Friday, November 27, 2009

Do You Do Your Part for Charity?


     Not long ago my wife and I were watching 20/20 on ABC News.  There was a report about charitable giving that really caught our attention.  The report's findings were surprising.  First, it seems the most generous Americans, as a percentage of their income, are the working poor.  They give about 30% more than the very wealthy do.  And the least generous? People like me, and probably most of my readers, middle-income Americans. We give less, by percentage of income, than the working poor or very rich.  That is embarrassing to me, but it doesn't stop there.
     I would have guessed, even bet money, that those that are more liberal or Progressive, like me, would be sure to give more money than self-described conservatives.  However, according to this report, I am wrong.  Of the top twenty-five states for charitable giving, all but one voted Republican in the 2004 Presidential election. Religious people give more money than non-religious people, and not only to religious charities, as I would have thought. 
     So, after watching this report, my wife and I decided to increase our charitable giving, and to do so in a way that matched what was important to us. In other words, we wanted to find charities that were in line with our political and world views and interests, that helped people more than causes, and were efficient with the donations received. 
     I am passionate about a few things, so this was an easy quest.  First, I like history, education, and Colonial Williamsburg, and I had already been giving to them for years!  We also like things in the Cleveland area that we enjoy and feel are beneficial to the community.  The Cleveland Botanical Gardens fit the bill.  
     I care very much about access to health care, and am disturbed how many people get sick and die every day around the world from diseases that could be easily preventable or treated if proper health care were available.  I had read a book, Mountains Beyond Mountains, by Tracy Kidder that highlighted the Partners in Health, an group started by Dr. Paul Farmer.  This organization is wonderful in almost everything they do: they spend their money wisely (their managers seem to be paid very meagerly) and think outside the box for solutions to health care problems in the areas they work.  
     I also care very much about the civil rights of Americans, so the old standard ACLU  came to mind.  Of course, since I listen to National Public Radio almost daily, the local NPR station was on the list. Finally, I care about the environment; not only climate change, but keeping the planet clean, protecting wildlife, and preserving natural space.  
     I found a great website, Charity Navigator, that helps rate and categorize charities and how well they work. It can be explained better on the site, but they rate charities by their efficiency and capacity, and then make public the ratings.  It was a great way to help make a decision about where to send my money.

     So, after being inspired by the 20/20 report, thinking about what causes I felt were important, and researching charities to make sure my money was well spent, how did we do in our charitable giving?  We increased it, but like most in the middle class, failed to live up to our goals.  I continued to contribute to Colonial Williamsburg, started donating to NPR, became a member of the Cleveland Botanical Gardens, and participated in Susan Komen Breast Cancer Foundation activities.  But I failed to donate to any environmental funds, Partners in Health, the ACLU Foundation, or any organizations that provide books, education, or health care to people in the United States.  As we say so often in Cleveland, there is always next year.

     I think it is important, that we, as Americans, and me as a Progressive, start to put our money where our mouths are.  There are hundreds, thousands of non-profits that do wonderful things for people all around the world.  We could skip going out once a month and send that money to one of them, and probably feel better for it.  Charity and volunteering needs to become something that is more than just talked about or done as a token gesture around the holidays, or to spice up a college application or resume.  
     So the next time you're going out to eat, or buying that new computer, camera, clothes, car, ask if you really need what you're getting. If the answer is no, there are lots of others who do.

Friday, November 20, 2009

The Best Grandparents Ever

     Ten years ago tomorrow, on November 21, 1999, my grandfather, Joseph Edward Tylicki, died; he was 86 years old.  A little over a year later, on December 17, 2000, his wife, my grandmother, Florence Frita (Gerber) (Henning) Tylicki, died; she too was 86 years old.  Today, there is a mass in memory of my grandpa at St. Agnes church in Elyria, Ohio.  
     I think about my grandparents often.  They were my mother's parents.  In honesty, I know very little about their lives before I was born.  My grandfather was born in Cleveland and grew up in the Newburg Heights area.  Both of his parents were Polish, but I think they were born in America.  I know he had several brothers and sisters, but only remember Uncle John because I took Grandpa to visit him in the nursing home a few times before he died.  Grandpa graduated from Ohio State University. He told me stories about hitchhiking back and forth to school and about his military science courses, which were mandatory then.  Grandpa did not fight in World War II, I think because he had eye problems.  At  young age, he watched a welder and damaged his eyes; he had problems with them his whole life. He never drove at night, even when my mom was young, and was practically blind by the time he died.  Grandpa worked for Harshaw Chemical, and eventually settled in Elyria.  
     I know about the same about my grandma.  She was one of twelve children. I remember some of her brothers and sisters, but certainly not all.  They seemed to have funny names to me, of course I later learned they were nicknames!  They called Grandma Mice, because she was small and very quiet. There was Uncle Pork, Aunt June, Aunt Stell, and Aunt Red. Perhaps I could think of more if I tried.  My cousin gave me a family tree, but looking at it now to help would feel like cheating.  Anyway, Grandma was one of twelve children, born in Amherst, Ohio.  Her father, I'm near certain, was from Switzerland; the same cousin visited there and took a picture of the house he was born in.  Her mother, I think was from Germany, or at least of German ancestry.  The family moved around a lot, with her father having a difficult time getting and keeping work.  It was the depression era and no one had money, but I got the impression from Grandma that her dad was also a bit of a drifter, a get rich quick kind of guy.  Grandma married a jail guard and lived with him in Elyria. She was pregnant with their second daughter when the car he was in was hit by a train and he died.  Grandma eventually went to work at Harshaw chemical, where she met Grandpa.  During her youth, I think Grandma might have been a bit of a daredevil.  She liked the pilots, and flew with several of them in their old bi-planes, and she had an Indian motorcycle.  I'm sure both of those activities were rare of a woman during that time.
     My grandparents were in their thirties when they married.  They had seven children of their own.  I was older, probably a teenager, when I learned my two oldest Aunts had a different father than the rest of the kids. My grandpa always referred to them as his children, but it seems Grandma kept some things separate for them.  Most notably, she sent them to public schools while the others went to Catholic schools.  Of course they had many grandchildren and great grandchildren before they died, making summers and holidays at their house the best time ever.  There was almost always a new baby ever year.  That has continued after their deaths, but we don't get together as often. 

      I have just written almost all I knew about my grandparents from their births until mine, which was in 1974.  After about 1980, when I can remember life, I could probably write volumes about them, at least about how I remember them, and their lives.  I'll spare you that, even though I find it very interesting and think the rest of the world should, too.  But I will share a few things that I think are important. 
     Have you ever had anyone in your life in whose eyes you could do no wrong? I think everyone should have a person like that. It can't be a parent, because they have to scold and discipline children. It would never be a teacher or coach for the same reason.  Friends are way too quick to criticize, eliminating them from that list too.  For me, and probably for many people, it was Grandma.  I don't know for sure, but I suspect that, had I committed mass murder, she would defend me, and say something like, "I'm sure he had a good reason."  That was how she was to me, and I think to all of her grandchildren.  I never remember her using bad language or speaking poorly of any person or group, race, religion of people.  The worst I ever remember her saying about anyone was about my father at the time of my parents divorce, and even then all she said was that she didn't like how he was treating my mother. 
     After raising her nine children, even while the youngest was still living at home, she started fostering children.  She almost always had infants, but one time had a little girl, Tarita, who was my age.  Before she retired, when she was eighty years old or awfully close to it, she had taken care of over one hundred babies and had been awarded the Foster Parent of the Year by Governor Dick Celeste's wife Dagmar Celeste
     My grandfather retired when I was very young, I think the company made him retire because he reached age sixty-five.  Anyway, I hardly remember when he worked.  He was a traditional man of his time.  He went to work, maybe did yard work, and Grandma did all the cooking, cleaning, and housework. I remember kind of laughing that his big contribution to household chores after retirement was that he would take his own dishes to the sink after meals.  I don't know that he ever in his life prepared a full mean for anyone, or even himself.  While my Grandma was hospitalized once, I remember my mom and aunts making arrangements to go and get dinner for Grandpa. 
     After retirement, Grandpa came on some family vacations with us and with the families of at least one aunt. He came with us to Florida at least once and to South Carolina twice.  He took us to the zoo a few times, and to a local park several times, too.  He was our emergency contact at school, so if we ever were sick and my mom wasn't around, Grandpa would come and pick us up. 
     I think his main hobby was reading.  He read at least two, maybe three newspapers every day.  He also watched the news.  Like my grandma, I never remember him swearing or saying anything bad about anyone, or about any group or race of people.  He was not as loving as Grandma, he seemed a little less comfortable with the hugs, but he was always happy to see me and would offer good advice. 
     They were not like many older people; they weren't cranky, mean, and never bored us with stories and complaints when we visited.  Even as they grew older and needed more help, they accepted it gratefully, never with expectation.  And when they got sick, and fortunately neither was sick for too long before they died, they handled it with dignity. 
     A year or so before my grandpa died, he asked me awkwardly if there was anything in their house that I liked, like a piece of furniture or decoration.  It took several times of his asking before he more bluntly asked if there was anything of theirs I would like after they died.  I was surprised to have been asked, but said I liked a gold ring with a blue stone that he always wore.  The day after he died, my grandma made sure I got it.  I wore it to his funeral, at my wedding, and I'll wear it again tomorrow, at the mass in his memory.
     After my grandma died, I was present for a discussion about her obituary.  Jokingly, I suggested that it somehow convey that I was her favorite grandchild.  Looking back, I think I upset one of my aunts, who quickly responded by asking about her children.  That is what was so special about her; probably all of her grandchildren felt like they were her favorite. 

     If anyone has read this far, they probably have noticed that perhaps I am looking at my grandparent's memory through rose colored glasses.  My mom has jokingly referred to Grandma as St. Mama (I called her Mama) when talking about her with me. I will argue that my memories are accurate, and at worst are only mildly biased.  And like I think everyone should have at least one person in whose eyes they can do no wrong, I hope all people have someone thinking of them the way I think of my grandparents.

      Although I think of them often, today, while holding my one year old son, I thought of them and the mass tomorrow, and how much I really, really miss them.  I haven't cried about it for several years, but did today.  I am not a religious person at all; if there is a God, he or she surely is not any of the gods of any of the religions I know anything about, and certainly doesn't care about the day to day existence of me or anyone else.  But, I know that Grandma and Grandpa are alive in my memory, and in my heart, like they are with my mom, aunts and uncles, and cousins.   I hope they knew how much I loved them, how much I miss them, and how much I would love to be more like them.   I try, not as successfully as I would like, to live life and treat people the way they did, and am trying to teach my son the same.  In that, perhaps there is eternal life after all.