Comparing versions of Pay It Forward 5000

Showing changes between September 28, 2010 at 10:34:02 am (crossed out) and August 1, 2012 at 10:58:40 am (underlined)

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Writing to Explore
Pay It Forward 5000
byJay Boda
It's the quintessential and much parodied Miss America question, "If you become Miss America, how would you change the world for the better?" Answers vary, but one thing is for sure, we still have war, hunger, and disease. Miss America came about in 1921 and either a lot of young ladies took their scholarship money and ran or there are no easy answers to society’s problems.Thousands of non-profitsin the Pinellas/Hillsborough county areahave tried to answer that question and yet, here we are. Problems galore.
I like challenges, so when I read our Writing to Explore assignment I pricked up my ears. "How can I make a difference in the world?” Instantly, I flashed to the classroom in the film, "Pay It Forward". The actor, Kevin Spacey, plays a 7th grade social studies teacher who asks his class this question - adding extra credit if they can make it last all year long. Haley Joel Osmet, playing the 12 year old protagonist Trevor, comes up with the answer. Pay it forward. Unprovoked, do something for someone and tell them not to pay you back, but to pay it forward to someone else. The film's message resonated so loudly that it's required viewing for new friends.
I’ve paid it forward in many ways, shapes, and forms. Big and small, known and unknown. My favorite is a small gesture, but effective nonetheless. When going through a toll booth, I tell the cashier I want to pay for the next five cars behind me - and to ask those drivers to pay the favor forward someday. A friend of mine often picks up the tab of a table nearby and walks out before they know who paid for their dinner - ensuring the waiter asks the surprised recipients to pay it forward. For-profit, corporate America latched on to the idea in a recent commercial. In a brief 30 second spot, the ad deftly shows a chain of good Samaritans paying it forward. Heck, even Oprah encouraged her studio audience once by giving them $1000 gift cards and video cameras to capture how they paid it forward.
Stop and think about those small acts. What does anyone get out of pay it forward - besides maybe a free dinner? Perhaps the answer is an introduction to compassion. Compassion isn’t routinely taught in our schools and we’re becoming such a dispassionate society. Maybe an unexpected favor will re-introduce the concept of compassion as a way of life. Boiled down to its bones, the essence of pay it forward is unconditional compassion. You lift someone up, they lift someone up, and so on. But, what if they don’t pay it forward? Well, there is no guarantee the person you help will help someone else. You don’t it for the guarantee. You do it out of pure compassion and can only hope they pass it on.
So there you have it. The answer to making the world a better place. Pay it forward. But wait, compassion doesn't require a $5000 grant to a non-profit agency does it? It’s completely based on a gift economy. You give without expectation of repayment. I suppose the ‘gift’ must come from somewhere; somebody must do or buy something to start the chain. So I wonder, can a $5000 grant encourage compassion?
Before going on in my exploration of mixing pay it forward with non-profit philanthropy, I must admit bias with the “non-profit industrial complex” operating in America and abroad. I have no doubt much good is done in the name of these organizations. People are fed who would otherwise go hungry. People sleep in warm beds who might otherwise sleep under a bridge. Non-profits serve a purpose, but researching cancer might not be their only purpose. Scratch the surface of many organizations and you will find an intricate web of tax shelters funded by wealthy patrons and corporations. And there’s where I have my misgivings. It’s not all good will in non-profit land. Sometimes it’s a way to avoid a tax bill.
Most non-profits have mission statements to solve problems. But if the non-profits actually solved the problems stated in their mission statements, then what happens? Theoretically, they’d put themselves out of work. It creates a conflict of interests. Many directors of non-profits earn a lot of money. One could reasonably ask, why would you solve the problem that gives you a six-figure salary? I’m reminded of the comedian, Chris Rock, who riffed about the pharmaceutical industry, which he colloquially calls drug dealers. Rock tells the story about polio and Dr. Salk’s polio vaccine. When the vaccine wiped out polio, millions of dollars were lost in the medications that treated the disease. Rock pointedly argues there will never be a cure for diseases of today - to include AIDS. “Ain't no money in the cure, the money's in the medicine...that's how a drug dealer makes his money, on the comeback.” Prophetically, he said that in 1999 and I can't think of one disease that's been 'cured' in my lifetime.
So hopefully you’ll allow me a moment of skepticism when it comes to non-profit philanthropy. That said, we’ll move forward on the assumption the non-profit the class picks won’t have high-salaried employees working to prolong the problem we want to solve. My focus and my overriding concern during this exercise will be prolonging the impact our grant provides. Keeping the favor going. Paying it forward.
One last conceit before going on with the grant. And you’ll think me heartless when I say it. Is it that bad in Pinellas county? I don’t mean to minimize anyone’s misery. I know there are homeless, hungry, abused, and disadvantaged folks among us. It’s not good, but compared to what I’ve seen in the world, it ain’t that bad either. Having lived overseas for 13 years of my adult life, I've done a fair bit of humanitarian work. I’ve even toured areas of Africa, the Middle East, and Asia. I’ve seen one-room school houses with dirt floors and no electricity. Kids who attend these schools walk miles to get there and will probably drop out once they’re old enough to work outside of the home. During a bush tour in Kenya, my group visited a village that performed a dog and pony show for visiting tourists that included walking through someone’s private home. The village received money from the tour company for this insult, yet it was necessary for the village to survive. I never felt as ashamed as I did after that tour.
To be brutally honest, the American poverty standard would be considered a 4-star resort experience for the vast majority of third world nations. These countries don't have social safety nets. If you’re born poor, you will mostly likely die poor. When I hear the phrase “dirt poor”, I think of the third world. I certainly don’t think of a family living in government-subsidized housing with electricity, a television, and fast food on the table. The third world has no government welfare, food stamps, Medicare, or any number of other programs America gives it’s poorest to get through life. That's not an attack on America's social programs. It's only saying government assistance doesn’t exist in most parts of the world - period. And that’s where many non-profits come to the rescue. Despite my knowledge of the tax shelter shell game many non-profits play, I can support a charity that gives to the poorest in the world. However, having first-hand knowledge of how bad it can be hardens my already shrunken, walnut for a heart when it comes to the down and out American. And yet, we have our assignment.
With my misgivings about American non-profit philanthropy and the numerous overlapping services available, I must wrap my brain around the idea of how best to utilize our $5000 grant. My mom always tells me there’s an answer in every problem, a positive in every negative. I didn’t inherit her ‘cup is half full’ optimism. I’m very much a realist. But there must be a way to help the needy, teach compassion, and keep it going.
Talking to friends, a few ideas are born. What conditions can we put on the grant? From my time in the military, I know the federal government’s charity campaign limited involvement to non-profits that kept their overhead to a minimum. This ensured donations had the maximum impact on the issue at hand. That would be an important consideration. Frankly, $5000 isn’t a lot of money in the grand scheme of things. More reason to make sure it doesn't go towards logo emblazoned pens and foam stress balls. We need to make it count. Larger organizations have high salaried staff. Can we limit our grant to non-profits with smaller salaried staffs?
Keeping the idea of pay it forward in mind, how could we include language in the Notice of Funding Opportunity that the recipient who receives the grant will encourage compassion and a “pass it on” spirit? That’s where I run into a brick wall. You can’t “mandate” compassion. It comes from a place of self-disinterest. But, we must award $5000 to a non-profit agency to help do their mission. So I must ask, can we think of a way to integrate pay it forward? Is it possible to teach compassion to a society that does not value compassion? Is there a non-profit out there already trying to do this? If so, what could our $5000 do to help them? Do we give them a fish or do we teach them to fish?
A Google search turns up several organizations that espouse pay it forward as a philosophy. There’s even a foundation for it. Most organizations work with kids in schools and teach the idea of pay it forward. One school builds “birthday boxes” for needy families that wouldn’t normally have the money to give their children a birthday party. The box includes all the goodies for a party with a note that asks the recipient to pay it forward. But I’ve not come across any pay it forward homeless shelters or autism research foundations with pass it on compassion.
Maybe we could provide the resources for a kids’ group to work with another kids’ group who’ll work together and help an animal shelter that supports homeless veterans’ mental well-being so that less women will be abused. It’s the ultimate pebble skipping across the water creating ripples that cannot be predicted. But again, how to do this?
As utopian pay it forward is, I offer it to my youthful classmates to conquer. I’m too old and jaded to open the cipher of this riddle. My experience and doubts weigh down my lofty ideals. It needs a younger mind unencumbered by the harsh realities of the world. Only then will the answers emerge and materialize.
Despite my protestations and apprehension towards the non-profit world, I do believe in helping my fellow man. I’m not that heartless. And there's the rub, my conflict. I'm a star thrower. I walk in my world observant of the miles of beach littered with the masses in need. I see those who can’t help themselves. They’re in the parks where I walk my dog. They’re under the bridges I drive over. But I’m convinced if we tied our grant together with the idea of teaching compassion towards each other, we could put a non-profit or two out of business. I'm resigned that I can't help everyone. But I can help someone. And if they pay it forward, they can help someone. And if they pay it forward, they can help someone...
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Reading this, I get all the elements a reader should get from a piece; I connect with you through a common interest (movies), I feel like your credible with your experience overseas (so it seems you know what you're talking about), and your writing calls for action. This is a wonderful start to your paper.
As for the whole WIC thing, as a cashier, I see people with WIC and food stampsall the time, and it pisses me off, because some of them buy all this expensive crap food. It's like "REALLY?" If you dont have a lot of money, shouldn't you preserve the money the government gives you to last longer? I think food stamps should only be given to people who are unemployed, and it shouldn't only last a year. Otherwise folks become dependent on it. - Andrea Inman
It's the quintessential and much parodied Miss America question, "If you become Miss America, how would you change the world for the better?"
Answers vary, but one thing is constant; we still have war, hunger, and disease. Miss America debuted in 1921 and either many young ladies took their scholarship money and ran, or there are no easy answers to our problems. Thousands of non-profits have attempted to answer that question and yet, here we are. Problems galore.
"How can I make a difference in the world?”" -Andrea Inman from pirate pad
to see my notes on this, lookhere.
Jay, I love every bit of what you had to say because I agree entirely. Our lives here are rather plush. And its entirely true that it pays much more to prolong a problem or avoid a solution if it fills the pockets of the people regulating the problem. I remember in fact in a fourth grade class discussing the AIDS epidemic in Africa and how the U.S. was so kindly providing drugs to prolong the lives of Africans, however many were ignorant to the disease, believing it didn't exist and in turn were spreading it to partners. I rose my hand and posed the question, then by prolonging those people's lives aren't we simply contributing to the problem?
Of course, I was shot down rather quickly and given no answer. But the real answer boils down to finance.
Ultimately, I do pose this argument.... people will always be corrupt and as you mentioned on a different page, people need to help themselves before helping others... of course there isn't a clear line where "helping yourself" is more like spoiling yourself... so personally I believe, there will always be corruption. I think having personal gains intertwined with giving is not necessarily a bad thing, if anything it may be a tremendous motivator.
It would be great for people to do things with no rewards, but realistically, I feel this may be too much to ask from human kind. Can it improve? Yes, I do believe that. But as I argued once about politics in a particular third world country..... "Who cares if the politicians are corrupt, who cares if they're stuffing their pockets, so long as their doing the country good" - Javier
I like the idea that you're advocating for here, paying it forward, having compassion. But i have to agree with you when you said that there is no way a grant can help inspire people to have compassion. It's about ethics, and morals, that are instilled in us from the beginning. So, it's not necessarily up to society to instill compassion in it's citizens. How can it? Now, maybe we can t hypothesize on a parenting class that can help teach young couples how to raise their children with good morals. In the past this was done through religion (i.e. Sunday school, services, etc), and it was done quite well. I believe as more and more people turn from religion because of whatever reason, personal beliefs, unwillingness to attend, or the notion that religion inspires ignorance; it does have it's ups (instilling good morals) and downs. There are other ways to instill morals, Aesop's tales and all sorts of other books and such. If we can develop a program in early schooling, or parental classes, to help develop childrens' morals it might lead to a more compassionate and therefore uncorrupt (Javier) society. - Tim
I agree that people must re-learn this commpassion or perhaps its a matter of people not learning to be selfish. The Utopian concept however, I don't think will ever be attained but as I mentioned with reference to this blog, on my draft,Civic engagement Fair (Javier)"Community" is fundamental... and building a Community cost zero Dollars just people sharing compasion and care for one another. -Javier
Fantastic read! I am also a big fan of "Pay It Forward" and I try to integrate the concept into my daily life and my philanthropic endeavors. However, as a technical writer with experience in the field of grant-writing, I would venture to say that it is nearly impossible to require a grant recipient to do good deeds for others (although, in theory, all 501 c (3) organizations should be "doing good deeds" for others....) However, if you try to choose an organization that is local instead of corporate/national, it is much more likely that the funds will be invested directly in a program, as opposed to being funnelled into corporate salaries or spent on "pens and foam stress balls." You also have the option of visiting a local organization to see whatit actually does with the money it received. Perhaps you could find a local organization that you feel is truly deserving of the money, and work as an advocate to help them receive the $5,000?

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