Nonprofit organizations across the north country provide services and enhancements to our quality of life that government can’t, won’t or shouldn’t provide or for-profit entities can’t offer without losing money. There are additional various constraints on nonprofits that create challenges to what we desire to have them reliably do to build strong communities for us all.
That is why nonprofit organizations must raise funds, plain and simple. When communities believe an organization’s work and mission is important and valuable, they respond positively. Most of our area nonprofits successfully exist because the will of the people had demanded it and inspired a type of sacrifice that ensures that their ability to continue to make a difference is maintained.
For nearly half of my life I have been fortunate to help raise funds for causes I believe in. The region is blessed with many who have done the same for various projects, initiatives, programs and organizations. Anyone who has asked someone for money knows that the emotions range from elation and joy to terror, rejection and defeat. I often look for shining examples of citizen philanthropy to motivate and sustain me. There is one I keep going back to that deeply touches me each time I see it.
A few years ago, CBS News told the story of young Myles Eckert. Nine-year-old Myles found a $20 bill in the parking lot of a Cracker Barrel restaurant in Maumee, Ohio. While his first thought was to buy a video game with his surprise find, he quickly changed his mind.
Myles’ father, Army Sgt. Andy Eckert, was killed by a roadside bomb in Iraq just five weeks after Myles was born. So, when he spotted a uniformed Lt. Col Frank Daily in that restaurant that day, he was reminded of the father he never knew. Something within him compelled Myles to forgo the video game to give a gift that was greater than himself and so much more than $20.
Myles wrapped the $20 with a note that read: “Dear Soldier, my Dad was a soldier. He’s in heaven now. I found this $20 in the parking lot when we got here. We like to pay it forward in my family. It’s your lucky day! Thank you for your service,” signed, Myles Eckert, a Gold Star Kid. Not only did that gift forever affect Lt. Col. Daily, as the story became known, others were motivated to do the same. Individuals, organizations and businesses came forward, wanting to be part of the example Myles set. As requested by the Eckert family, gifts were directed toward Snowball Express, a nonprofit initiative providing support to children who have lost a parent during military service.
On the way home from Cracker Barrel that day, Myles asked his Mom if he could visit his Dad. The image of Myles, and his footprints in the snowy cemetery, hugging his father’s gravestone with an American flag in the foreground, is one that is permanently etched in my mind. I am continually grateful that he showed us how a gift of kindness can not only help others but can inspire many more to do the same. In so doing, we are also reminded to keep our hearts and minds open to supporting each other and the organizations that help ensure the same spirit is perpetuated. Myles gave a gift much larger than $20. He showed us how it’s done.
The Community Foundation feels strongly that part of its mission is to introduce concepts of civic responsibility, not as a mandate, but as part of the joy of a fulfilling life. In addition to its Youth Philanthropy program, which targets high school students, there are plans underway to explore engaging elementary and middle school students in similar ways. It will help nurture the kind of thinking that has helped make our region great. It will help sustain the nonprofit organizations as reliable providers of useful community programs and services. It will determine what type of community we have, and what values and traditions we uphold. As we all look inward and consider, “If not us, then who? If not now, then when?” Myles very clearly helped answer that question.
RANDE RICHARDSON is executive director of the Northern New York Community Foundation. He is a lifelong Northern New York resident and former funeral director. Contact him at email@example.com.