I know this blog post is long but I think it's important and I hope you will stay with it to the end. Thanks so much for reading it!
My mantra in business has always been "You Get What You Give". I give and give and I get and get. It's a perfect arrangement for me. In life, not so much. I always feel like I don't have the time to volunteer and I get crabby if I finally do commit to a committee. And forget contributing $$$$! So basically, I remain an uninvolved citizen. I often think how important it is to invest in my karma bank but, I can't even get my sorry butt down to the food bank to donate a turkey over the holidays! So karma bank?? Doesn't one experience joy when giving? Why is this such a stumbling block for me? My intentions are there...
Although - I did finally did do something in this arena a few years ago. The Relay For Life came to our community and The Fitness Connection (the gym that I own) became very involved in the fundraising and my girls raised enough money to become the group that raised the most of over 30 groups - over $12,000. It was very fun and I coordinated it again the following year. What I took away from the experience was that my small group of women were very powerful. We could make a difference.
But Relay is a fundraiser for the American Cancer Society and quite honestly, I'm a bit of a skeptic when it comes to where your money actually goes when you contribute to these huge fundraising non-profits. How much of my contribution really reaches the actual cause? How much ends up in the many paychecks of the administrators? Call it another one of my conspiracy theories but I'm just not into giving my money away and not have it get used the way I intended.
That brings me to another thing. Not big on contributing to causes that benefit other countries. We have so many issues in this country. Surely, my money can make a difference here. But who do you trust? Do you trust The United Way? The American Heart Association? Save the Children? UNICEF? St. Jude's? I just don't get that warm and fuzzy feeling.
Recently, I found a cause. Surprisingly, it is a cause that benefits people in Haiti (doesn't quite fit my criteria, does it?). I think the fact that it benefits the innocent "little" people in this country is what sold me.
The earthquake in Haiti not only killed upwards of 250,000 people but even more startling, it created an estimated 1 million orphans. Maybe this fact touched my heart because my husband and I are raising a child who is not biological to us - an orphan, per se. Or maybe the number is so staggering to me that I felt compelled to at least take a second look at this cause.
Most important to me, I think, is that a friend of mine is one of the people trying to make a difference through this cause. I know him well and trust him implicitly. He is passionate about this cause and I am completely confident that any contribution I make will be used exactly as I expect.
My friend Mike, is a high school history teacher here in Connecticut. I am positive that some people are just meant to make a difference. Certainly he and his family are a perfect example. His wife (also a teacher) along with their 14 year old daughter, have been involved with shipping "soldier boxes" to Iraq for the last few years. Again, this cause is about the children. Contacts were made with soldiers in Iraq through Anysoldier.com who coordinate this effort and essentially, they collect, fill and regularly ship boxes packed with items that children in Iraq need/want such as socks, candy, coloring books, crayons, pencils etc. It is an ongoing cause and sounds very successful.
When Mike first approached me about this Haiti gig, I was a bit skeptical. You know - my criteria and all...but he has actually managed to bring me on board. He is going down to Haiti this summer for two weeks. He will be working with school and food programs in four villages served by volunteers from "A Heart for Haiti", based in Maine. The villages are all near the city of Cap Haitien, the second largest city, in the northern part of the country. Has anyone actually looked at the images of Haiti? Even before the earthquake it was not a pretty place.
The poverty is horrifying and this country is now even more burdened with these little homeless angels. It breaks your heart and trust me - this is not a vacation for this team of relief workers.
I have watched Mike work tirelessly to raise donations to bring with him to Haiti. His crew is spending weekends selling bracelets for Haiti, attending events where they can set up a table or booth explaining their cause, and researching options for raising additional funds. He has a Facebook event page set up that explains the whole cause and he continues to add to it each day to keep the supporters of his trip informed.
Mike called me the other day with the greatest story. One of the soldiers based in Iraq, who was a main contact for the Soldier Boxes program, sent him an amazing contribution. She had recently gone through a divorce and instead of selling her diamond engagement ring and pocketing the sale, she sent the ring to Mike and advised him to sell it and add the $$$ to the kitty. Is that wild or what???? What struck me about this act was that she has never met this giving family but because of her connection through the Soldier Boxes program, she trusted them to follow through with her request.
The plan for Mike is that he and 3 college students will be part of a team led by 2 volunteers from A Heart For Haiti. They will travel to Haiti at the end of June. He plans to bring 2, 50 pound duffel bags filled with donated supplies like toiletries - toothpaste, soap, shampoo etc. He will also bring as much cash as he can raise between now and June 21st. Because the infrastructure of Haiti is so compromised, shipping anything down there has no guarantee of reaching it's destination and certainly $$$ is not safe to send and therefore must be brought in person.
Once the team arrives, they will become involved with analyzing the needs of the projects A Heart for Haiti is involved with. Their mission is to help Haitians help themselves. The team will decide where best to spend the donation money they are bringing with them. Essentially, 2 schools are being built for the orphans and a weekend feeding program is in development.
Turns out, these kids only eat at school. Therefore - on weekends? No meals. The weekend food programs are designed to feed the children from the orphanages and from the "foster" families housing homeless children because the orphanages are overfilled beyond capacity. It's quite the undertaking.
On an individual basis, A Heart for Haiti is involved with helping Haitian families acquire food and rent, and monetarily aiding young people with their schooling - particularly funding higher education to foster greater independence. It's a working start, using a bottom up mentality, and one may question if it will make a noticeable difference. I asked my friend that question and he quoted Gandhi: “The difference between what we do and what we are capable of doing would suffice to solve most of the world's problems - what we can do we must do." That pretty much sums it up.
So - here's why I am writing this blog today. I've decided to do what I feel "capable" of doing. I realize there are dozens, if not hundreds of fund raising relief efforts out there right now supporting Haiti. I just feel this one works for me because I know someone on the relief team. For the first time in my life, I feel like I can make a direct difference. Afterall, it's not like I can donate to The American Cancer Society and say "I want you to use my donation for breast cancer research".
My hope is that those who trust me, will trust in my judgment and contribute even the smallest donation. If I can get 50 people to donate $20, that's $1000. Even $10 will make a difference. As an example, I am told that $1 will feed a person in Haiti for 2 days. $10 will feed someone for 20 days.
Please consider making a small donation. Contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org. And you should know that as soon as Mike returns from Haiti, he vows to provide a complete accounting of funds contributed, to be posted on his events page in Facebook. You can also get a copy from me.
Thank you for reading my post today. I must tell you - surprisingly? I caught ALOT of joy writing this. My heart was lifted as my enthusiasm grew. Cool!