In my years with AWS Foundation, first as a board member and then as CEO, I am often asked why I am so involved with our mission. I have never been directly responsible for the care of a family member with an enduring disability. I have cared for patients with disabilities, but 8-hour shifts in a hospital with access to Hoyer lifts and needed equipment is not the same.
I recall my mother telling stories of her oldest brother spending long months in the hospital with severe Juvenile Rheumatoid Arthritis as a child. Her only sister saw two of her four children die as young adults with a form of muscular dystrophy. My cousin had Legg-Perthes and wore a leg brace that allowed him to stand without damaging the head of his femur….but none of these had a significant direct impact on my day-to-day activities.
My final answer usually includes a reference to growing up in a middle-class household with a clear expectation of giving back. I remember days of hearing the rhythmic sounds of a typewriter in the living room as my mother copied books to a larger font for the visually impaired, one page at a time. I would canvas our neighborhood in Western Pennsylvania to collect enough dimes to fill a card for The March of Dimes campaign with my sisters. I remember the card with a picture of a child in leg braces and the excitement as I filled each slot as the day progressed. At Halloween, the collection was for UNICEF, and the neighbors gave all the same.
One of the highlights of the summer vacation was getting the requested packet from the Muscular Dystrophy Association (MDA) for the backyard carnival. For those who did not grow up in the 60s, this was part of the annual Jerry Lewis Day MDA telethon. Before the big Labor Day event, kids were encouraged to organize backyard carnivals for other kids to collect the price of a ticket and the fees from the games. Homemade costumes, lemonade stands, and games with prizes of recycled toys and trinkets would likely yield a bag of coins that would be delivered to a local collection spot.
None of this was seen as work or a mandated consequence for some selfish act. It was always just a part of who I was and who my family was. “To whom much is given, much is required.” (Luke 12:48). My family of six was blessed with health, and we were responsible for giving back to our community. Philanthropy is that desire to promote the welfare of others; to focus on quality of life and the public good.
I believe our three children have grown up with a similar sense of giving. One reads to children in local schools. One serves on a board of a nonprofit, and none can pass a red kettle or a Girl Scout selling cookies without reaching into their pocket. Each in their own way knows they are responsible for giving back.
I have realized that I work with AWS Foundation because of that sense of responsibility and maybe even a little about the joy and pride of knowing the outcomes of those backyard summer carnivals.