The following OpEd appeared in the Wichita Eagle on Sunday, Nov. 15, 2020.
President Reagan first proclaimed Nov. 15 as National Philanthropy Day in 1986, honoring the generosity and selflessness of people to help one another that has been part of our American story for over 200 years. In fact, it was the French diplomat Alexis de Tocqueville, who in 1831 was amazed by the voluntary action on behalf of the common good he witnessed in America. He documented his experience in writing, “I must say that I have seen Americans make a great deal of real sacrifices to the public welfare; and have noticed a hundred instances in which they hardly ever failed to lend a faithful support to one another.”
South central Kansas has its own history of philanthropy, too, when it first established the Community Chest in 1922. Its original mission was to aggregate charitable donations to support local nonprofits that were serving the most vulnerable in our communities particularly by strengthening the quality of education, ensuring financial stability, and providing access to healthcare. The Community Chest was the precursor to United Way of the Plains, which continues to this day in partnering with various stakeholders to create opportunities in helping every citizen in our region achieve their human potential.
A vibrant society and a healthy community depend upon engaged and active philanthropy. Everything from social services, the arts, and cultural experiences to scholarships, research, and advocacy are often supported by charitable giving to create a diverse cityscape where people can grow and thrive physically and intellectually. Philanthropy fills the gaps where business, government and even tax dollars cannot or are not suited for the task.
The emotional and medical benefits of helping others, of giving without reservation, and of even doing random acts of kindness is well documented and known to lead to increased self-esteem, greater happiness, and longer life. It has also been known to lower blood pressure and decrease stress. But the notion of helping others is also deeply rooted in the Midwestern values of Kansas, cultivated in the prairies and farmlands throughout the state, where humility and generosity flourish in the spirit of taking care of neighbors no matter what the difficult circumstance. Kansans are known for their grit and resiliency, and this comes from a shared experience of rising through adversity together. Now is no different as we persevere through droughts and international trade disputes.
Today, we honor all those who give selflessly of their time and treasure to advance the common good while expecting nothing in return. From its Greek origins, the word philanthropy translates into “love of mankind.” More modern-day definitions explain it as “giving to help make life better for other people.” We need the spirit of philanthropy today more than ever as we find our community still entrenched in the throes of record unemployment and a viral pandemic that threatens the life and livelihood of each of us.
For those of you blessed to be in a position where you are able to help others, I hope you will join me in recognizing your favorite charity or nonprofit with a donation of your time or treasure as we approach the holidays. Let’s keep alive and even strengthen the “voluntary action on behalf of the common good” Tocqueville first documented 189 years ago and lend a faithful hand of support from one person to another.