I’m inspired these days by people who surprise me, such as the individual who gives generously even with a small salary or people whose compassion and sincerity may shine brightest while they’re volunteering. These small acts restore your faith in humanity and remind you why you give.
Name: Justin Cole
Profession: Disaster Recovery Consultant at the New York City Housing Authority
What was the first gift you ever gave?:
Being handed a crisp $1 bill from my grandmother’s purse as we neared the end of the service, like many my giving began at church. As a kid, I remember thinking it strange that people would pass around a basket full of money and not take any, yet this visceral sight of community members, rich and poor, giving generously has had an impact not only on why I give, but my life as a whole.
What is your charity of choice and why?:
My charity of choice is Habitat for Humanity. After a serendipitous assignment to work with Habitat for a class during my freshman year of college, i’ve served in some capacity as a volunteer with the organization for the past seven years since, currently serving on the Young Professionals Council for Habitat NYC and helping to coordinate fund-raising events.
Habitat grew out of an idea in 1976 that an organization should be formed to provide homes to families at no profit and with no interest. From that seed, Habitat has grown to one of the top 10 private home builders in the country. Homes are sold, not given, to families all across the world who have spent 300-500 hours of their own volunteer time (“sweat equity”) after going through an intense application process. Yet the benefits are immense: having a safe space to call home can be the difference for a child’s success or for a family’s financial and physical health.
Further, Habitat’s impact as an aid organization post-disaster in areas like Haiti and the Gulf Coast have reverberating effects on the preservation of communities as well. It is for all of these reasons, as well as the practical construction skills it has taught to millions of unskilled volunteers around the world, that makes Habitat my clear charity of choice.
Can you share a story about your philanthropy?:
College is such a great time to get involved in philanthropy, particularly because you are surrounded by passionate, enthusiastic students and you can plan audacious events that would succeed almost nowhere else. I had the opportunity to help plan three outside-the-box fund-raising events; including an inflatable jousting competition for Relay for Life, an event called Shack-A-Thon where campus organizations fund-raised and sponsored a small wooden house that they then built and lived in for several days on our Quad, and a late-night grilled cheese operation that presumably violated multiple food and safety standards but was successful in raising hundreds of dollars.
Who inspires you to give?:
I think that this answer has evolved over time. At an earlier age, I would have said that listening to speeches by JFK and Martin Luther King Jr. about civic obligation inspired me. While their words are as resonant now as ever, I’m more inspired these days by people who surprise me, such as the individual who gives generously even with a small salary or people whose compassion and sincerity may shine brightest while they’re volunteering. These small acts restore your faith in humanity and remind you why you give.
What motivates you to give?:
Truthfully, there’s no one thing that motivates me and I may be radical in my thinking, but I do not believe that giving is a pure act of selflessness. Some part of my motivation is an intrinsic moral obligation to repay some of the blessings I’ve received in life, but an equally large part of it is because I genuinely enjoy the activities that I give to or volunteer with, and therefore I have a personal stake to ensure that this activity continues.
What advice do you have for others to consider giving?:
Mother Teresa once said “If I look at the mass I will never act. If I look at the one, I will.” The only advice that I have to offer is that starting to volunteer can be overwhelming, as the vicissitudes of life have ensured that there will never be a shortage of need. Yet start off by focusing on tangible, manageable goals that will prepare you for success. Approach volunteering, albeit your money or your time, in the same way that you would train for a race. Set a goal to just donate more or volunteer your time more than you did last year; whether that’s $0 or $10,000. But start by just looking at the one.