Sylvia Bloom and the Grand Gesture: Giving More Than We Take.
The New York Times recently published an article about Sylvia Bloom, a 96 year-old woman who passed on and left millions of dollars to a worthy charity… which happens a lot. What made this a story is that she worked as a secretary in a law firm well into her nineties. She lived a very modest life, choosing the subway over cabs. She quietly amassed a fortune, and then gave it away. The Christian Science Monitor picked up on the story and featured it in an op-ed piece about philanthropy.
It was certainly a grand gesture, and the beneficiaries were happily stunned.
The Monitor also referenced de Tocqueville, who observed in the early 19th century that philanthropy was different in America. He was accustomed to the European model of the Aristocratic Grand Gesture: a very wealthy individual donating a great deal of money to meet a social need. That happened in America as well, but he also noticed a lot of ordinary people giving a little, too. In describing contemporary giving, the Monitor concludes: The result of those smaller donations has been good works woven seamlessly into virtually every community nationwide by the generosity of the community itself.
As a coach, and then as a student in grad school, I began to see a pattern that may have always been obvious to the rest of the world: teams (or nations, or towns, or families) made up of individuals who give more than they take thrive and grow. They build momentum and attract success. They take care of each other. There is satisfaction in the work, no matter how hard it is.
In time, though, individuals on teams, in nations, towns, and families, may begin to take more than they give and rest harder than they work.
I think that’s the tipping point between growth and decline.
Some people believe the cycle of growth and decline is inevitable and irresistible. I completely disagree. It seems to be simple math: to reverse decline be willing to give more than you take.
Hilary (my wife) observed that in a marriage, it doesn’t always happen that both people are simultaneously giving more than they take. It doesn’t have to. You just have to be willing. Sometimes you have to take. When it’s genuine, it allows for a beautiful symmetry that benefits everyone naturally.
Team Long Run has been the beneficiary of some grand gestures, and honestly, those gestures have given us the time, space, and oxygen to survive long enough to get started. We have also been the beneficiary of many, many smaller gifts from individuals and families for whom that gift represented a real stretch in the household budget. We’ll always be grateful for every gift.
I’m asking for your continued help.
Our mission is to use running as an instrument of change to help kids prepare for a life of selflessness, satisfaction, and success.
We aim to bridge a widening gap in the development of children. The out of school support that was once a given in the lives of many kids has simply vanished. We know of a classroom in our greater community that has two kids (out of 20) who go home to what we think of as a stable family. Most of them cope every day with incredibly complicated lives, facing issues we adults would find dizzying. All of this in an idyllic New England setting, just off the village greens.
Schools are trying to fill those voids, but teachers face shrinking budgets and growing standardized expectations. I used to think schools were letting us down. Now I’ve come to understand we’re letting the schools down. There’s only so much they can do, and there’s an immediate need for other entities to step in and take an active interest in these kids.
TLR is making a difference, right now, in the lives of kids here in Maine and New Hampshire. We’re starting up and supporting running clubs at the K-6 level, developing summertime drop-in track clinics, helping schools host fun runs, and supplying kids who need them with running shoes so they’re able to participate. All of this supports our longer-term goal of establishing meaningful mentor/mentee relationships built on running partnerships.
It works here, and we think it’ll work anywhere.
Again, I’m asking for your help. Please stay with me.
So far, we’ve never charged a kid to participate in any TLR program, and we’d like to keep it that way, forever. Our expenses are pretty simple: I’m doing this full time, and need to draw enough salary to keep the lights on at home. For now, that’s just about minimum wage, which works where we are. We have office expenses, shoe expenses, professional service expenses (lawyers, accountants, etc.), and minor travel expenses. Everything we do, we do on as tight a budget as possible. We’re getting tremendous volunteer help from some utterly selfless professionals, which cuts our expenses in half. Fleet Feet in Portland gave us a carload of shoes last month, hallelujah.
If you can afford a contribution, please give what you can. If you can’t, please forward this to as many friends as you can… that is a big help, too. We’ve built a solid foundation, and are actively rolling out these programs. They run on money, and the more kids we reach, the more we spend. I’d like to reach a lot of kids quickly, and I think we can.
Thank you for what you do and how you give. By giving more than you take, you are turning the tide.