Celebrating the generosity of spirit

The generosity of spirit is the subject of a publication, “Living the Generous Life: Reflections on Giving and Receiving,” of the Fetzer Institute here in Kalamazoo.

Introduced by former Fetzer Institute program officer and Kalamazoo poet and teacher Mark Nepo, the book is full of wonderful stories of generosity from world cultures and religions.

The Generosity of Spirit Project at the Fetzer Institute devoted four years of cross-cultural research discovering hundreds of stories, fables and myths “that all focus on what liberates our innate generosity of spirit and what blocks it,” writes  Nepo. “We observed a wide array of philanthropy practiced by those blessed by material abundance and have been humbled by the astonishing kindness of those who live with poverty and hunger at the door.”

The project found that “generosity is an impulse that invokes deep and vital healing in the human family. With every story we heard, we came to realize that sharing our gifts with each other, whether they be gifts of love, time, attention, skills, or money, releases a powerful force for positive change in both the giver and the receiver.”

The power of love is one of the driving forces in the daily work of the Fetzer Institute and for the past year our efforts here at the Community Foundation have been framed with our Love Where You Live theme. We are about people and place, and believe that a better life for everyone in Kalamazoo County involves everyone giving to one another in whatever ways they can. One way for people to do this is by giving unrestricted gifts to the Community Foundation.

Unrestricted gifts made to the Community Foundation provide the community we live in and love with the most strategic resources possible: permanent, flexible funds to address current and future community needs.

The $1,000 gift Dr. W.E. Upjohn gave to create the Community Foundation was unrestricted because he knew the community’s needs would change over time. His strategy was for it to be used to make life in Kalamazoo County better for all then and in the future. Here at the Community Foundation, we organize our leadership work, grantmaking and initiatives with that same strategy in mind.

We know what Kalamazoo County needs now, but we can never know what it will need in the future. Yet we still must be ready and able to respond to critical and unexpected needs that will present themselves. We can only do that with substantial unrestricted resources.

Says Dan DeMent, a member of our Financial Investment Committee who also, with his wife Jackie, created an Unrestricted Fund at the Community Foundation, “The beauty of a community foundation is, when gifts of all sizes and types are brought together, they can address a large need that no one person or gift could possibly satisfy. This is especially true with unrestricted gifts. When pooled in the right way and for the right purpose, those gifts generate outcomes for the community that are many times more valuable than the initial dollars people contributed.”

Generosity –– our ability to offer the best of who we are and what we have for the benefit of one another –– is perhaps our most valuable human attribute. In fact, it may be the singular quality we possess that has the capacity to transform the world.

“Living the Generous Life” includes Mohandas Gandhi’s inspiring quote “You must be the change you wish to see in the world.” At the Community Foundation, we believe each and every person in Kalamazoo County has some capacity to participate in that philosophy, whether in the form of encouragement or helping hand to a stranger in need, or through volunteer work, or a financial donation. We are a community with the capacity to make a difference for each other.

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