Happy birthdays extend happy giving to others

By Marty Wiggins

Guest Columnist

EDITOR’S NOTE:  “Give Well” is a weekly column written by Dawn Franks of Your Philanthropy, Kyle Penney of the East Texas Communities Foundation and representatives of The Women’s Fund of Smith County.

Hooray – for the 240th birthday of our country just celebrated on July 4!  The holiday brings to mind the excitement of all birthdays.  Whether you are 5, 15, 50 or 95, a birthday recognizes that you are special; you should be celebrated.

Birthdays also give each of us the opportunity to do something wonderful for others.  At ETMC, we are sometimes blessed by children who choose to have a teddy bear party, where young guests bring a stuffed animal that will comfort an ill or injured pediatric patient.  What amazing parents these children must have, as the kids learn so early that giving can be just as exciting as receiving.  (And I'll bet the young donors are honored with ample cake and gifts of their own.)

Sometimes adult women form birthday clubs.  These groups of friends gather each month to celebrate that month's particular "birthday girl," ensuring she knows she is special and loved.  I'm fortunate enough to be in such a birthday club, with some special features that add meaning to our meeting of friends.

The group began with four women who agreed it would be fun to start a birthday club. We called other women we knew of the approximate same age and stage of life - women we liked and respected, but didn't necessarily know well.  "Would you like to join us in this new venture?"  Almost everyone said "yes," and then recruited someone else.

The key contributing factor to this new group was that from the very beginning we knew it would be a birthday-philanthropy club.  Each month, the birthday honoree selects a charity of special meaning to her, and everyone writes a small check in her honor to that nonprofit.  With this process, we learn about agencies, programs and needs - some well-established and others brand new.  We also gain more insight into the giving spirits of our friends, as they explain why they support a particular cause.

A couple of times each year, we have no "birthday girl" to celebrate.  No problem - we still meet for lunch, share giving ideas and collectively determine the charity to support that month.  We also make memorials, as group members lose a loved one.  In fact, we can also be considered a support group, since we have further bonded through our roles as family caregivers, especially with aging parents.

It's been almost three years since our birthday-philanthropy club was created - so happy birthday to us!  With $10 checks to charities throughout the year, plus some additional giving, we have exceeded $4,000 in meaningful support to our community.  Along the way, we have laughed and laughed some more, shared problems and had wonderful lunches.  And we have given from our hearts.

I hope you can find inspiration to make birthdays a time to remember those in need.  Whether you bond with other women, encourage a child to give or simply select a charity to support each year on your own birthday, make birthdays part of your personal philanthropy.

This column is dedicated to my 12 birthday-philanthropy friends.  You have made my life immeasurably sweeter, through both cake and caring.  Here's to many, many more birthdays together!

The Women’s Fund of Smith County leverages women’s philanthropy to bring positive change through high-impact community grants that benefit women and children.  Membership is open to any woman who would like to be a part of this collective giving circle.  Visit www.womensfundsc.org for more information.  Marty Wiggins serves as Director of the ETMC Foundation and the 2016 Chair of the Women’s Fund of Smith County.

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