Thursday, August 15, 2013

Focus on Spirit Rather than Stuff

Helpful Hints from Harmony

Life is Good When You Live in Harmony

Hint #7:  Focus on Spirit Rather than Stuff

 Is 5 days enough to make a difference? 
Here’s my account of how, in less than a week, we shifted our focus away from mere THINGS and more toward THINGS THAT REALLY MATTER.  Our “Family Philanthropic Adventure” was a transforming experience for us.  Here’s the story, as recorded in my “Make a Difference Log Book.”

Day 1

Monday night.  In our family we call it "Family Home Evening." On that night, we try to do something meaningful and fun, something to help us grow as a family, and grow closer together. 
Tonight my wife Marcie and I started on a five-day Family Philanthropic Adventure with sons Evan and Paul, daughter Sara and her husband Walt, and our good friends Cathy and Ron Borchardt and their 13-year-old son Josh.

We're using the toolkit from Main Street Legacy and we completed the first three steps. 1) Using the beautiful "Make a Difference" or "MAD" cards drawn by my daughter Elisabeth, we identified our areas of charitable interest; 2) we started a small pool of cash called our "Make a Difference Fund" that we'll give away on Friday; and 3) we got to know each other on a deeper level using a fun activity called "Your Life in a Brown Paper Bag." What an amazing group of people!

We decided to divide into three teams to investigate charitable opportunities in our community in the areas of a) family and children services; b) protecting the environment; and c) historic preservation. On Wednesday night we'll reconvene to see what each team has discovered, then decide how to make a charitable investment in a worthwhile cause. This is such a fun and meaningful way to connect families and change lives!

Day 2

 We are all working individually to locate and evaluate worthy causes in our area. Google is a great resource, and also the instructions in the 50-page booklet that walk us step-by-step through the process. It's actually fun to do the research.

In addition, we're gathering up some loose change to add to our "Make a Difference Fund." Cathy Borchardt sent us a lovely comment via email: "Can't wait to hear about the results! Josh is scouring the house for money and putting it in the piggy bank!  Love it!"
I'm looking forward to tomorrow evening when we report our results and make a decision on how to invest our charitable dollars.

Day 3
We met this evening to report the results of our research and to make a decision of how we could best use the funds we have collected. All were there except Paul, who was away on a missionary project.
One of the most exciting things we heard was about 13-year-old Josh's personal fund raising project. All on his own, he created an outline of the 7 steps of our Adventure and a note describing what we were doing.

The last part reads: "Right now we are fundraising. If you would like to donate to this worthy activity, please contact me before Friday noon. We found loose change in the car and in the couch and it added up! Could you do the same? Thanks so much! Josh Borchardt." He put these in bags and left them on the doorsteps of dozens of his neighbors. We were impressed, to say the least.
Then we heard the recommendations of our group of where to donate our "Make a Difference Fund." There was a wide variety of ideas: help buy a mower to maintain trails here in Harmony; support Eagle Scout projects; provide grass carp to maintain the lakes and ponds in Harmony; help an unemployed deaf couple without good shoes and little food; assist the Osceola Council on Aging; and help an organization that coordinates many church groups who care for homeless families and helps them become self-sufficient.

Our discussion in "The Family Pow-Wow" soon focused on how to best leverage our gift. We decided we could best help the deaf couple by helping them get connected with the Osceola Council on Aging for long-term assistance with a case manager while we provided them shoes from Salvation Army and we did a canned food drive for them on our own.
We recognized that by donating to a 501(c)(3) organization we could double our gift through Walt's employer's matching program. So we decided tentatively to give to the coordinator of church groups helping homeless families called “Family Promise of Greater Orlando.” Evan is going to do a site visit today and conduct a qualitative analysis using the questions in the Guidebook.  If they check out we will arrange to deliver our gift to them on Friday afternoon. What an amazing evening!

Day 4
The toolkit we acquired from Main Street Legacy (visit ) provides a number of useful guides and tips, including simple and easy to follow instructions on how to set up a site visit to a charitable organization and how to interview a representative of such an organization to see if you want to support them with your time, talent, and treasure.

On Wednesday evening we had tentatively determined to support Family Promise of Greater Orlando, an organization that helps homeless families get back on their feet. But because they were new to us (having been discovered online by our youngest member Josh Borchardt) we wanted to check them out. Evan works nearby, so he volunteered to visit their location during his lunch hour, interview the executive director, and then report back to us. He did so and his experience was very positive. (Visit ).
Family Promise of Greater Orlando works with a very small staff of only three but they multiply their impact by coordinating a huge army of volunteers in a couple of dozen congregations in a wide variety of churches of many denominations. Evan felt our money would be well-spent there, and in fact as a result of his visit decided that he would make a significant personal contribution to our "Make a Difference Fund." He arranged a time for us to come Friday to present our gift.

In the meantime, Josh's fundraiser is going great! We got an excited voicemail from Cathy Borchardt following our Wednesday night gathering that said, "When we got home from your house, there was a bag by our front door that was full of money. The donations are just pouring in."
We have also located the forms we need to plug into Walt's employer's matching gift program, which will allow us to double whatever money we put together. We can't wait to see how much money we will eventually have to give away to a very worthy charity.

But the impact on our families has been just as valuable, in my humble opinion, as the good we will do for homeless families. Isn't that how life works?--what goes around, comes around, and when you cast your bread on the water, it comes back to you multiplied--? We're experiencing that right now in our home! What a marvelous adventure this has become.

 Day 5
We've done a lot of great things with family and friends over the years, but nothing better than this.

Evan Farnsworth's site visit and research confirmed that Family Promise of Greater Orlando was the right choice for us.
Josh's fundraiser raised $70--just from asking friends and neighbors to share their loose change. Here’s a picture of him with all the change he collected from friends and neighbors.

The rest of us pitched in $180, so we had $250 to give. Walt's employer match allowed us to give a $500 check.
We met Mary Alice Fish, the Executive Director, in their second-story walk-up facility donated to them by Florida Hospital. We had scheduling issues so Sara and Walt had to leave before were able to get together, but the rest of us had a great time hearing Mary Alice tell about her work with homeless families (with emphasis on the "family" part) and she listened as we told her of our amazing five day experience in family philanthropy (again, with emphasis on the "family" part).

We finished our journey into the world of giving with such a wonderful sense of joy, and accomplishment.

* * *


So, is five days enough to focus less on the stuff and more on the things that matter most?  I have to say “YES, no doubt about it.”

Here’s my advice to parents and grandparents everywhere:  If you want to discover your family's values, tap into your children and grandchildren's innate desire to do good and make a difference, find great organizations who are trying to help the less fortunate in your community, have rich and meaningful conversations with the people who matter most to you, learn important decision-making and analytical skills, all while having a lot of fun, you should do this activity. The tool kit is available at . You'll be very glad you did.