Organizing my charitable giving documents for my annual income taxes itemized deductions makes me think of the exquisitely talented British actor Richard Armitage. Uh I mean …his accountant character Harry Kennedy (original images below via RANet)–from RA’s guest starring role on the two episode Vicar Of Dibley Christmas Special (2006). Sighhh!
Then it occurred to me that where and to what I give/donate probably says a lot about what I value. So, the following is a quick listing of my charitable giving areas, and then my more extensive reflections about them. Sorry, I’m a wordy girl– but if you visit here often, you know that. Ha!
My Charitable donations:
1) Recurring or Monthly donations–these mostly occur via monthly payroll deductions, an easy way to do it; and if you have an employer that matches your gift, the charity receives double the donation, so be sure to look into that;
a) To our church–We aren’t able to tithe 10% of our income as the church recommends. Who can? But we also give of our time and our talents. So, that helps, too.
b) To our university–to support student scholarships, special student projects, women’s and gender studies, etc.
c) To our community–The local United Way campaign allows us to designate charities whom we want our donations to go to. Some of mine are: the American Red Cross (image right; funds and I donate blood regularly), the Girl Scouts, UNICEF, our local Boys & Girls Club, American Cancer Society, United Negro College Fund, a local children’s aid residential and special needs educational institution, and the YWCA, etc.
2) Miscellaneous Giving–And we also make special donations to charitable organizations throughout the year:
a) as memorials to friends and relatives who have died–American Cancer Society, Alzheimers Foundation, Heart Disease, etc.;
b) or more happily to scholarship funds in honor of friends who have retired from the university;
c) to support friends’ charitable giving campaigns for other organizations–such as Miss Kitty’s Ichthyosis Awareness campaign featured in a guest blog post here;
d) to support RA Fans Spread the Love and other giving campaigns (upper right);
e) to support various British actor Richard Armitage Just Giving and RA Fan charitable giving campaigns (lower right);
f) and to support various grocery story food bank campaigns, Salvation Army, etc., and other charitable giving opportunities throughout the year
Overview Reflections about My Giving
So in reflection, what do I think that above giving/donating list say about what I value? I realized that I tend to give to organizations that help people with daily living needs, their education needs, their health needs. People need to have a roof over their head, warmth/cooling, food, clothing, health, and safety before they can even begin to consider other things–such as education. And I give heavily to those types of fundamental needs based charities. I give to established organizations–with low administrative overhead costs, I might add–organizations that have the expertise to help large numbers of people.
And no amount of giving is too small. Though my level of monetary giving is spread across several organizations at the university–and is therefore modest for any one organization, when gathered together with other people’s giving, it adds up. So every person’s donation makes a difference. And over time, my donations to university scholarship and other university funds have totaled to the equivalent of purchasing a mid-sized car. That startles even me! So modest giving plus lots of time can equal significant contributions.
The Fundamentals of Why I give
And during the course of my life and career the past thirty years, I have worked with annual university programs focusing on helping marginalized and at risk students–which I am broadly/generally defining for this brief essay as those students who are living at or below poverty line, living in or around dysfunctional family environments, etc. Schools can sometimes become compartmentalized as to who handles what facet of a student’s school life–including what happens with that student outside of school hours. And that compartmentalization can contribute to teachers focusing upon their subject discipline and getting the information across to the students in the short term to try to boost test scores–rather than thinking of the overall benefit and need of the students in the short and the long term.
I remember an all morning interactive discussion presentation that I facilitated with a group of about 22 teachers attending a three week teacher workshop a few years ago at another university. Our topic involved the concept of teachers understanding the correlation between school funding levels and highly mobile students qualifying for free and reduced lunch programs on the school report card (Illinois schools gateway link) fact sheets—mobility in this context pejoratively refers to unstable housing and often homelessness–and student test score performance. We discussed how for the young student, being able to study for class tests is difficult when you’re hungry and cold and you don’t have place to call your own–and are worried about your safety. Most teachers present had only previously looked at the school report cards for the subject area content proficiency scores of students–the benchmark by which some of them are evaluated.
But I asked/invited this group of teachers to look deeper into the school report cards data. And I had researched and provided the School Report Cards for the twelve school districts represented by the 22 teacher attendees. I wanted these teachers to better understand the school report cards’ rich data provided about socio-economic profiles of their districts students–including comparing school funding levels (funding is based on property tax assessment values) per student between wealthy school districts versus rural poor or urban poor school districts. So affluent suburbs of Chicago can spend $25,000 and more per student (including the State’s contribution)–whereas poorer school districts with depressed property tax income might only be able to fund at the State’s of Illinois’ per pupil funding contribution of around $6119 (cite for this current Illinois School funding rate, at their new site). That’s a potential spending difference of $18,881 that kids in poorer rural and urban school districts aren’t having spent on them–in the form of not getting computers at school or loaned to the student to take home with them, no extra teachers and no smaller class sizes, less course choice, no music and art, no AP classes, and no other educational enrichment opportunities like field trips and other experiential learning, etc. Less is definitely not more when it comes to K-12 school funding.
I have to tell you, that the a ha moment that this group of about 22 teachers I facilitated seemed to grasp–through our discussions using case studies about possibly different student learning experiences by students with different living standards (from poverty to middleclass to wealthy, also looking at race and gender, etc.) and in different schools–gave me hope that these teachers would seek to look beyond their subject area discipline and see their students as whole persons, and some with needs not being met. And how they as teachers, might help bridge that needs gap for the students through intervention programs, social service agency referrals, etc.–especially for school districts with families on the lower economic spectrum.
And, it is also important for individuals and young people in at risk living conditions to have a sense of hope, that their lives have a future that they can aspire to. So educational, job training, and scholarship kinds of charitable organizations also appeal to me. And I work at a university, so helping to improve educational opportunities comes naturally to me. For example, I help organize an annual career exploration conference for young teens and pre teens at our university for more than 24 years. Our annual careers conferences provide diverse students from primarily lower socioeconomic school districts in Illinois–our College of Education partners with the City Schools of Chicago to pay for students to attend–with workshops presented by diverse professionals who are doctors, lawyers, architects, engineers, etc. And attending our career exploration conference is often the first time that any of the students has been to a university–let alone the students thinking that a university education might be in their future.
One little girl of eleven at another career panel event that I organized for a local kids social services agency, boldly asked the question of one college student who was studying to be an engineer, What is an engineer? Of course, it was the perfect question that allowed our panelist to hopefully enthuse and inform the little girl and the other attendees. But the young girl’s question also pointed out that some of us sometimes take for granted that students have an understanding about the wider world–when in reality, the at risk student’s own world view is very narrow and limited. And just as someone taught us about what engineers, etc., were–it behooves each generation to help and to teach the ones who come after them.
As a young child, I knew what an engineer did/was (kinda)–because my dad was an electrical engineer who worked for the phone company. He designed phone systems for several of the small towns in our area in the fifties and sixties–then he later worked as the Senior Engineer and finally the Purchasing Manager for a large manufacturing plant in our area. And my Dad always had some electronics gadget project going in his little work shop in the basement. So growing up during my younger grade school years, I thought of my father as being a tinkerer who made and fixed things. He taught me how to rewire a plug–useful when our doggie chewed the plug end off of a lamp cord left out of the wall socket. And one family I babysat for when I was in junior high thought that I meant that my Dad was a mechanic. Then I shrugged my shoulders with a smile and clarified by saying that my Dad was an electrical engineer.
Now as an adult some forty years later, my own eyes are constantly being opened to realizing students’ needs and students’ levels of awareness and understanding–including students with learning disability challenges. And my own evolving awareness sets me upon the path to learn better how to help these students, and/or for me to refer them to the appropriate organization that can help them.
Finding where your heart and your giving lies
And I applaud others who reach out to our neighbors near at home or across the globe to lend a hand, offer their hearts, and open their minds to other cultures. Another friend of mine who retired from the university years ago, in her seventies connected with an impoverished school district in Africa and established a lending library for the K-12 schools–from the ground up, her helping to renovate the single room building that became the library and getting book donations for the new library every year. She is still working at that project now well into her eighties and she travels to Africa each year and stays for months on end, working with the educators there on literacy projects. She is amazing!
I grew up comfortably, in a very idyllic neighborhood, of nice people, kids at play, and parents looking out for the other kids. It was a very safe and nurturing time in my life–and I realize how very very lucky I was to have that. So many children don’t have that–as my former social worker late mother would say to me. And that security and hope that I had is what I want for our young people near and far–to be fed, sheltered, made safe, healthy, and looked after; to be nurtured, supported, and encouraged; and to be educated, mentored, and guided to having a future filled with possibilities as they dream big–regardless of race, class, gender, ethnicity, etc. And I do my bit in small ways by making donations whenever I can and by volunteering and such.
So if you are considering finding a charitable cause to support with your time, talent or treasure (I didn’t coin that phrase), there is no volunteer effort nor donation that is too small. You can start in your local community. Everyone can make a difference. And if we all tried to do a little bit–or to do just a little bit more? Wouldn’t that be something?
Or as Richard Armitage stated in his Christmas 2014 message to his fans (image below courtesy of RANet): “…but even if you have little to give, a few coins in a box, a moment of your time or just your consideration and passing on the message, is something.”
P.S. As you can tell, I feel passionately about this. And I am also interested in what you are passionate about. So I hope that you will share in a comment below, what charitable organizations you find worthy and that you support with your time, talent, or treasure. The first step in making a difference is awareness. So please help make us aware. Thanks and Cheers! Grati ;->
P.S. The Richard Armitage portrait that RA shared with his message below is by the talented portraiture photographer Sarah Dunn.