How I learned you can grant love

When we launched the 100 Classrooms project earlier this year, I thought the teaching/learning part would be a one-way street.  I teach; they learn.

After covering the basics of philanthropy and the vocabulary of professional grant makers, each class, regardless of age, is taken through a series of decision-making steps.  If they have elected to become human services grant makers, I ask them to list everything people, animals, and the planet need to survive.  Quickly, the board fills with words like air, water, houses, and food.

With far more items on the list than a $100 grant can address, I help the class remove words, combine similar topics, and prioritize what’s left.

Usually, in the “taking words off the list” part of the exercise I would explain to the class that some things people need – like love – can’t be awarded by a grant.  That was until the day a third grade class at Gregg School challenged me to see our work differently.

Mrs. Hale’s class had proudly shouted out LOVE as essential to survival.  Maybe it was their conviction – they were so sure it was as important as health care, education, and the other areas grant makers consider their playgrounds – that helped me get it that day.

Instead of taking love off this list, I asked them to help me understand.  I said philanthropists need to see their donations in action.  Together, we worked out how love is demonstrated.  They explained to me that parenting is love.  So, helping people “parent” is granting love.

Going deeper, I asked if they wanted to help healthy parents learn how to be even better.  Or, did they want to help children with parents that had lost their way?

They were quick to answer that they wanted to help children who needed it most.  The next step was scary – how could I talk to third graders about child abuse?  I took a deep breath and told them about CASA.  Court Appointed Special Advocates pairs children who have been abused with a carefully trained volunteer who stays by their side every step through the judicial system.

Children who have to testify against abusers or navigate the treacherous waters of a contentious custody battle are deeply in need of some love.  CASA steps in, and a volunteer is there to love them when they need it most.

So, yes, you can grant love.  Training volunteers to care for our community’s most vulnerable members requires professionals, materials, and meeting spaces.  These things cost money.  If we provide grants to these programs, those dollars eventually become love.

I’ve come to realize that CASA grants aren’t the only dollars that eventually become love.  It is happening all around me.  We aren’t just helping people leave a legacy through philanthropy.  We are transferring love from one generation to the next.  Ultimately, our work today will bring love to our great-grandchildren and beyond.

Happy Valentine’s Day from your Community Foundation.