I was recently travelling with my family when my 11-year old daughter leaned over in her seat and said, “Mom, read this story.” As I began to read about a family who became friends with a man they were once apprehensive to get to know, I wondered: “Where is this going?” The article went on to explain that the man had faced significant financial hardships and often came to their door looking for work. Over several months the family befriended the man and gave him odd jobs in order to earn money. At one point in the relationship, the family had cleaned out their closets and found what they thought would be suitable clothes for the man, leaving them on their doorstep for him. The story concludes by one of the family members asking the man if he had found the clothes they had left, and he responded that he was ever so grateful. As the teenage boy began to fill with pride that his family had helped the man, he continued by saying that he was so grateful for the opportunity to help someone less fortunate than himself.
I finished reading the story and looked at Julianne, who smiled at me and said, “Mom, that man is a philanthropist.” Indeed that man is a philanthropist, but that is not what struck me the most about this moment with my daughter.
Julianne and I have been talking about giving back and the role philanthropy plays in the life of a community ever since she was little, but never had she identified a philanthropist without prompting. This conversation reaffirmed my commitment and belief that it is our role as moms, dads, friends, aunts, uncles, grandparents and just plain adult allies to educate our young people about philanthropy and the power it has in forging partnerships, strengthening communities, breaking down barriers and engaging with others.
Our discussions about philanthropy can’t occur just once – they need to be on-going and deliberate. Let’s think about those conversations as melting-pot talks and be inclusive when we speak of philanthropy. I know I can do more just as you know you can do more, but if each of us is willing to start a conversation with a young person and then work to increase his or her engagement in the community; one day we’ll be in the midst of a community of givers who know no other way of life. It will be that day that we’ll know we have made a difference, because we took the time to share with someone younger than ourselves the power of philanthropy.