There have been great strides made over the past 100 years thanks to philanthropy. We have more capabilities than ever and the future appears to be bright. This is our challenge, our opportunity, and it's now our moment.
When we think of the poor and needy whom we see in our daily lives, we often think of the panhandler on the street corner holding a sign asking for spare change. As sad as this part of society is, we often look the other way, unsure of the right thing to do. We must deal with how to help these people. Not only how to help them find their next meal, a safe place to sleep, a warm shower, clean clothes, but also how to compete and succeed in a 21st century life.
With the proper training and attitude, these people are capable of having a life that is self-sustaining. Some may need simple communication skill enhancements. Basic education can be provided and is provided in our modern society found locally. Others may just need help to retool and define what skills they have and how to put them to use in a productive manner.
I’m reminded of a mentor I had as a young man. This man, in his 60s at the time, was a successful corporate executive. He believed in working hard and in working, as he put it, smart. He told me that if he had no job he would accept the most humble of jobs. His example was to become a street sweeper, working in a mundane job for the city. He advised me that if he were in that position, he would come to work early, stay late, and prove himself the best employee the city ever had found. He predicted it wouldn’t take long to become the head “sweeper” and then run all the city cleaning crews. Once having made a name for himself, he could run for elective office with important experience having already seen work for the bottom up. If he continued his attitude and work ethic, where would this upswing in personal success and accomplishment end? This is the American dream in simple terms.
I am very proud of my children as well. Melissa and Ryan Van Wagenen both have had a strong desire to help others from an early age. They both are highly involved in philanthropy and charitable giving. Melissa's day to day job is helping high school children in the Bay Area and she is constantly going the extra mile for them. Ryan has been part of many different philanthropic organizations here in Los Angeles, New York, London and even most recently in Houston.
Digging deeper - Now back to the panhandler on the street corner. Put into simple terms, the panhandler needs to up his game. If a panhandler was to make the most of his time on that corner, what could he do to solicit better and more profitably? First he needs to find a way to differentiate himself as a good candidate to receive pocket change. Some have found that elaborating on the bad situation in which life has left them (Wo is me), they can increase the daily contributions received. Another perhaps better alternative to the corner panhandler would be to demonstrate the complete commitment to a work ethic. It is very difficult to show one’s work ethic and a good attitude is in one’s heart. However, within the clear view of all those solicited is that corner property. The corner is the panhandler’s showroom. Perhaps, take a trash bag, and pick up any and all litter that is visible to one riding in that car. Proudly state on a carefully crafted handheld sign: “I have cleaned this corner today of all trash and I plan to visit other corners in our beloved town daily. If you have any spare change, it is appreciated.”
It is logical that anyone having seen this message might be inclined to contribute to someone making the city more clean and encouraging the out of work to creatively “work.” Even just a simple gesture found on that clean corner is worthy of a contribution to many.
As Christians we have heard the golden rule of treating others as we would like to be treated. Immediately we think selfishly that we would benefit in a time of need from others who believe similarly. The Savior has challenged us to help the needy and the afflicted. To provide of our means to those who are less fortunate is a commandment. There are really two benefits from such charitable gifting. The obvious benefit is that of helping ease the pain of someone who is in need. The secondary benefit, and the less obvious and hard to quantify, is the benefit received from the act giving by the giver. We are told that those who lose their lives in the service of others actually “find” purpose in their own life.
"Fill your life with service to others. As you lose your life in the service of Father in Heaven’s children, Satan’s temptations lose power in your life. Because your Father in Heaven loves you profoundly, the Atonement of Jesus Christ makes that strength possible. Isn’t it wonderful? Many of you have felt the burden of poor choices, and each of you can feel the elevating power of the Lord’s forgiveness, mercy, and strength."
-Richard G. Scott, Modern day Apostle of Jesus Christ
We have many examples of those who dedicate their entire life to serving others. Those people, if they are to be believed, routinely champion the life benefits that they have received from helping and living a life of charitable giving.
Finally, giving to others and worthwhile projects is beneficial irrespective to the quantity of dollars given. Whether the “widows mite” (Luke 21:1-4) or a billionaire’s fortune, those who charitably contribute to others feel the same sense of satisfaction.