By Chris Watson
US citizens are a charitable people. It is demonstratively true. Even with our current socially polarizing rhetoric and economic angst, according to the National Philanthropic Trust (nptrust.org) our desire to give back to the community rose by 4.1% last year to a new high of over $373 billion. The largest source of that giving wasn’t from foundations or public charities but from each one of us. Individual giving represents 71% of charitable giving in the United States.
We don’t just write checks either. In a time when many of us feel we don’t have time, over 62 million Americans volunteered at least once in 2015, as reported to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (bls.gov). According to a BLS annual study, volunteers spend, on average, 52 hours on volunteer activities. The Bureau’s study only clocks hours spent on organizational volunteering, although many of us do hours of service work in less formal structures and circumstances.
Why Do We Do It?
What motivates us to be charitable? There are reasons, like tax deductions. Certainly a motivating factor. According to the National Center for Charitable Statistics (NCSS.urban.org) a majority of nonprofits report that they receive upwards of 50% of their contributions in the final quarter of every calendar year. Playing into the season, November and December are the time when we are reminded of both our blessings and of those who are not so blessed.
Still, avoiding taxes or response to seasonal advertisements doesn’t seem adequete to explain the charitable efforts of our community. Volunteering alone represents billions of man hours annually. That kind of effort comes from passion, not practicality. The possible benefits on a tax return or, in some cases, a call for help during the holidays are leaves on the giving tree. The roots of our charity obviously run deeper. So why do we do all that we do?
Faces on the philanthropic front
Karen Bade Toledo Public Schools retired educator and now a reading specialist at Perrysburg. spends much of her spare time volunteering for Assistance Dogs for Achieving Independence (ADAI), now a program of The Ability Center.
“I have fostered or furloughed 11 different full time dogs over the years,” she states without boast. She has also spent 11 years co-chairing Dealin’ for Dogs, one of ADAI’s primary fundraisers and now sits on the Development Committee of The Ability Center. “There are lots of organizations I support with my dollars but I have always liked putting in time as well. With assistance dogs time is so vital to the success of the program.”
Her motivations have to be long term, with an average of 12 to 18 months of time working with each dog. “Certainly I love the dogs. But to see the impact that the work we do has on people and their lives is the real payoff. Assistance dogs grant so much additional independence and confidence to those who use them. That makes a real difference to our community.”
Like most charity, the effects of the work go far beyond one person and one dog. “I am able to take my training dogs to school. This works both ways. It helps the dogs and it helps the kids. We have also introduced a coin jug program at Toth Elementary called Pennies for Independence. Our school counselor, Jason Koval, has been instrumental in its success. This connects our students to the work they are seeing with the dogs. They can support this vital service with their presence and their money. It is an amazing program of action in our schools.”
Underlying Karen’s passion is also humble gratitude. “Bottom line is that I feel lucky. I feel like I was born in the right country and the right time into a wonderful family and community. It makes perfect sense to seek out ways to give back.”
A Survivor’s Tale
Kadee Anstadt is Executive Director of Teaching and Learning for Perrysburg Schools. She is also a breast cancer survivor. “You join a club when you get cancer. If you survive you become an active member of that club,” she explains.
Kadee is very passionate about being an accessible messenger. “So many people were giving and open with me after I was diagnosed. Many didn’t even know they were helping. Their example helped me go on when I was scared and feeling in chaos.They would talk about themselves, they would show up when asked, and they demonstrated how to carry on and survive. People carried that torch for me. Now it is my turn.”
For Kadee it is natural to give back to her community. “I was raised in a charitable household. My parents kept meticulous records of where and how much they gave. Plus, my dad always tithed, regardless of our economic situation. We gave first, not last. So I guess it is in my blood.”
Besides her work inside the cancer survivor community, Kadee seeks charitable opportunities. “I feel that at this time in my life I have been given life…therefore much is expected from me. I look for ways to serve in my job and in my life. For the past year as a survivor, I have sought out unexpected ways to give.”
Her giving is a reflection of both her upbringing and her survivor’s journey. “It is like the guy on the corner of the street. He holds a sign that says he is hungry. I may not know his exact story but I know he has got one. And I know that it takes courage to stand with a sign like that. So I help. No one will ever know. But I do…and he does. It makes me happy, it relieves my stress, and it keeps me humble.”
Anchored in Service
For Cathie Slabaugh, being charitable with her time is the foundation of her life. By day she is the Grants Manager for The Needmor Fund, an organization born from the Stranahan family which supports causes and organizations promoting social justice. “Even though I work with a non profit professionally I still spend over 800 hours a year volunteering.”
Her volunteer work is focused on the United States Coast Guard Auxiliary, where she now serves as a District Captain. “Ever since I was a little girl I wanted to be in the military. When I got older I realized that the Auxiliary was a perfect fit. It took me for who I was and I could grow and develop as I chose. I love serving people through their mission.”
The Coast Guard Auxiliary, which supports all USCG missions except direct law enforcement, is an all volunteer service. “I have served for over 9 years and now have over 250 people serving under me,” Cathie states. “Our advocacy for and support of recreational boating safety is so vital in an area like the Great Lakes. In many respects it is a perfect blend for me, with both the structure of the military but the mission of safety and life saving.” Her voice softens as she proclaims “I realize it is cliche but it feels like the Auxiliary is what I was born to do.”
Cathie’s motivation is straight forward. “I am very fulfilled when I am serving others. I mow my neighbor’s lawn and shovel her snow. She has trouble doing it and I am able to. That may not get logged on a timesheet but I love doing it.” Cathie, a former clergyperson, is genuine and humble about her charity work. “Frankly, I can not compute in my brain what it means to be selfish. It is just who I am. It doesn’t matter what kind of service needs to be done, I just want to do it.”