Saturday, July 26, 2014

Giver or Taker

There are givers and there are takers. Each of us is weighted toward being one or the other.

My parents are givers. I grew up seeing them open their, our, house to others - a place for strangers to stay if they needed a place, a meal on a holiday instead of spending it alone. My mom was a counselor and also ran breast cancer support groups, volunteered in our schools, and even helped people with bipolar disorder with their diagnoses and treatment.

My dad also made sure that people were taken care of. He touched many lives - making sure legal paperwork was in order, rewriting resumes, and gathering funds to help some elderly folks who needed help. He visited and checked in with those who needed it, those who didn’t have any one else to take care of them if it wasn’t for him.

My parents just did these things, with no pomp and circumstance added. Usually, no one had any idea how they had helped someone until years later. Growing up, this way of being was just how it was. Any other way of being or thinking was somewhat foreign to me. Why wouldn’t you volunteer your time or help someone?

My husband, Jason, has the same mentality. During the 15 years that we have been married, he has helped others in need. He has bought meals, toiletries, and even paid rent for folks who just needed a chance. He has volunteered on the boards of non-profits. And Jason has made sure that he found work for those who needed it. Jason once told me that he was looking to give a hand up, not a handout, believing that it was better to empower people, to teach them skills, and to have them work when they could. Even so, he made sure that these people were taken care of somehow. He got them what they needed.

I have continued down my parents’ path. I volunteer for agencies and help out at school. I do what I can to help who I can, again asking nothing in return.

Recently, I have been doing a lot of volunteering for the Alzheimer’s Association and participating in activities that make my children very aware of what I do. Most of the time my volunteering occurs while they are in school, so although they know in the back of their minds that I am giving back, they aren’t seeing it first hand.

A story published. A book signing. Those were pretty darn obvious. You can physically see and hold a book, and both kids came to my book signing. They saw the people filing in to buy the book and talk with me while I signed copies for them.

The Longest Day (a day set aside for raising funds to fight Alzheimer’s) was a little harder for the kids to understand. They saw it as getting to hang out with their Grandma, just as they always did, as we involved my mom in the fundraiser as much as we could. They knew it was to raise money, but they did not see the work that it takes to collect money for the cause, as that took place mostly online.

The Blondes vs Brunettes Flag Football game was a bit more obvious to them. I was gone twice a week for practices. I had plays to study. I had a news blip to participate in. And their dear old mom hurt her knee in practice. All of these things were leading up to the big game, which they were coming to see. Again, they knew I was raising money, as they heard me talking about who had given or how much more I needed, but again, most of the fundraising was online.

Even before the big game (which we, the Brunettes won), they wanted to do something to help. They wanted to raise money for the Alzheimer’s cause. They saw every day what that disease was doing to their Grandma. They knew her when she was normal, their loving, intelligent, beautiful Grandmother. And they have watched her regress through stages of Alzheimer’s to now when she no longer knows who they are. They have fed her, held her hand, and sung to her. My kids have seen me crying over her.

Having run some successful lemonade stands before, they approached me with an idea. They wanted to know if they could run a lemonade stand and donate the money they raised to the Alzheimer’s Association, but they had one concern. I had bought the supplies for their first lemonade stand, but I told them that they would be responsible for buying the lemonade, cups, and other supplies for any future lemonade enterprises. With almost no readily available funds, they asked if I could help. Smart kids. How could I say no?

They were overjoyed. We made a plan and headed to the store to buy supplies. We made a huge jug of lemonade, filled a cooler with ice, set out purple cups, and erected a tent to keep the fierce summer sun at bay. Signs were made and chairs were put out in case of a lull with no customers. The best part, though, was the picture they wanted on the table. A picture of them with their Grandma. I helped them make a small sign explaining to those who came by that 100% of the proceeds would be donated to the local chapter of the Alzheimer’s Association of Greater Indiana.

So, excited to start, they were ready to go at 9am. But we had to hold them off for a bit. Jason needed to mow the grass, pick up the table from the office for them to use, and we had to set up. Jacob and Reese could hardly stand it. They wanted to make some money!

Finally, 11 am rolled around, and clad in Mom’s purple Alzheimer’s shirts, they took their positions at the lemonade stand (with a little help from Mom). The first customer slowed, stopped, parked, and got out of the car before we were even completely set up. He walked up and told them, “This is really great what you are doing.” What a good start for the kids to hear that!

As with all lemonade stands, indeed for all retail businesses, customers came in waves, followed by periods of no customers. At one point, early on, Jacob said to me, “Mom, I hope we can get more than $10. I really want to be able to donate a lot of money.”

That had me thinking. How could I get more people here? I shushed the voice in my head telling me my idea was silly, and I emailed three of the four major local news teams, letting them know what my kids were doing. It was a brief email, but explained that any help would be appreciated. Not ten minutes later, I had a response from WISH-TV. They would be there in 30 minutes.

Jacob and Reese were so excited! Jason and I prepped them on the questions that they might be asked and to our surprise, they needed no help, no prompting. These two kids knew exactly why they were doing this.

The news van pulled up, and since there was a lull in customers, we knocked on our neighbors’ doors to ask if they would be customers for an interview with the news. Even though they already had supported the kids with a few cups of lemonade and a donation, they were there to help again, to support the kids and their cause.

The interviews went without a hitch and the kids made it onto the evening news. Even though that was certainly an exciting part of the process, it wasn’t what really mattered. Jacob and Reese wanted to find a way to help their Grandma. They also wanted to help other people who have been affected by the disease, just as they have been affected. Despite being only eight and 11, adults stopping by the lemonade stand told them stories about parents, relatives, and friends who also have had the disease. Their experiences illustrated that the disease has burdened many lives, and confirmed to the kids that what they were doing mattered not only to them, but to many other people.

Maybe you will take this as story about a proud parent, as I certainly am, but what I also want to convey is that your way of being matters. It matters not only to yourself and to your kids, but also to each person whom you encounter in your life.

Give more than you take because we need a lot more givers, and giving truly takes very little. Look to give a hand up and even a handout once in awhile. Don’t look for something in return. No one needs to know what you have done because, trust me, the person it affects will know. And just as importantly, you will know, and you will realize that when you give to others, you also give to yourself.

Put words into action. Make that phone call, give a hug, and go visit that loved one with Alzheimer’s. Yes, it is hard when a person you love does not know your name. But he or she sure can feel the love.

Click here for the link to the news story.

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