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Hanukah is a big deal in my family. A REALLY big deal. It may not be a hugely holy holiday for us Jews, but in my family it is an over the top moment. For years my dad was the ringmaster of the “Hanukah Show” (as it came to be called). He took great pride in handing out the gifts – many with a story attached to it – and REALLY enjoyed dramatically unveiling the “BIG” gift for someone. I may have mentioned he is really good at gifts. You have no idea.
Part of the “rules” of Hanukah in my family and in Husband’s family is that gifts go “down”, they don’t go “up”. Meaning gifts flow from oldest to youngest and not the other way. But, a few years ago, Husband and I decided we wanted to do something special for our parents – those living and those who are no longer with us.
This was truly a moment of “what do you get the person who has EVERYTHING?” Our folks live fine lives. No one is hurting for meals or clothes or trips or materials goods. We racked our brain for something special, meaningful and sustainable.
Then it all became perfectly clear. The other tradition in this family is one of philanthropy. Husband has been involved in the Good Samaritan Foundation here locally his whole life. His grandfather had a large roll in the growth of the foundation many, many years ago and since then a member of the family has been on the board supporting its mission. There is also a family scholarship given out to doctoral nursing school candidates in his grandparents’ names.
For years growing up I watched my mom volunteer in my schools, take part in leading the PTA at my synagogue, sit on Religious School committees, be a Sisterhood member…the examples were endless. Then a few years ago I watched as she walked into her Battle against multiple myeloma. She left all she knew and loved to go to Little Rock, Arkansas with my dad to the University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences Myeloma Institute for Research and Therapy.
Not surprisingly, my folks made friends there. When we would talk they would tell stories of other patients, the doctors, researchers, nurses and staff they met. On one particularly scary trip I got to meet a few of them. They are an impressive bunch and left a lasting impression on me.
I’ve worked in Major Giving and have a passion for medical research. For those of you who don’t know, let me make this next sentence very, very clear:
Money buys science. Science buys life.
It’s an old adage, but it’s concretely true and that phrase jumped out at me in the middle of our discussion of what to do for our folks.
Research dollars. Scholarships. An impact and an outcome and a legacy.
We quickly set up the scholarship to honor Husband’s deceased father and his mom at the Good Samaritan Foundation. It would go to a graduate nursing student who has an interest in oncology to honor my mother-in-law’s triumph over breast cancer and the valiant battle my father-in-law fought against lung cancer for as long as he could. I got on the phone to Little Rock and we chose to focus the fund on research dollars. Formal names for the scholarship and fund were chosen. Official cards were printed and placed into envelopes to hand to my folks and Husband’s mother, aunt and uncle at the appropriate family celebrations.
We did it quietly. There was no fanfare, no dramatic opening of the envelopes. We just wanted to say “We love you,” and “Thank you.”
Over the next few days, I talked with my folks about the fund in Little Rock. They wanted to make a change – a small one. Instead of focusing on research dollars, as I’d guessed they’d want, they wanted to focus the money for those who had little. They wanted to support the social workers who do much with little and help out those, like my folks, that leave their homes and families and communities to come to Little Rock, but with far less in their pockets – all hoping for more time and more life.
And so we did. My parents gave some money to their new fund and took an active role in raising money for it – so much so that the first year that fund raised over $15,000, an exponential boost to the social workers’ coffers.
The scholarship given out to the graduate nursing student helped her get through school so that we could have one more dedicated nurse on the floors of a hospital or walking the halls of a nursing school as faculty. We can’t get enough of either fast enough.
Neither of these gifts are made of any precious metal, there is no designer label on them, nothing sparkles, there is no bleeding edge technology, there is no fad or trend or cool factor anywhere near it. But somewhere there is a family sitting in a hospital room listening to monitors beep and whir praying for a vital sign to change that doesn’t have to worry about a hotel room tonight or a meal tomorrow or gas for their car. And there is a student who just wants to heal people or teach someone who doesn’t have to worry about their books or their childcare or their tuition this semester.
And for one precious moment amongst all too many that whiz past us, our folks knew how much they meant to us and that the examples they set in front of us were not lost or forgotten or taken for granted.
I cannot thank them enough for letting us say “Thank you.”
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