Gratitude in Action: Community Voices on Charity and Giving Back

November 5, 2013

Editor's Note: For many, this time of year serves as a reminder to be thankful for all that we currently have in our lives. One of the best ways to put that gratitude into action is to give back -- either with monetary or time contributions. This series offers a look at different people who give to their communities and how they do it. 

Leona Bennett was most recently the Head of Global Equity Trading at Colorado PERA, retiring in 2012 after fifteen years with PERA. Previously, Leona was an equity trader at United Bank of Denver for 18 years. Over the years she has been involved in various levels of leadership, volunteerism, and campaign giving for a number of charitable organizations. Currently, Leona is active in the Boys and Girls Club of her community in Canon City, Colorado.

We recently spoke with Leona regarding her thoughts on the charitable sector.

What does charity mean to you?  

Identifying a need and being able to help regardless if it is to an individual or an organization and whether it is in terms of money, time, or abilities.

What is the first donation that you can remember giving? 

At age 7, I participated in Trick-or-Treating for UNICEF.  My mom and teachers encouraged us to give some of our own money.  I probably only gave a couple of dollars, but I thought I was helping another child just like me.

How did your upbringing affect your views on charity?

Growing up in Buena Vista, I witnessed on a daily basis a community that always took care of each other.  Being one of seven children with only one parent, there were times we needed help.  The beauty of a small community is they would help in ways without taking your pride away from you.  For example a neighbor would share their meat from the deer they got with the pretense that it all wouldn’t fit in their freezer.  Or the neighbors would hire us to do little jobs for them.  Not only did it help me to see the goodness in people, but it also taught me to work.  I also participated in organizations like Girl Scouts, Rainbow Girls, Young Life, and 4-H which are based in serving others and learning to be responsible.

What is the cause currently closest to you?

There are two.  On a local level I have become involved with the Boys and Girls Club of Fremont County.  I have been able to use my experience in fundraising to help with their charitable events.  Also, because my son is in the military right now, my husband and I have made a financial commitment to the Wounded Warrior Project.   Although we have fortunately not been touched by the difficulty of military service, our son sees so many who have every day.

Which other charities do you admire most and why?

Orchard of Hope in the Canon City area serves cancer victims financially as well as with services.  This organization was the vision of a cancer survivor who became personally aware of how underserved small communities were by the national organizations with regard to help for cancer victims.   Orchard of Hope has involved the entire community with several different fundraisers where the not so well off and the very well off can make a difference.  The community feels like Orchard of Hope belongs to them and because of that they are able to do so much good for the cancer victims in the entire area.

Sports Made Possible was a group I was involved with in Denver.  It is a baseball league for mentally and physically challenged children.   Some individuals along with the Colorado Rockies built a baseball field for handicapped children and they run a spring and fall league.  This experience for these children gives them so much joy.  Their parents who works so hard everyday are able to have the joy of watching their children play a sport.  Because each child needs a buddy to assist them every week, school organizations come and help.  These young people who help come away with a whole new appreciation for their own lives.  I was exhausted every week at the end of the day, but every hour and every dollar I gave I got back 10 times over.

Do you think charities can learn from the business sector?

Absolutely, charities need people with organizational skills, accounting skills, creative fundraising ideas, and writing skills.  Business people can also make a huge difference in helping to educate and guide young people and also older individuals who need help with technology.  Big Sisters and Big Brothers organizations have been a huge success in this area.  At the Boys and Girls Club, professionals come and teach personal finance, cooking classes, gardening, and other useful skills.  Local carpenters and electricians donate their time and skills to keep the building in good shape.  A local auto repair shop donates their services to keep the club’s vans running well.  Several retired teachers help with homework and other activities.

Do you think it is more important to invest time or money in charitable work?

It is important to give what you can afford, however whether you give money or not, investing time is always important.  Knowing how and why people are struggling helps to determine what will help them most and long term.  I am always reminded of the old saying “give a man a fish he will eat for a day, teach him to fish, and he will eat for a lifetime.” People who see the positive results of their charity work are more likely to continue to help others. Knowing the people who run the organization and how it functions help one to identify other ways they can contribute.

What do you get out of your giving?

Seeing a young person go from struggling in school and being self destructive to a person who is succeeding in school and becoming a confident happy individual gives me hope for our future.  When I can help make a fundraiser successful, I also get personal satisfaction that I still have something to contribute.

Have you ever regretted making a donation to a particular charity?

No regrets.   However I have become very diligent in investigating the charities I contribute to and one in which I give my time to.  It is important that most dollars go for the benefit of the people they are helping and that the administrators are not making large salaries and benefits.  Because of this strategies, I stay away from some of the larger national organizations that seem to have become money making machines and don’t touch the real people who need them.  With the exception of Wounded Warriors, we keep our dollars local and we know who runs the organizations and how the dollars are spent.

Maybe it’s my age or just life experience, but life can change for anyone without warning.  Anyone of us could be that person who needs help tomorrow.  The person we help today could be the one with the helping hand extended to us tomorrow.

Did this post inspire you to give back? Make sure you leave a comment or share it!

This post was written by Sam Troge, an Equity Analyst at Colorado PERA.

(Would you like to write a guest post for The Dime? Email us at dimecontact@copera.org.)