoted 18 years later.
“Those two things – the homeless at the ballgames and Special Olympics – instilled in me a passion for service,” he said.
And it was a Special Olympics event where he first came in contact with David Gang, the co-founder and CEO of Perfect Sense.
Ramsdell was in between jobs, looking for a career that would have a meaningful impact. He was attracted to Perfect Sense because it “was founded with a strong belief in giving back to the community,” he said. He came on board in 2013 and has since overseen the design and development of several Special Olympics websites for the company.
“Parker is just himself, polished and diplomatic, when he deals with Special Olympics athletes,” observed Editra Allen, the organization’s director of World Games and Competition. “The ideal thing we strive for is that you present yourself in the same way you would to your family and friends and colleagues and don’t treat individuals with intellectual disabilities any differently. No one needed to tell him that – it came to him naturally.”
Politics is another field that came to Ramsdell naturally. His maternal grandfather, Clifton C. Carter, was an aide to President Lyndon B. Johnson.
“The Johnson era was so much about the war on poverty. The good that government can do rubbed off on me,” said Ramsdell, who majored in government and economics at the University of Texas at Austin. In his 20s, he worked on Capitol Hill for former Congressman Tom Perriello, a Democrat from Virginia, and for President Barack Obama’s reelection campaign.
“I like to joke that when I was kid I’d rather watch Sunday morning political shows than cartoons,” he said.
Seeking office himself is still a question mark.
“I thought about going into politics in the past and it might be something I dive back into in the future,” he said.
Kids love challenges ... The kids who had the most success in my class were those I had the highest expectations of.
His years of coaching swimming made Ramsdell think he might want to become a teacher. After earning a Master of Education degree from Arizona State University, he spent two years in the Teach for America corps in Glendale, Arizona, where he taught social studies and reading to underprivileged children at a middle school. He had a key takeaway from the experience.
“Kids love challenges,” he said. “If you’ve got underachieving kids or kids from a disadvantaged background, too often people let them skate by, go easy on them. If you challenge them, they’ll rise to meet those challenges. The kids who had the most success in my class were those I had the highest expectations of.”
Ramsdell tried to shine a spotlight on his students, giving them the attention they sought even when they were acting out. It took patience and a sense of humor, but his main objective was creating a classroom atmosphere where the kids “felt appreciated and celebrated and loved and safe,” he said.
Today, despite a full-time job, Ramsdell continues working with kids through a youth-oriented golf organization called The First Tee and coaching swimming at a swim club and a high school, both in Northern Virginia. Six days a week he teaches from 4:45 a.m. to 6:30 a.m. plus five or six afternoons a week. He survives on four to five hours of a sleep and takes a nap in his car between swim practice and the start of his work day.
Even in winter?
“I’ve learned a method: if you pull a blanket over your head and breathe, it can keep you warmer,” he said, laughing.
“He never stops going,” said Andrew Bachelder, a retired Marine who plays in golf tournaments and does speaking engagements sponsored by Feherty’s Troops First Foundation, a nonprofit assisting wounded warriors. Perfect Sense partners with the organization for fundraising events, which Ramsdell helps organize and facilitate.
“You won’t find a more genuine, down-to-earth individual,” Bachelder said. “Parker doesn’t judge you whether you’re missing limbs or got bullet holes in you or attempted suicide. He’s not one to think about himself. He thinks about the individual in front of him. He’s got the leadership traits we carry in the military.”
Bachelder was wounded in a mid-air helicopter collision in Afghanistan in 2009 and endured a long, painful recovery. The game of golf saved his life, he said, and he’s currently studying at the Golf Academy of America in Texas to become a teacher, in part motivated by Ramsdell’s example.
Another organization Ramsdell connects with through his Perfect Sense position is the YMCA. Michael Anderson, who oversees fundraising for the organization in the Washington DC metropolitan area, cited Ramsdell’s hands-on approach, ranging from donating bicycles to raising money to send poor city kids to summer camp.
“I can tell the difference between representatives of companies that do it to save money on taxes, even though they’re sincere to a certain extent,” Anderson said. “But with Parker, he’ll help put the bikes together and deliver them to us himself. His personality matches what he does. There is no question that he cares.”