By Betsy Brush Hahn
EDITOR’S NOTE: “Give Well” is a weekly column written by Dawn Franks of Your Philanthropy, Betsy Brush Hahn of the Women’s Fund and Kyle Penney of the East Texas Communities Foundation.
Everyone has strengths and weaknesses. Everyone. Including those we think of as needy. As givers, we often make the mistake of thinking that a person in need is not capable of giving or contributing anything.
Consider doing some research on the issue or group and getting to know more about the individuals affected before you give a gift. Charities and organizations capture our hearts when they tell stories about people’s needs. Certainly it is important for people to have their basic needs met. In addition, building on strengths and interests can create longer-term solutions.
A Women’s Fund grant to Young Audiences of Northeast Texas did just that. The Dance for Life program engages 6th-8th grade girls using their interest in dance to explore some of their personal and academic challenges. They learn dance and participate in performances, but they also do the required journaling and take field trips. Girls learn that participation is based on passing grades. The program improves school performance and attendance, while increasing self-esteem, motivation and confidence. Many of the girls go on to dance in high school where it continues to motivate them. They make better grades, stay in school longer and have a higher graduation rate.
The flip side of this opportunity is need. Teen pregnancy and dropping out of high school feeds a cycle of poverty that affects generations. Needs are legitimate. So are opportunities.
Sonja, a single mom, never learned to read well. A functionally illiterate high school drop out, she was discouraged and stuck in low paying job. A friend told her about the Career Pathways program at Literacy Council of Tyler. She enrolled, learned to read, completed her GED, Certified Nurses Aid Certificate and began a new life. Her needs and the needs of her family were met by the opportunity of education.
As a donor or volunteer, think about how you could create opportunities. How can your gift build or restore confidence? How will it help the receiver build trust and acceptance with a positive community? Establishing these things opens the door to constructive feedback on behavior and choices. In the Dance for Life example, they teach that attending school and completing assignments leads to further opportunity for achievement and involvement in the community. Being able to read builds self-esteem and enthusiasm for learning. Parents pass these positive attitudes down to their children.
Focusing on the strengths of people in need values them as human beings. It is encouraging to the receiver and also to the giver. It allows both to look toward the future with hope.
Betsy Brush Hahn is president of The Women’s Fund. The mission of The Women’s Fund is to leverage the philanthropic capacity of women as a catalyst for positive change. All women are welcome to join. To learn more, visit www.womensfundsc.org.