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October 9, 2000

Philanthropy, Emory and identity

Jason Chandler is assistant director of corporate relations

I was in fourth grade when I got off the school bus to see that my father's car was in the driveway at 3:30 in the afternoon.

He never got home before 7 p.m., so I immediately thought I was in trouble. I started wringing my hands, and my father met me at the door. He had a look on his face like he had just witnessed a terrible accident.

Without a word, he brought me into the living room where my mother was sitting on the couch. She had been crying. Her face was red, and her mascara was smeared. She gave me a deep hug and asked me to sit down. I asked what was going on. All I could think about was little tattletale Tina Gilbert telling the teacher last Friday that I had been the one to start a spitball fight.

I was afraid—but for the wrong reason. My dad said, "Son, your mother has cancer." I sat there for a moment, stunned. "Is she going to die?" I asked. Dad said the only thing he could: "Everybody will die someday."

This was my first heaping helping of mortality. I don't remember much more of that day, but words like chemotherapy, radiation and mastectomy became brand new additions to my vocabulary.

I am positive that prayer had as much to do with my mother living for 11 years following that dreadful day in 1984. When she died in 1995, I remember thinking that I hated cancer. Why would something devour someone who had never smoked nor drank and who ate well? It was not fair. I felt let down by the medical community and blamed science for my loss.

But the truth is science has yielded many advances in treatment. Cancer patients are living longer today than ever before. With breakthroughs in biotechnology and gene therapy, we may very well see Tom Brokaw and Peter Jennings announce, finally, that there is a cure.

Until that day arrives, there is a lot of work to be done. Programs created by organizations like the American Cancer Society and Hope Lodge really help fight cancer and help families deal with the treatment process. The United Way recognizes the value of these programs.

I miss my mom a lot. I wish I could tell her about writing to some important people and appealing to their hearts to do important things like volunteer their time and money for purposes larger than their own self interests. Something tells me, though, that she knows what I'm doing and is with me. The United Way helps people deal with devastating illnesses and so much more. It is not only a vehicle to help others in need—it helps people who give. Philanthropy is good for the soul. I'm not talking about the sole of your shoe or the sole of your singularity; I'm talking about your spirit. When you feed the needs of others through your philanthropy, you also feed your spirit.

One of the biggest—and oldest—questions in human history is, "What is the meaning of life?" I would contend that philanthropy answers this question. When you feed someone who is hungry, or give your time and money to someone in need, that means something to them. Your gift also assigns meaning to your own existence and helps to shape your own identity.

The internal attributes that lead to a meaningful, happy and "self-actualized" life, as Abraham Maslow would argue, are found in the truth that we are all connected.

Philanthropy has been key to the successes in humankind's progressive understanding of himself, his tradition and his history. This is true for the successes of institutions and basic human welfare.

When I was a graduate student in philanthropy at Indiana University Purdue University in Indianapolis, I worked for the United Way of Delaware County. Here at Emory, I have helped to coordinate the University United Way Campaign for two years. The United Way has been part of my life for many years.

I know many Emory employees give generously of their time and money to many philanthropic causes that relate to health, education, religion and many others. Like so many Emory employees, I too feel that volunteerism is the glue that keeps our civil society intact.

At the heart of philanthropy is human exchange. By definition, an exchange requires two people to interact. This in turn creates a community of common interests. Creating community is a nonquantifiable value that is inextricably tied to philanthropy. Conversely, philanthropy's ability to create community helps to define that community's identity.

This begs the question, "What is Emory's identity?"

The United Way goal for Emory University this year is $380,000. If nearly 19,000 employees gave just $5 a month, we could triple this goal.

When you give up that one extra fast-food meal a month and donate to the United Way, you fight AIDS and cancer; you feed families; you free people from economic prisons. United Way community funds make sure parents have affordable, high-quality childcare; they keep thousands of teens away from trouble through safe, structured activities for the non-school hours; they help thousands of people get and keep good jobs.

We owe it to ourselves and our communities to be philanthropic. As Emory's own Johnnetta Cole has often said: "Doing for others is just the rent we pay to live on earth." Charity is a choice that can leave things better than they were found. Philanthropy can be compared to the Olympics of the heart. You give, and we all win.

I don't want to pressure you. Don't give until it hurts—give until it feels good. Help us make a difference in our community. Help us make our community safer and stronger. We can make a huge impact. We need you to be strong enough to care.


Back to Emory Report Oct. 9, 2000