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What Giving Back Means

December 2, 2015 is #GivingTuesday—an annual celebration of giving that unites 10,000 organizations worldwide under one common purpose: to give back.  Giving back takes many forms—donations, volunteering, or raising awareness for a cause you love.  It’s about making a difference of any kind on any scale, whether national, global, or local. 

We recently met with the co-founders of City Year, Kiva, and FoodCorps to hear what giving back means to them—check out their stories below!  

CityYearCity Year is dedicated to helping students and schools succeed.  Diverse teams of City Year AmeriCorps members serve full-time in high-poverty urban schools, providing high-impact student, classroom, and school-wide support to help students stay in school and on track to graduate from high school, ready for college and career success.  A proud member of the AmeriCorps national service network, City Year is made possible by support from the Corporation for National and Community Service, school district partnerships, and private philanthropy from corporations, foundations and individuals. Today, City Year has locations in 26 U.S. cities and affiliates in South Africa and the U.K.

Michael Brown is CEO and Co-Founder of City Year, which was founded in Boston 1988.  City Year has 20,000 alumni who have contributed more than 33.5 million hours of service. For his work developing City Year and advancing the national service movement, Michael has been honored with national awards and several honorary degrees.  He is a graduate of Harvard College and Harvard Law School.

michaelbrown1.  What inspired you to co-found City Year?
In 1981, while taking a year off from Harvard to work as a Legislative Aide for then-Congressman Leon Panetta, I became “passion-struck” by national service, a passion I shared with my college roommate and later my City Year Co-Founder Alan Khazei.  I became convinced then, as I still am today, that national service is the missing link in our democracy, a pathway to the American Dream, and a more just society.

 2.  You’re involved in giving back all the time, so is there something extra that you do during this season?  What’s your holiday philosophy?
I serve on the board of a wonderful organization called Cradles to Crayons. Cradles collects new and nearly new children’s items from the community and mobilizes volunteers to package and distribute clothes, books and toys to kids who really need them.  Volunteering with Cradles to Crayons is something that my family does together, throughout the year but especially around the holidays.

3.  Do you have a favorite volunteer/impact story?
Stories of City Year corps members and the breakthroughs they’re able to make with students fuel my commitment to national service and our work in urban, high-need public schools.  Every day I talk to corps members and they tell me amazing stories of transformation – the student with his head down on the desk who now, with his City Year corps member at his side, has his hand at the blackboard; the student who is angry and disaffected who is now engaged academically and helpful to his peers. One story in particular touched my heart. A corps member told me about a student who was terribly disruptive in class; no one had been able to get through to this student. The corps member started to engage her, and even when the student pushed her away, the corps member did not give up, saying “I am still here for you.”  Finally the student revealed to the corps member that her mother was being deported. Sharing that with her City Year corps member brought them closer together, brought more support services to the student, and the student eventually blossomed.

4.  What’s your 6-word story?
Year of Service.  My American Dream.

KivaKiva is the world’s first and largest crowdfunding platform for social good with a mission to connect people through lending to alleviate poverty. With as little as a $25 loan, anyone can help a borrower start or grow a business, go to school, access clean energy and realize their potential. Since 2005, Kiva and their growing global community of 1.2 million lenders have crowdfunded more than $630 million in microloans to nearly 1.5 million entrepreneurs in 80 countries, with a 98% repayment rate. For more information, visit www.kiva.org.

As the President and co-founder of Kiva.org, Premal Shah continues to pioneer the crowdfunding space as a force for social good. With his defining drive and vision, Shah is known as a trailblazer in philanthropy 2.0 and transformed a small experiment in “internet microlending” into one of Time Magazine’s Top 50 websites.  His leadership at Kiva has helped to crowdfund microloans to nearly 1.5 million entrepreneurs in 40 U.S. states and 80 countries through a compelling mission and sustainable model.

PremalShah1.  What inspired you to co-found Kiva?
Somewhere along my journey I realized my desire was not only to be an entrepreneur but a social entrepreneur; I wanted to measure my successes and riches through the lives I’ve touched and the positive change that I am lucky to be a part of. For me, that is the path to a more fulfilled life and Kiva is the vehicle.

2.  You’re involved in giving back all the time, so is there something extra that you do during this season? What’s your holiday philosophy?
The holidays are a great time to be with family and give back. I like combining the two. One ritual is giving my nephews and nieces a $25 Kiva Card because it’s a gift that empowers them to help someone else around the world, even if they are still in elementary school! All they have to do is pick someone on Kiva after reading their story. In the process, they learn about how people support themselves and what life is like in another place. It’s great to hear their reasoning behind who they ultimately pick to support. And it’s incredibly gratifying to me as I feel like I’m helping instill one of the most valuable character traits in life: empathy.

3.  Do you have a favorite impact story?
Every person who fundraises on Kiva has their own journey, their own struggle, their own story. I certainly can’t pick a favorite. One story that has stuck with me over the years is Yenku Sesay’s. Yenku had both his hands cut off over 10 years ago when the Revolutionary United Front invaded his home village of Kondebaya. At age 21, he was unable to make a living and barely surviving on handouts. Eventually, he was approached by Kiva partner Salone Microfinance Trust (SMT), and was able to take out a $100 loan to start a small retail business. He has since paid back his loan and expanded his business into livestock and agriculture. Now he can send both his young children to primary school, and even pays for his younger brother to get a quality education too.

Yenku’s story is illustrative of the power that even small-dollar loans can have, especially in both the innovative products SMT has pioneered for very poor clients, and also the many loans Kiva is making possible in conflict areas. Microloans have proven to be an invaluable tool for rebuilding and development in regions recovering from turmoil and violence.

4.  What’s your 6-word story?
Seek meaning. Keep learning. Start now.

FoodFoodCorps is a nationwide team of AmeriCorps leaders who collaborate with community partners to make schools healthier places for kids to eat, learn and grow.

Debra Eschmeyer, FoodCorps Co-Founder, has 15 years of food system and farming experience. As FoodCorps VP of External Affairs, Eschmeyer oversees development, marketing, communications, and government relations. As a Food & Community Fellow with the Institute for Agriculture & Trade Policy while Communications and Outreach Director of the National Farm to School Network, she created One Tray, a national campaign to encourage a more direct connection between local farms and federal nutrition programs. Eschmeyer is a recipient of the James Beard Foundation Leadership Award and currently serves on the AGree Advisory Council. She works from her organic farm in Ohio.

debra1.  What inspired you to co-found FoodCorps?
I was frustrated with the malnutrition that is plaguing our country’s children, reinforcing inequality and closing the doors of opportunity on our kids. All children deserve the opportunity to grow up healthy, and by connecting kids to real food, FoodCorps service members are helping to make that possible.

2.  You’re involved in giving back all the time, so is there something extra that you do during this season?  What’s your holiday philosophy?
During the holiday season, I like to give thanks. I make time to be more intentional in expressing gratitude. Showing appreciation for those who serve our country, for example, is something I think about often but rarely express fully. In the spirit of the season, I would like to show my gratitude to the amazing AmeriCorps service members who make up FoodCorps, an organization I co-founded 4 years ago.

3.  Do you have a favorite impact story?
One of my favorite stories of FoodCorps service in action from last school year took place in Springdale, Arkansas. Service member Destiny Schlinker worked from September through May, meeting with food service staff, local farmers, and school administrators, to source and prepare a seasonal “Fiesta Friday” lunch in three schools. She found fresh beans, organic beef, crisp green lettuce, strawberries, carrots and fresh tortillas, all locally sourced from Arkansas – and even came in 10 cents per meal under USDA reimbursement. Her service towards the goal of a perfect, healthy, local lunch paved the way for even more healthy lunches this year. Destiny is back in Springdale for a second FoodCorps service year and continues to help the food service director source local food for the district. I am so grateful for Destiny, as well as the other 181 FoodCorps service members around the country.

4.  What’s your 6-word story?
Grow health with relentless radiant optimism.

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One thought on “What Giving Back Means

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