“The most important service to others is service to those who are not like yourself”
~ J. Irwin Miller
Service is an essential part of human life, especially for those who find themselves to be more fortunate than others. It is up to these people, who do not need much help, to give help to those who do. However, philanthropy is a little more complicated than that. A philanthropist does not just do service as if it is his job. A true worker for the greater good helps in a way both personal to him or herself and effective to solving the problem at hand. This involves three things, which come hand in hand. The first is caring for the problem. As Thoreau wrote, “There is no odor so bad as that which arises from goodness tainted.” Thoreau states that when people do service without true incentive, others can tell and know that the person has an illegitimate cause for the work they are doing. Whenever you do something for the greater good, you must have a personal reason for it and a real care for what you are doing or else people will see right through your good deeds. Another thing Thoreau mentioned is the fact that to have a real care for a problem you have to have experienced it first hand. It is easier to learn with first-hand experience, so the best way to help something is to know the problem. This is the second aspect of philanthropy. Without knowing what the problem is, how could anyone possibly know how to help? The better you know the problem, the clearer the path to fixing it is. Once you know what you have to do because of this, the second important aspect is working hard. Nothing will get done without true commitment and work. So, philanthropy is complicated. There are many problems in the world and they are not easy to fix. However, the common characteristics of those who have made huge differences are the ones mentioned above; having a care for the cause, having first-hand experience, and working hard.
Whenever we brainstormed on what we were going to do for our projects, we always considered what would truly make the largest difference. One of the ideas we came up with was to spend time with kids from the inner city and just let them have fun. While we never ended up doing this, we figured that it would be something with a more lasting effect than donating some clothes or food. Food would deplete, memories would not. Because of this, our idea of what truly “effects” people is not limited by material possessions, but by what we give to them that does not have a price tag on it. Something meaningful that might change their view of the world and help in the future rather than give them something to use until it runs out or they grow out of it. The things that last forever are what, in the end, will make the most difference. I guess, in hindsight, we could have done a better job of focusing on things like this. We focused too much on accelerating the current projects at the school, which we did well, but not enough on what would matter ten or fifteen or fifty years from now. People do not remember food or clothes, they remember experiences. So, if I had any advice to give next year’s class, it would be to focus on this and make sure that whatever you are doing, it makes an eternal difference.
Reflecting on what we did do, our difference was marginally increased on what the school would have done anyway. Basically, all of the things we did, i.e Food drive, Walk for Hunger and heading home, were already projects our school participated in annually, excluding Cradles to Crayons. This is not to say we did not make a difference. In all of these, as mentioned before, we accelerated the progress of all these causes by a large margin. So, the difference we made then would include us advertising to bring in around 60% of the food drive donations in the last few days, adding enthusiasm for people to do the walk for hunger, which will be a huge event later in the year, and Cradles to Crayons where we also made a large advertising campaign and helped raise donations by standing outside and asking people to donate. This helped bring in more clothes than we could handle. Because of all this, the difference we made was substantial by any measure. Without us, any of these projects would have been far less successful and therefore we have something to be proud of. However, we could have done things a little differently.
Many people in the grade are disappointed about what we did end up accomplishing. Most people think we should have done more and that comes from our lack of originality. If we could have done one more project outside what the school already did, I think we would have a much larger sense of accomplishment. It would not even have to be something really big and challenging, but just something under our belts that we knew was all us. This would make a huge difference. So, in the end, success cannot be measured by cans, clothes, or toys, but by what those are used for and how they are attained. What I learned is that originality is key for everything, including a sense of accomplishment.