Contrary to some short-sighted, misguided beliefs, charity is not dead, but merely licking its wounds. Yet, people continue to trumpet its imminent demise. It reminds me of Mark Twain's famous quote, "the report of my death was an exaggeration." Our country would not be the great nation it is today if not for the charitable sector.
There is a rich, over 400 year-old, philanthropic tradition of people helping people in this country, beginning with the American Indians giving food and assistance to our "foreigner" forefathers in the early 1600's (our Thanksgiving). In 1638, John Harvard bequeathed his library and half his estate to Harvard College. In 1657, The Scots Charitable Society, the first American "friendly society" was created in Boston and is still in existence today.
Yes, the philanthropic spirit is stronger today than ever. It has been the strongest catalyst for change throughout our history, and change is today's all-encompassing mantra. When our neighbors are in trouble, we create 'friendly societies" to help them. And it's not just the well-heeled who do this. Recent statistics show that lower-income individuals give more, proportionately, than do the wealthy.
Instead of prematurely decrying the decline of the charitable culture, we should take firm, decisive steps to ensure its future.
There are multiple ways of giving back. One can give money, goods and time. We all know the easy ways to give: outright gifts, in-kind property, buying auction items and attending special events. However, the need for volunteers in this country is overwhelming, especially in fields that help children. Why not give something more valuable than money: your time, your love, your knowledge and your experience to help a young person? Youth are our most valuable resource, and yet they are being wasted and thrown away at an alarming rate by our society.
Here are five ways you can make a difference, create change in our country and, at the same time, ensure that young people will grow up being able to effect change in their lifetimes. One prime example is the Boys and Girls Clubs of America. Their star-studded alumni list includes: Academy Award-winning actor and national spokesperson for BGCA, Denzel Washington, Mario Lopez, Muhammad Ali, Gen. Wesley Clark, Bill Clinton, Bill Cosby, Cuba Gooding, Jr., Michael Jordan, Jackie Joyner-Kersee, Shaquille O'Neal and a host of others. According to a 2007 BGCA alumni survey conducted by Harris Interactive, 57 percent of alumni reported, "The Club saved my life," while another 28 percent credited Boys & Girls Clubs with keeping them in school. Now, that's making a difference! Check it out at (www.bgca.org) or (www.BeGreatAmerica.org)
Five Tips to Help Affect Change
Tip #1: Volunteer at a children's hospital: their needs are many, from holding and rocking sick premies when their moms can't, to reading to cancer patients, to comforting their parents.
Tip #2: Volunteer in your local school district: you can tutor, you can coach or you can assist teachers. You can participate in after school enrichment programs like LA's Best. (www.lasbest.org)
Tip #3: Volunteer in a youth sports program: you can coach, you can referee, you can groom the fields or sweep out a gym or you can keep score.
Tip #4: Volunteer in the foster care system: There are over 500,000 children in foster care in this country. You can be a foster parent, you can be a tutor or you can become a CASA (Court Appointed Special Advocate) www.casaoc.org
Tip #5: Choose your own personal passion. Check out Volunteers of America and discover the thousands of organizations you can help. www.voa.org
President Obama is building his administration on the theme of change, but he and congress can't do it alone. These are just five ways we can help ensure that change occurs through charity and philanthropy. We need to dive into the cold, murky waters of these uncertain times and help those that are floundering, even if we aren't strong swimmers ourselves. There will never be that perfect time when our 401ks are secure or our homes are paid off when we can say: "Now I can think about someone else".
Now is the time to think of those who have neither home nor income. How will their children become healthy, productive adults if they are broken and discarded by our society? If we don't make the investment in them today, they never will.