Charity is in Our DNA

Since the beginning of America, we have been a giving people.

  • [I]n 1630, [Pilgrams] relied on each other to survive the harsh winters. The settlers raised each other’s barns, hosted quilting bees for the community, and built common areas in their towns.
  • Benjamin Franklin, the founding father of American volunteerism, […] gathered volunteers to sweep the streets of Philadelphia, organized the nation’s first volunteer fire department, established a voluntary militia and organized a philosophical society. His philosophy was “individuals working together, un-coerced, for the common good.”
  • In the 1830s, two groups who felt their lack of power—women, who had no right to vote, and the clergy, whose political authority was weakened by the constitutional separation of church and state—formed benevolent societies to focus on issues [like] slavery, cruelty, drinking, illiteracy and more.

[Our passion for giving] continues [today] with the forming of the Red Cross, local libraries, community parks, defeating polio with the March of Dimes, and Paul Newman’s Foundation donating $300 million of [its] profits to his “Hole in the Wall” camps for kids with serious diseases and helping the nonprofit, Feeding America. […]

Many of us participate in charity in some form. It can be as simple as taking cookies to an aging neighbor or donating items you no longer use to a good cause. The Corporation for National & Community Service reports that 64.3 million Americans volunteered in a formal organization [in 2012], an increase of 1.5 million from [2011]. This is 26.8% of the population giving 7.9 billion hours, which has a value of $171 billion. The four most popular service activities were fundraising or selling items to raise money (26.2%); collecting, preparing, distributing or serving food (23.6%); engaging in general labor or transportation (20.3%); and tutoring or teaching (18.2%). One in three volunteers is […] age 55 and older, giving this group a lifetime of experience to tap into to help those in the greatest need.

According to the World Giving Index, the United States was the fifth most charitable nation [in 2012]. Australia was first, followed by Ireland, Canada and New Zealand. […] We [Americans] like to be No. 1 at everything, so it’s surprising [to me] we don’t even finish in the top three! Is it because we have lost the passion of our forefathers, or are we just too selfish to help others because the “me” generation stretches from birth to death?

This country has been so successful because it reaches out to others through immigration; government-sponsored help like social security, head-start [programs] and food stamps; and nonprofit organizations who coordinate projects from feeding the poor to aiding the homeless to providing for the sick. More of us have volunteered this year than last year, but we are still not at the point where we lead the world in kindness.

[The year 2013 is when] we need to pull the charity gene out of our DNA and use it to help our fellow Americans. Our economic recovery is still quite tough, and we are many years away from [returning to] where we were before [the] recession. More people need […] help now because [of] the [recent] implementation of […] sequestration. […] If you can’t make the time to volunteer to help others, at least give some financial support. Online, the Network for Good and Just [Giving] are a good start to help nonprofits needing our backing. […]

More than 200 years ago, [Benjamin] Franklin felt the average citizen must share in a commitment to the greater good of their community and their country. [Today], volunteering still forms the core of the American character. It is who we are and how we pass on freedom and caring to the next generation. Maybe that is one reason that seniors volunteer at a higher rate than our children. […] Now, if we can teach the younger generations to care more about others, perhaps we can become the No. 1 most charitable nation, just like our forefathers [envisioned].

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