Generous Giving

Child Welfare League of America
Monday, 29 October 2001

Op-Ed By Shay Bilchik: We are a generous people. It is estimated total charitable giving in the United States last year reached $203.45 billion, but the events of the last few weeks have shown the true capacity of Americans to give to those in need.

According to the Chronicle of Philanthropy, more than $1 billion has poured into relief funds for the victims of the September 11 attacks. And that monetary total doesn't take into account the abundance of food, water, and clothing brought to the sites, the thousands who stood in line to donate blood, the volunteers who gave their time, and the ultimate sacrifice of those brave men and women who lost their lives in valiant efforts to save others.

The horror of this attack has raised our social conscience and our sense of being connected to one another. We have seen greater courtesy among strangers and sincere inquiries into the well-being of our colleagues and acquaintances. We have seen a lifting of our spirits, an unwrapping of our capacity to give and to care.

In his hierarchy, renowned American psychologist A. H. Maslow identifies five levels of human needs. The most basic are food, clothing, and shelter, but at the other end of the spectrum is self-actualization -a state of being in which we are able to experience something selflessly. According to Maslow, self-actualized individuals are "involved in a cause outside their own skin, in something outside of themselves." They are able to selflessly connect to others. So have we as a country of more than 300 million become self-actualized? Maybe not. But we have, through this tragedy, been pushed to set aside our needs and relate to one another in a different way-to become involved in a cause "outside our own skin."

The response to this tragedy has been heartening to watch, but it leaves us with several challenges: How can we as a society maintain this level of caring, this higher level of social conscience? How can we continue to honor and support the victims of this tragedy, but also recognize other needs?

As an organization representing more than 1,150 child- and family-serving agencies nationwide, we have begun to hear concerns from our members about a decrease in giving. Many are worried that contributions normally dedicated to "non-9/11" charitable causes will not be made this year. Our nonprofit agencies depend on gifts from individuals and organizations to help fund the important work they do in behalf of abused, neglected, and vulnerable children, and contributions at this time of year often make up more than half of their yearly charitable gifts.

The recent downturns in the economy and stock market have exacerbated concern by eroding endowments and compromising the ability of individuals and corporations to make donations. One Missouri child-caring agency that has seen donations drop sharply tells us they are "fearful of the worst" - more children in harm's way and agencies normally there to serve them going out of business.

The agencies that comprise the membership of the Child Welfare League of America work to ensure the safety and well-being of children and their families across the nation. Our agencies are working with children affected by the events in New York and at the Pentagon and are providing shelter and job placement services to families hit hard by recent layoffs in their communities.

These organizations are also continuing to provide parenting classes, affordable child care, mental health services for children in crisis, afterschool programs for youth, alcohol and drug abuse counseling, adoption services, and so much more. These services were needed before September 11, and they are now even more in demand. Agencies struggle to help the children of the victims regain a sense of stability and safety, while at the same time attend to the acute needs of abused and neglected children who have never known such security.

The recent events may be increasing the number of children in need while decreasing the capacity and even the number of organizations that serve them. Such a scenario would mean an even bleaker outlook for the nearly 11.4 million children living in poverty in this country, the hundreds of thousands who are abused or neglected, the millions who have no health insurance coverage, and the countless number affected by drugs and violence in their homes and communities.

The terrorist attacks made us a nation more united and more attuned to the vulnerabilities and needs of our fellow citizens. It is altogether fitting and necessary to give all we can to the relief and recovery effort, and we should be proud of the generosity we've shown. We should also be proud of the other important organizations and efforts our altruism has funded, including those that care for the most vulnerable and valuable of our citizenry-our children.

For all of us who can, now is the time to stay or become involved in a cause "outside of ourselves." We must dig deeper into our hearts and our resources so charitable and nonprofit organizations can continue their services. My plea is for the children of this country. Funding for any local organization helping to ensure the health and safety of this nation's children and families is essential. The need is great, our heightened social conscience demands it, and our children's lives depend on it.

For more information, or to contact Child Welfare League of America, see their website at: www.cwla.org

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