Philanthropy, community service, donations and tax write-offs are coffee table discussion terms for those who are privileged enough to consider giving time, resources and income. What can I give, and keep the receipts for, before April 15 rears its ugly head? High school pupils, during their freshmen year, are taught that to gain college acceptance at a dignified university, they will have to be able to pencil in a number of hours spent giving to the needy.
Many organizations, non-profits, churches, institutions, and corporate companies have an emphasis in philanthropy. Companies with high philanthropic contributions include Walmart, Target, Chevron… the list goes on. People who despise the golden M arches of McDonalds, or who would never touch a chicken nugget, can still have respect and admiration for the comfort the Ronald McDonald House charity provides to sick children and their parents. Most companies and institutions seize the opportunity to donate and give back, for company image and for tax write-offs. These large companies, with their corporate logos, are showing that yes, we acknowledge humanity, too. We, too, have a soul. It is an honorable endeavor to give to those who are less fortunate, in any capacity that can be afforded. A little girl who receives a pair of sneakers to wear to school does not mind if you are writing them off on your taxes—she is comforted by the fact that she now has shoes for her first day of kindergarten.
The Los Angeles Times has been keeping an eye on San Bernardino’s poverty this summer, reporting on the helplessness the city faces. Once a swanky destination, a city listed by Bobby Troup in the infamous Route 66 song, a one-night’s horse ride in California’s mission system, the scene of citrus, it is now a place with pervading gang violence, hard drugs and undocumented families. I read the articles without surprise. Yes, I have driven through these parts of San Bernardino, with my windows rolled up, doors locked, cursing the alternate routes on my GoogleMaps Ap, trying to get to the baseball stadium without locking eyes with the guy next to me at the stoplight. Yes, I was the “chicken,” the little middle-class white girl, driving a middle-class Toyota Camry. A laughable scenario, if it was portrayed in some sitcom, but this is reality. These articles have a focus on children, the next generation, the rising stars of our future, and it’s a grim picture they paint. Vicious cycles can only be broken with intervention, action and education.
After reading these articles, I took a moment to consider the philanthropic endeavors, those community service projects, that I have assisted with throughout my years. High school community service endeavors were mixed, with a large portion locally based, and a sliver focused overseas. I collected and sorted canned goods for the local hungry, wrapped gifts for poor local children during the Christmas season; I also helped raise funds to dig several wells in Africa. During college, also a mixed bag: I served food at two local community kitchens, but I also helped raise funds for a non-profit hospital in South America, and money for young girls in Mexico who had no prospects of education. During a brainstorming session for one university community service club, I asked if we could have a local emphasis, and was told the club was only for foreign endeavors.
Do not get me wrong, every (I repeat) EVERY little action of giving and of kindness is beneficial and meaningful. EVERY little act of philanthropy helps the collaborative state of humanity as a whole.
When I read the Los Angeles Times article series, I thought about the troubles in my own backyard, in Los Angeles’ backyard, and how to remedy the situation.
That’s where my mind goes: How do I fix it? When, in reality, a person cannot go in with a backhoe and a string of food trucks and sweep a city clean. Let’s be blunt: the city is a mess. The people, especially, the children of the families who are affected by this lifestyle, need assistance. They need neighbors, teachers, concerned citizens calling social services. They need policemen and firemen attending school socials and hosting community programs, to teach the children that if they need help, they can seek it. They need ex-gang members to host discussions and round tables about how “to get out.” These programs need to be implemented at an early age, at an elementary age, when the children are not yet teens, when they haven’t dropped out, before they are having babies of their own. And for all of these programs, they need funding. Who knows? Perhaps these resources are already in place, perhaps these initiatives are already being taken, and are not making headway. Perhaps the poverty, the drugs, the family, pack-mentality and reassurance a gang provides outweighs the uncertainty of getting out. Maybe they can’t get out because they would not get out alive. These are deep-rooted problems. These are generational, psychologically, environmental, monetary deep-seated problems. Our little San Bernardino is ranked just below Detroit in poverty. There needs to be some action, some revamping, and some inspiration of hope.
If I were to consider a project for a group of high-school students, raising money for a well in Africa or India seems ideal. It is a positive contribution, you are bringing the second necessity of life (aside from air) to a community. You are giving them something that is taken for granted by most people who turn on the tap. It is an excellent endeavor. It is also a foreign project that is not on our soil, but utilizing trustworthy organizations that specialize in such projects, speaking to volunteers who do venture into these place first-hand, the safety of the funds can be assured. The safety of contributions to foreign projects, and the need “to see” the contributions utilized is not the concern.
Mention “community service” or “philanthropy” and see how much brainstorming is done about charities south of the border, or across the oceans. And yes, these are wonderful, noble endeavors. Why is there apprehension about the local?
There is apprehension about the local because we are a first world country and certainly, across the borders or oceans, there are people “worse off than us.” And, there are. But, there are people living in poverty here and now. There is apprehension about seeing peers, and familiar faces, living in poverty. There is apprehension because strides made and steps taken backwards (because, real poverty can’t be fixed with a Band-Aid, it is a struggle with losses and triumphs) in an effort to clean up a city would be visible. Digging a well is clean, foreign, no strings attached. An envelope of American cash is sent off in the hands of a golden hearted college student, who will dig that well with a team of sweaty, beaming other college students, take pictures with the native people, and then fly back to America. Done. In contrast, setting up a program for low-income children of drug addicts, investing in that, some of the children may be inspired to take a higher road. But some will not. And, where to start? With a well, you start with a shovel. With a sewage system in a Mexican pueblo, you start with a bucket full of gravel and a piece of chicken wire. With an uneducated child, you start with a book. But how do you tackle a city? What if the money invested in cleaning up the city is wasted initiative?
I have taken the view that education of children is the gateway to a better city, though some people would say “What about their parents? What about drug addicts? What about (fill in the blank). It’s daunting, it’s so much to consider.
Philanthropy and service should be inspired, and a focus should be chosen by what inspires and motivates those involved with a project. It’s not my intention to belittle any efforts in the venue of philanthropy, but rather to inspire a different view. There are so many lives that have the potential for improvement in our backyards, cities like San Bernardino, local areas of Los Angeles. When considering a cause, when brainstorming ideas for volunteer work, we are up to our elbows in possibilities here, in good ol’ So Cal. Raising money for an after-school program in San Bernardino sounds, I must admit, slightly less adventurous and exotic when compared to digging a well in Africa, but there it is. The possibility and potential. With each helping hand we lend here in the states, within our cities, we are also doing the service of strengthening our communities, for our neighbors and for ourselves. When the brain-storming begins, instead of Googling airfare for the third world, take a moment to consider what it looks like in your own backyard.