What a Paraplegic and a Janitor Taught Me About Giving Back #GivingTuesday

November 29, 2016

When I was a child growing up in North St. Louis, my godmother used to say to me “it’s not how much we give, but how much love we put into giving.”  Now, looking through old family photos albums, I am reminded how much I learned about the importance of kindness and generosity from my very staunch catholic godmother, Ethel Thomas, and my equally devout grandmother, Doveanne Bell. Ethel worked as a janitor cleaning office buildings, while Doveanne, despite being a paraplegic, was known for her sage advice.  Ms. Dovie, as she was affectionately called, was a remarkable woman who, from the seat of her wheelchair inside her small apartment, dispensed wisdom to all who came to seek her advice. 

Although by most standards my godmother and grandmother were at the lowest end of the socioeconomic ladder, they never whined or complained about their living conditions; they just made the best of their circumstances, and helped whoever they could with whatever means they had at hand. Despite their financial condition, they were enormously generous people. Long before social workers began using relative caregivers to keep families together and keep kids out of the foster care system, they stepped in to help my teenage mother, who at the time was struggling to raising my two brothers and me. They also gave to their neighbors who frequently borrowed everything from a cup of sugar to clothes to money—money which they knew was unlikely to be repaid. These stalwarts donated time to their local parish on bake sale Sundays, and even gave a few dollars each month to various charities supporting starving kids in Africa.

I learned a lot from Ethel and Doveanne about the power of giving. That you don’t have to rich and privileged to contribute. That selfless giving not only helps the receiver, but also enriches the giver with the knowledge that he or she is actively taking a role in making the world a better place.

That’s why I want to encourage all of you to participate tomorrow in the “Giving Tuesday” movement.  What’s it about?  Well, each year on the Tuesday after Thanksgiving, people around the globe take time off from the hustle and bustle of life, the pursuit of money, and instead give to the charity or cause of their choice.  For those of you unfamiliar with GivingTuesday, the movement was started in 2012 by the 92nd Street Y and the United Nations Foundation, organizations that teamed up to refocus the post-Thanksgiving season back on the spirit of giving, and away from the commercialization and consumerism of Black Friday and Cyber Monday. Last year, 700,000 people donated more than $116 million online to nonprofit organizations.

And even if your finances are tight, you can contribute to the cause by donating your time to non-profit organizations in your community. I’m going to be donating to Special Needs Network to help kids with autism and other special needs in  underserved communities get the medical and educational care they need to thrive. I encourage you to consider an autism organization like Special Needs Network or any cause that you feel passionate about and want to support.

If you’re like me, you’re feeling more than a little anxious and nervous about the monumental changes that are about to occur in our country in the coming months. So, instead of worrying about events that are largely beyond our control, let’s take comfort in the things we can control—being nicer, more civil to our neighbors, and more generous to less fortunate.  Please make it priority to participate in #GivingTuesday.

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