Greed has been in the headlines now for months – Wall Street CEOs with exorbitant bonuses, billions in taxpayer money that seems to be going to people who already have too much, and now Mr. Madoff and his own ponzi-scheme delivering financial ruin right before the holidays.
I read the stories, all of them – and they sure didn’t put me in a holiday mood, or make me feel good about the human race. But then, last night, I caught the tail-end of CNN Heroes: All-Star Tribute on television. I only heard two out of the ten stories – the segment about David Puckett, who has a prosthesis-making business in the U.S., and travels to Mexico to deliver and fit prostheses, for free, to poor Mexicans; and the story of Anne Mahlum in Philadelphia who, on a whim, walked into a homeless shelter and asked people to go running with her – and now has an organization that provides running shoes and clothing, and running partners, to the homeless, helping them achieve goals that bring them closer to changing their lives. You cannot watch these stories without being moved, without being inspired, without taking a hard look at your own life and wondering what you are doing with it.
I started making a mental list of the people I know who give – not just money, but time, effort, inspiration. They’re not making headlines, but they are out there doing good work, giving instead of taking. I bet you could put together your own list. And I bet all of our lists together would dwarf the parade of the greedy that’s been sucking up all the headline space.
Here’s my initial list.
- Carrie, a friend who has been volunteering and giving since before I met her in college. She now has three grown kids, and her family has made what I think of as their own mini-UNICEF. Hilary started an orphanage in Uganda (info here). Justin works with at-risk teenagers in Harlem, and Taylor, the youngest, is studying education and working at an Early Childhood Center. Carrie herself has created a math curriculum for kids with learning disabilities, raises money for the library, tutors, and sings in the church choir. Oh, and her husband has a long-term involvement with Princeton in Africa, a program for Princeton students that “develops young leaders committed to Africa’s advancement by offering yearlong fellowship opportunities with a variety of organizations that work across the African continent.”
- Our next door neighbor in New York took a vacation to climb in Africa, and when he came back he started a not-for-profit organization with a mission focused on transforming communities suffering from inhumane poverty into places of opportunity and hope. Kageno builds community centers that provide access to clean water, food, sanitation, health care, education, and income generation in Rwanda and Kenya.
- Bob is President of the Board of the Ellington Fund of the Duke Ellington School of the Arts (think Fame) in DC. It is a wonderful public school which is one of the only success stories in the DC school system. He also serves on the Board of the Mautner Project, the National Lesbian Health Organization.
- Jeff, another friend, helped found a charter school for underprivileged children in Hartford.
- Regina, a neighbor, is a dedicated book-drive coordinator for the local public library.
- Dan, another neighbor, helps run an after-school tutoring program in New York.
- Dale has worked tirelessly for decades as a caregiver and to help provide care and resources for other caregivers.
- Practically all of our already stretched-thin and overtaxed friends who are parents volunteer by coaching sports, running Boy, Cub, or Girl Scout troops, fundraising for their schools, sewing costumes for school plays, and other time-intensive activities that they might see as just part of the job of parenting, but deserve recognition.
And this list is really just off the top of my head (with a little internet research to give you the links when I could find them).
So make a list of the people you know who are making a difference in the world – your own list of the truly nice. Then drop them a note of support. Or send some money. Or spread the word about their organizations so other people know about them and will send them money.
We can all be doing more to help each other out, and in this time when we’re all feeling a bit scared, maybe powerless, it’s steps like these that show us that we have what it takes, right inside us. We just have to take action.
This musing is dedicated to the memory of one of the original non-profit founders, Clara Barton, who was born on December 25th (brought to my attention by The Writer’s Almanac).
It’s the birthday of Clara Barton, born in Oxford, Massachusetts, in 1821. She was working in Washington, D.C., when the Civil War broke out, and she began tending to wounded soldiers. She was afraid that soldiers would lose too much blood if they were brought to a hospital, so she started the practice of treating the wounded at the battlefield. Eventually, she went on to found the American Red Cross.