If you asked me the meaning of life, I’d say it’s to give and to build. I want to leave something for the better, even though nobody remembers it—and chances are better than ever that they won’t. It sounds strange, but when I give to people and causes, I’m really giving to me. Yet I always receive in strange and unexpected ways.
Meaning in life is giving and building. Augustus Caesar, the first Roman emperor, came to the throne with ruthless violence, but was one of the most effective emperors. Before his death he made a list of what he had given and built. He said, “When I came to Rome, it was a city of brick—I left it a city of marble.” We may not build a city of marble, but we can leave things better than they were.
A famous Teacher of long ago said, “Give and it will be given unto you.” It is our impulse to keep and save, but it’s true that we gain abundance through giving and creating for others.
How do you determine how and when you should give back? Many people belong to a faith community that asks for and deserves your support. There are compelling charities that take our hearts by storm like the Shriners Hospitals that give free medical care to children that we have supported for years.
How do you determine where and how you’ll give back? Carol and I look for an issue that will have a huge impact over a long period of time.
When Carol and I first started our business in Austin, we didn’t have a lot of money to give back—so we gave time and expertise. You can give back without spending much money if you carefully pick causes you believe in.
Since the 1990s we have spent a lot of time on issues that have built the Austin of today. Here are some of the ways we have built from then until now.
- We live in one of the most desirable neighborhoods in Austin, Bouldin 78704. What few people remember is that what is now a desirable neighborhood was a gangland, crime scene in the early 90s with gunshots heard every night. We worked with Austin police for several years to make the neighborhood safe to live in.
- Then we worked on Congress Avenue, which now has rents higher than Manhattan. In those years it was a sad Faded Lady, vice-ridden and crime-ridden, with sagging retail and no restaurants because it would not be safe for diners to be there. We promoted South Congress as the Main Street of Texas and the rest is history. We stopped a railroad that would have gone right down the center of the avenue, altering its image forever.
- Then there were the poverty-ridden children of Bouldin and Austin. Carol began the Bouldin Babes suitcase project with the Austin Children’s Shelter (now SafePlace), where neighborhood women collected and decorated a suitcase or backpack for each child in sheltered care for their belongings and included a cuddly toy in each suitcase. We had suitcases in our living room and vehicles for years, ready to be decorated or delivered.
- Then we turned to preserving green space and a view of the skyline of Austin. The land on Auditorium Shores on Lady Bird Lake was soon to be filled with condos. We couldn’t let that happen. We saw the vision of the parklands on the South shore of the river becoming like New York’s Central Park. We organized the South Austin Culture Club with a group of neighbors and the city council voted the shores of Lady Bird Lake to the parklands forever with a portion dedicated to the most fabulous children’s playscape we’ve ever seen.
- Then we turned our attention to poverty and began the Dream Come True Foundation on the back of an envelope. We discovered how to take people from poverty to a high five-figure income in about two years. Key figures in our partnership with other volunteers are Sam Meyers, Heather Bailey, and Executive Director Bob Riazzi.
Here are some of the major ways we receive back when we give:
- We make a difference for people who will never know us. We walk through the children’s park on Saturdays and hear the laughter and joy of the children who would never had enjoyed the park had we and a lot of committed neighbors not been there.
- We developed new leadership skills. By working on committees, projects and boards of non-profits we have been able to pull together people and inspire them to a vision of a better world. We would never have developed our level of leadership skills if we hadn’t given back to others.
- We created opportunities for others and ourselves. The Dream Achievers we and all the committed board members, mentors, and volunteers have worked with in Dream Come True are now teachers, nurses, attorneys and technology workers after beginning as minimum wage workers carrying three jobs. In the process, we have been able to connect with people at the highest level who have helped us in our work.
How do you give back? I know that many Tuesday Report readers are passionate in giving back and worked tirelessly at causes that make the world a better, more just and more beautiful place. Building a better “where you are” is something everyone can do. A few hours spent in helping and a few dollars spent in contributing is, I believe, an essential part of every life. It gives our life meaning, teaches us new skills, and is a legacy to our time that we spent in this world.