The next installment in my Speak Out with your Geek Out blog posts is going to seem a little weird, and perhaps the premise will seem strange, or even a little self-aggrandizing (there’s a nice geeky term for you; it means that it might seem like I’m congratulating myself for this quality, if you haven’t come across it recently). That’s not at all what I’m going for, and it’s certainly not why I do this. Here goes…
I am a philanthropy geek.
I get ridiculously excited over plans to do good things for other people. I’m wildly enthusiastic about charities, foundations, organizations, grants, volunteers, fundraisers, relief efforts, drives, collections and goodwill offerings. I’ve even been known to put money in the occasional shaken can, so long as it’s being held by someone who doesn’t look completely indifferent and can’t be troubled to stop talking on the phone long enough to thank me for my donation.
I want shoes on every kid, mosquito nets on every bed, full backpacks on every kindergartner, roofs over every family, dignified suits on every interviewee, music in every school, accessible play features in every park, books in every hand, freedom in every heart, bluebirds on every shoulder…
And I get unbearably, wriggling-in-my-seat excited about new and brilliant ideas for delivering services and solutions in the simplest, most effective, creative, inclusive ways possible. Kiva still gives me chills, every time I log on — pure genius. So are lots of the Gates Foundation initiatives. Nothing But Nets, the brainchild of Sports Illustrated columnist Rick Reilly, is the model of catchy simplicity (not to mention the fact that his initial pitch stands as a monument to gorgeous rhetorical writing, which makes it a geeky itch-scratch two-fer for me).
Now, unlike a lot of geeks I know, I’m not out there looking to make converts to my favorite things — proselytizing generally leaves a bad taste in my mouth. If you’re already curious, and looking for a little guidance, well now, that’s a horse of a different color entirely, and I’ll pour as much info into your brain box as I can. But I don’t want to impose my passions on anyone else, for the most part.
My philanthropy geek is the single and very large exception to this rule. I think philanthropy should be a part of school curriculum — public school, because generosity and compassion are human morals, and need to be reclaimed from religion for the good of society RIGHT NOW — from the first day of kindergarten until the day you move that tassel on your college mortarboard. Every single person needs to learn that the problems of the world are not insurmountable. They can be broken down into manageable parts on realistic timelines; evaluated for creative, efficient, and cost-effective solutions; and projects parceled out to participants of every age and skill level to maximize inclusion, successful accomplishment, and the pride and joy of seeing the positive change you’ve effected in the world.
The cruelest irony of my philanthropy geek is that my family is poor. I’m not looking for sympathy, and I’m not going into specifics, because it’s not a contest. Put it this way: my husband works full-time in the game industry, and between health, parenting, and the economy, I can only work part time. We benefit from the social safety net. We get by. But I am almost never in the position to give much of anything to any of the dozen awesome initiatives I hear about as I indulge my geek every week. If I could do a kickstarter for people to give me money to do awesome philanthropic projects with, I’d be all over that, but I’m guessing that’s against some rule somewhere. So my love goes financially unrequited, and I struggle to balance the urge to give my time and talents generously in compensation, and not knowing when to say “no.”
I stumbled into an outlet, though it’s perhaps the least likely, most absurd one you can imagine for a pink-haired, minority-in-all-but-race geek mom. At my very first PTO meeting ever, which I attended in an effort to learn more about Connor’s new school in our new city last year, they started talking about getting the languishing student council effort going. Student leadership, responsibility, growth, blah blah blah. I tentatively raised my hand, and asked, “What about philanthropy?” 20 pairs of eyes fixed on me with laser intensity. My geek fixation had turned on me. By the end of the meeting, I was the advisor to the new student council. But I had 18 smart, enthusiastic elementary-school kids to organize for my nefarious, do-gooder purposes.
And do good we did. So much so, I got myself volunteered to be PTO president. “Never in my wildest dreams” doesn’t begin to cover it. But the chances for more good are bigger I’ve never been able to envision before. So if I bug you for money for some cause, or to buy overpriced wrapping paper, feel free to say no — I totally understand, because I would have to say no, too. But if you say yes, you’re not just helping a charity. You’re helping me get my geek on.