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Charity and Transformation

By May Gnia Her, Vice President Community Impact, United Way of Fresno County

Ask anyone if they have given money or goods to a donation drive and they may tell you they have supported charity. To many, charity is simply the act of giving. In the nonprofit sector when community well being is the focus, charity is a key first stepping stone to strengthening a community. Through charity one can practice the goodness of, “paying it forward.” Paying it forward is a gesture of goodness toward a complete stranger. But charity is not the ultimate goal. Can charity in fact ignite the power of transformation? Transformation occurs when communities embrace each other’s differences as gifts, and accept each other’s uniqueness as an opportunity for learning and loving. Transformation allows communities to share in the abundance of becoming one – one community.

Transformation is definitely a much slower process, and it is not the automatic result of giving. Perhaps, it’s our own assumptions that hinder true transformation – assumptions that charity alone will meet the needs that seem to overwhelm our city. The law of inertia says, “A body at rest tends to stay at rest, a body in motion tends to remain in motion.” So any movement in a community to change its course or transform its direction is difficult. But we mustn’t despair. We can take a cue from the dramatic transformation we’ve seen in technology and apply it to our goals of community transformation. In technology there was momentum created in cell phone technology, and when price and performance coalesced, a tipping point was achieved. Soon, everyone had a cell phone. A good community transformation strategy begins with making opportunities for “paying it forward” more accessible and normative, especially among people of faith and good will. The recipe for success is simple; we work together to create community wide momentum leading to a tipping point – a culture that says to be alive is to pay it forward. Marian Wright Adelman said, “Service is the rent we pay for living.” We need more people to, pay it forward. It is here that magic can happen.

The faith community in the Central Valley has a strong history of charity. Luke 6:38 says, “Give, and it shall be given to you. A good measure, pressed down and shaken together and running over shall be put into your lap. For with the same measure with which you measure, it shall be measured back to you.” There is so much generosity in our Valley. But the last two decades this community has been trying to get a handle on what it takes to go beyond charity and create momentum toward transformation.

Whether you give to charity through your church, through the United Way, or by dropping your loose change in the bucket of a stranger; you are a change agent of God’s love. When you join with others and create momentum toward change, you become transformational. This is our community, our home, and it is our responsibility to transform it into a more just and peaceful place, where all residents get to experience its abundance.

United Ways across the country have celebrated 125 years of charity and locally driven transformation. It routinely collects funds to support local charities and address basic needs in our communities. United Way mobilizes the caring power of communities to make long-lasting impact and community changes. Through its charity work and coordinated community transformation efforts with our nonprofits, faith base, youth organizations, businesses, and local government, communities can all live more united. Perhaps unity is the ultimate goal of transformation.

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