Staff Blog

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This is a space where Foundation staff share their thoughts and musings on giving and community:

A Five-Dollar Bill

Posted by: Martha Trombley Oakes on 11/22/2016

I vividly remember a time a few years ago when my oldest daughter was six. We went to Burlington for a quick trip to pick something up on Church Street. There was a perfect spot on one of the side streets close to the store I needed to run into. I just had to parallel park between two expensive-looking vehicles, and then I’d be on my way. As I was looking in my rear-view mirror, a gentleman rushed forward to help guide me into the spot.

When we got out, I thanked him for the kind gesture. I had seen him many times before, sitting on the same side street. My daughter thanked the man as well, and when were out of earshot, she started asking questions. I told her that he was homeless, which sparked a million more questions.

I’ll admit I wasn’t giving the conversation my full attention. I was focused on the task at hand; getting in and out of Burlington. As we were heading back to the car, I said hello and thanked the gentleman again. I busied myself putting packages in the car. When I looked up for my daughter, I saw she had stopped and was handing the man a five-dollar bill from her little purse. This was the money she had earned for helping around the house for several weeks. I watched the exchange as this six-year-old girl gave her hard-earned money to someone who needed it more than she did. I could see that he was shocked and grateful.

We both got in the car and I began to weep.

As the mom of two young girls whose parents both work for nonprofits, talking to them about supporting our community is a natural conversation. It’s a conversation that takes place all year long. While purging unneeded clothes or toys, we talk about donating to those who could use them. But you always wonder, especially at this time of year, when the “I wants” seem to be abundant, if the message is resonating. Is donating old clothes and toys really enough to solidify this important message? Probably not. But our actions and continued conversations certainly make a difference.

The desire to raise empathetic and engaged children can be overwhelming. But we march on. We have the conversation; we sit and talk about the important issues facing our local communities and nation. Whether it’s a natural disaster, a recent tragedy, or social justice issues, we continue to talk. It’s through these conversations that we are able to communicate what’s important to us. What we stand for. What we’re passionate about and how we can make change. No matter how big or small.

So this time of year, when our family is making small efforts like volunteering at the local food shelf, sponsoring a family over the holiday, serving Thanksgiving dinner for those in need, or sitting down and writing checks, we continue to talk. We continue to talk about what we are thankful for and how we can help make a difference.

If you are having these conversations with your family now, I encourage you to check out some tips the Community Foundation has pulled together about holiday giving. They can help you guide your discussions about philanthropy both in the coming months and throughout the year. You can find them here.

There have been so many examples since my daughter gave that five-dollar bill to the homeless man in Burlington where she has shown that all of our conversations, all of our small gestures of giving back are actually making a difference, in her life and the lives of others. That’s the goal, isn’t it?

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