Shared values, good fortune, and charity

We set aside the glossy brochures and give to nonprofits that are close to home and that reflect our family’s values

NEWFANE — My husband Tim and I have come to believe in giving locally, because the closer to home we give, the further our money goes.

Each year brings us up close and personal with both our shared values and our good fortune as we decide how to allocate our charitable giving. Over the years we've debated between giving every worthy organization a small contribution and giving larger gifts to fewer charities.

I confess there was even a time when we were seduced by tote bags with cool logos that helped determine our giving. But in the unlikely event that I ever need yet another reusable shopping bag, I'll just buy it. Ditto mugs, umbrellas, and key chains. Donor premiums no longer figure into our equations.

After more than three decades living, working, and volunteering in Vermont, we've both become acutely aware of how the low population density that makes Vermont such a beautiful place to live also limits the number of people available to contribute to local causes.

So these days, we set aside the glossy brochures for organizations with large fundraising budgets and give first to the groups we know about by word-of-mouth, from low-budget appeals, and from personal involvement.

I'm thinking in particular of operations in the West River Valley which do so much locally by providing food (the Townshend Community Food Shelf), housing (West River Habitat for Humanity) and health care (Grace Cottage).

This intensely local list also includes the NewBrook Volunteer Fire and Rescue, the Moore Free Library, the Historical Society of Windham County, and the West River Watershed Coalition.

For the most part, these are small-scale, volunteer-run organizations that contribute greatly to the quality of rural life in Windham County.

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Even though Newfane is the county seat, Brattleboro is the county's hub for social services and the arts, so we help support good causes there, including the United Way of Windham County.

UWWC is committed to HOPE (health, opportunity, prosperity, and education) by fostering collaboration among the many agencies and organizations dedicated to helping improve community life.

For instance, UWWC has initiated the Hunger Council of the Windham Region, where all the players helping ensure food security in Windham County gather monthly. Working together, they can streamline their efforts and increase their impact. UWWC applies this hive-mind model to coordinate effort and care in many areas of need, including housing, health, and education.

Brattleboro is also home to organizations dedicated to helping children and families, as well as fantastic arts and social-justice groups - organizations that help make Brattleboro a vibrant hub for services and activism in southern Vermont and beyond.

After all, even though we often think Windham County is the center of the universe, it's really just a corner of our rural state. The state is part of aging New England, New England part of a troubled superpower, and the superpower just one player on our fragile globe.

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We also give to worthy national organizations doing good work but, in order to leverage our dollars, we do so at the state or regional levels, including the ACLU of Vermont and Planned Parenthood of Northern New England.

And we support environmental organizations that connect us regionally, like the Connecticut River Conservancy. While we humans may mark boundaries between political entities with rivers, their waters flow without notice of these human constructs.

Humans also flow across borders. We're living in a time of intense human migration due to war and poverty, two scourges fueled by politics and climate change. There are many international organizations dedicated to helping displaced populations; we donate to three international charities to which we have intense personal connections.

HIAS works around the world to protect refugees. They helped my grandparents immigrate to America in the early 20th century; they strive to protect, resettle and advocate for refugees around the world today.

Tim's brother and sister-in-law direct Warm Heart Thailand, a grassroots nonprofit that empowers rural Thai villagers by bringing education, health care, and jobs to the poorest people in the Phrao District of Chiang Mai. Supporting them fits in well with our ethos of living locally.

Finally, our daughter Naomi is the executive director of Clowns Without Borders - USA. She's also a performer. As I write this, she's on tour in Myanmar, teaching refugees about to return to their villages about the dangers of land mines.

CWB-USA is one of 15 international chapters, all dedicated to bringing laughter where it's needed most. They do remarkable work while operating on a shoestring budget, so I know my contribution really helps.

Yes, we also contribute to the schools we attended, even though it seems as if they have more money than small countries. Nevertheless, our educations have served us well and have afforded us the earning power that allows us to help others survive and thrive.

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While this is not a complete list of the organizations we support, it illustrates our current thinking about giving locally to stretch our donor dollars in support of food security, shelter, health care, social justice, environmental protection, education, the arts, and international aid.

If you are able, I hope you will include gifts to good causes this holiday season.

And if you are reading this column in The Commons, I hope you will consider a gift to keep this independent newspaper in print.

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