In the Community
The Gift of Philanthropic ValuesApril 18, 2018
When you get past the decorating and the shopping and baking and the parties, and can take a quiet moment of reflection on the broader, grander meanings of the holiday season, consider the following: What does philanthropy mean to me, and how can I pass these values on to my children and grandchildren? When I was a youth, I had a number of experiences that impacted my future career in the nonprofit sector, and my basic values about my responsibilities to other people. When I was four, I would go to the next-door neighbor’s house (an elderly widow), and adjust the horizontal (or vertical—I can’t remember which for sure) hold knob on the back of her television set until she told me it had stopped flipping. This is the first “volunteer” opportunity I remember. When I got a birthday gift of money, it was split between my piggy bank (“for college”), the collection plate at church, and something for me. My father, a funeral director, was always helping bereaved folks with little things long after he had served the family from a business perspective. He would repair a vacuum cleaner, or a coffee maker, or relight a pilot light for a “widow lady” as he called them. He found homes for the pets left behind by those who passed away, and he invited those military folks traveling with a soldier’s remains to come to a family dinner (even my high school graduation party)! My mother, a bank teller, always had a casserole or a pie to support a grieving family, a church supper, or a women’s group meeting. When I was 15, I became a candy striper, and volunteered not only at the local hospital but also the attached nursing home. While taking water and reading materials to patients was rewarding, the best part of it was visiting with the elderly residents of the nursing home. Many never had visitors, and just needed to talk. I was the grateful recipient of many stories and I barely realized at the time how important a service my willingness to listen was to them. I could go on. But suffice it to say that I was encouraged by word and deed to give of my time and my money to others. And it had such an impact that both my profession and my activities outside of work have always had a “helping” component to them. And my daughter was raised with similar sensibilities, and I’m proud to say she is an active volunteer and a generous soul. The holiday season is a great time to start to instill giving values in your children and grandchildren. There are many opportunities to volunteer and donate at this time of year, and if you involve your children, take them with you, or at least talk about your experiences with them, a definite impact will be made. Take food to a food pantry together. Encourage the children to drop coins in the bell-ringers kettle, or talk with them about where a family contribution should be made. Discuss inequities and needs in the world as new stories appear. Help them to write notes of encouragement to those they know who have fallen on hard times, and help them to sort their less-played-with toys for donation. Gratitude for those gifts they receive from others at holiday time can be translated into the idea of passing it forward. As the many holiday television programs and movies are viewed, conversations about the moral messages they offer can spur family action. Serving as a family at a soup kitchen or community meal event can be a forever memory or the beginning of a tradition. And finally, as New Year’s Resolutions are made, making a “charitable” resolution as individuals and as a family can be the impetus for living charitably all year long—not just at the holiday season. It is my belief that we need to be purposeful in teaching those things to our children and grandchildren that we want to make sure they understand, and this includes our values and giving traditions. So, this year, give the gift of giving values to your children, even as that gift gets carried forward into the larger community. The season of giving takes on a whole new meaning for you and your family, and we are all better for it.