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Sunday, March 22, 2009

On Gifts & Giving

One of the things that I've learned over the past few years is the value of giving. Now I know, most decent human being know how important it is to give, and we put quite a bit of formality around that when it comes to birthdays, Christmas and the like. Also, for decades, I dutifully put money in church envelopes every Sunday, viewing it as an exercise in obligation. A few things happened though to change my outlook on giving, from something that was mainly an obligation to now something that is more of a, well, joy...

Liberation from the Obligation
As noted above, I would give at church because I was told to do so. No one stood over my shoulder and said "give", but growing up in a guilt-o-centric Catholic Church, you learn these things as being an obligation. However, in Scranton we had a new Bishop come along (Joseph Martino), and over time I realized that the Church he stood for wasn't the same Church I wanted to belong to; compassionate leadership has been replaced by a command-and-control leadership style that would make Chainsaw Al Dunlap proud. That liberated me from the obligation to give to the Catholic church because the institution that I supported all these years wasn't the same institution that I thought I knew. From that point forward, I knew I still wanted to give, but now I had to figure out who to give to.

What Matters?
When I realized that I wouldn't give to the Catholic Church any more, I had to decide who I wanted to support. Sure, I get a tax benefit from giving, but I really don't give that much that it has a tremendous impact on my financial health (or lack-thereof). I decided that there were three things that mattered to me relative to giving:
  1. Helping Children - Kids have it tough enough growing up these days; adding burdens to them because of things like diseases, etc. seems especially cruel. You are only a child once.
  2. Helping the Truly Less Fortunate - Some folks truly just need a hand up when they are down.
  3. Repaying Kindness - I'd like to think that I could give back to those institutions that have meant a lot to me over the years.
I then found charities that addressed things important things.

Here's what I decided to do...
  1. Helping Children - I try and give to St Jude Children's Research Hospital every month. I always found the story behind its founding (by the late entertainer Danny Thomas) to be compelling, but even more compelling is the work that they do. St Jude is also a highly rated charity.
  2. Helping the Truly Less Fortunate - I give to the Scranton Rescue Mission whenever I can. 75% of their donations go towards helping the needy, which is high percentage.
  3. Repaying Kindness - I was given a lot by my education at Penn State Harrisburg, in ways that are at times very difficult to describe. So I now make my single largest annual donation goes to the University.

Going forward, I'd like to move beyond simply giving money and do something with my time. I haven't figured that out yet, and I know that my time isn't the most easy commodity to acquire these days, but never the less I think it's also important to demonstrate with your hands (as well as your wallet) what is truly important in this world.

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