Giving Back

For myself and many others, gratitude and giving back go hand in hand. When thankfulness for all that we've been given becomes a way of life, compassion and the desire to serve others naturally follows. As we age, service to others brings greater meaning and purpose into our own lives.

We give because it's a direct way to use our lives in a manner that comforts and benefits others, which in turn brings more meaning, peace and happiness back to us. Not all of us can give materially in such a grand manner like Oprah or Warren Buffet. But we can, as Mother Teresa once said, do little things with great love.

If you have money, use it well--tithe, donate, give--if you don't, there are numerous ways you can be of service to others. Everyone has some quality, talent or gift that we can use to make a difference. A few years ago I used to volunteer as a 'cuddler' at the neonatal intensive care unit at the Los Angeles Children's Hospital. It doesn't take much talent or skill to sit in a rocking chair holding a very sick baby in your arms for an afternoon, and I probably derived as much comfort out of it as hopefully the babies did.

Over the years, I have participated in all kinds of volunteering, from working as a docent at the Simon Wiesanthal Museum of Tolerance, to delivering food to people with AIDS. Sometimes it has been pleasurable, other times challenging, but always rewarding.

I also learned, for reasons I frequently do not understand, that from birth until death, suffering is a part of life. Why that is, I do not have the answer. What I do know is that each one of us can do something to try and alleviate the conditions that create suffering, whether it is close to home, or in a faraway distant country.

There are moments in life when we look at all the suffering in the world and wonder how anything we do can ever make a difference. But we can and we do. We give and facilitate change through our political involvement, our money, our time and more importantly through our enthusiastic commitment to those who need our help.

Sometimes, however, people question if their donations ever reach those they hope to help and even if it does, they wonder if their $15, $25 or $75 donations can actually make a difference in other people's lives. Well, in answer to that, I came up with this information obtained from Oprah's Angel Network and O magazine. Here's an example of three remarkable charities and how your money can be used, as researched and presented by her Angel Network team:

• At Free The Children (, your $15 donation can provide a poor Chinese child with a school kit that includes a year's worth of supplies--notebooks, pencils, erasers, crayons, a book bag and more.
• At America's Second Harvest ( your $25 donation guarantees that 500 pounds of groceries will be allotted to soup kitchens, food pantries, churches, women's shelter's, after school programs, and Community kitchens across America.
• At Women for Women International( your $75 donation purchases a knitting machine and vocational skills training for a Rwandan woman who can then create an income by selling the clothes she produces.

How I Give Back

For the past several years I have been a monthly sponsor and volunteer with the following two organizations: Big Sister Big Brother of Los Angeles and Women for Women International.

Big Sister -

My husband Alan was the inspiration for me becoming a Big Sister. For the past 10 years he has been a Big Brother and I saw how rewarding the experience of being a mentor was for him and his "little brother" Ben. Four years ago I became a Big Sister to a young woman named Paola. Paola has had to overcome many challenges in her life, but from the moment we first met I knew she was an extraordinary young woman. I also knew I would be fortunate to have her as my "little sister." Last summer Paola graduated High school and was awarded 3 scholarships through Big Sister to help with her college education.

It was a day I will never forget. She had the audience both laughing and crying and they even gave her a standing ovation. I was so proud of her and all the hard work she did to arrive at that moment. I was also incredibly grateful that I had a part in helping her succeed. Now she is a psychology major at California State University Northridge and excelling in all her grades. Since she won those scholarships she has been asked back to give speeches at several Big Sister events. That's Paola and I in these pics at the annual Big Sister Awards luncheon with my hero Sidney Poitier and the wonderful Shirley MaClaine. What a memorable occasion that was for both of us to be seated at the table with such icons!

Becoming a mentor has been one of the best and most rewarding things I have done with my life. I am thrilled that Arielle is following in my footsteps and has signed on to become a Big Sister too. There are many young women in your local town that need guidance and support that for various reasons they can't get at home. So sign up and become a mentor and you too can experience the joy and rewards of being a Big Sister.

Women for Women International -

As a sponsor for Women for Women International I get to be part of an organization that has become a beacon of hope for hundreds of thousands of women in war torn countries such as Kosovo, the Congo and Bosnia. Like me, you can become a sponsor and give financial aid and emotional support to one or more women.

"...if you invest in a woman, you invest in her family, in her community, in her society... I have yet to see any investment in women fail".
- Zainab Salbi, Founder and CEO of Women for Women International.

One of the things I love most about being a monthly sponsor is my "sister" and I get to exchange letters. For a woman who may have lost everything, letters of support help renew her hope for a better future. Just $27 a month (for many of us, the cost of a week's supply of mocha soy lattes) allows women living through unimaginable horrors to obtain basic necessities for their families like food, clean water, medicine, or children's school books. Become one of more than 125,000 donors and sponsors world wide and reach out to a women in need and show her she is not alone. Supporters are also throwing dinner parties, organizing runs, and coming up with other creative ways to raise funds to help our oppressed sisters in faraway countries build a better life for themselves and their children. My daughter Arielle and I are in the midst of planning a cocktail evening at our home to raise awareness and funds to help women in the Congo.