In 2004, Linda Brucker’s son Conner came home from school and announced with excitement that he had been assigned a project. The first step in the multi-pronged project was to observe the homeless population around him.
As Brucker drove her son around town, the first-grader reported that homeless people were hungry, looked sad, and didn’t seem to have friends. The next step in his school project was to talk to a homeless person. Mom was a little unsure of this, but they persevered.
After talking to a homeless man, Conner added to his previous observations that the man had no socks, no toothbrush and nothing to eat or drink.
“I had never talked to a homeless person in my life,” Brucker says. “It’s amazing what children will bring you to, if you’re open.” She and Conner put together bags filled with socks, bottled water, granola bars, a toothbrush and toothpaste, and began giving them out whenever they saw a homeless person. A couple of years later, they saw the same man they had originally talked to — and Conner noticed that he was still wearing the socks they had given to him.
“I had never talked to a homeless person in my life,” Brucker says. “It’s amazing what children will bring you to, if you’re open.”
Brucker was amazed that the action of giving was still with the child so many years later. That moment was the catalyst that started A Legacy of Giving. She started looking at the question of where philanthropy comes from, and how we teach a philanthropic model to our children.
Like any important cultural foundation, if philanthropy is not taught, it will go away. “What if we taught it in the school system?” Brucker asked herself. “How could we transform that word, to mean something to children?”
She began by taking the concept to the private school her children attended. A small board formed, including MariBen Ramsey of Austin Community Foundation as well as local educators, philanthropists and business leaders. In 2007, Ramsey suggested that the organization open a fund through ACF to pilot the program for viability. ACF also provided office space and administrative support. “I didn’t want to start my own nonprofit,” Brucker says. “That’s what ACF is set up for — it allows you to focus your energy and passion on what you care about, without having to do it all yourself.”
The vision of A Legacy of Giving is to grow a generation of givers. Unlike traditional direct service charities, Legacy teaches children through academic service learning to become effective community trustees, thereby setting the stage for philanthropic activity now and in the future. Students learn what a community is, what a philanthropist is, how to research a social concern, how to advocate for others, how to run a service project, and how to analyze and reflect upon the results.
The goal is to equip students with academic vocabulary words so they are familiar with terms such as “community” and “civic engagement.” They discuss the difference between a “want” and a “need,” the meaning of “food insecurity,” and the many issues related to poverty.
Within three years the program was being taught to more than 7,000 students in 35 schools. By the 2010-2011 school year, Legacy student philanthropists returned an equivalent of $322,608 in economic value to the Austin area, including nearly 32,000 hours of volunteer work. “A Legacy for Giving fits perfectly with Austin's 'can-do' spirit," says Dr. Meria Carstarphen, Superintendent of the Austin Independent School District.
Unlike traditional direct service charities, Legacy teaches children through academic service learning to become effective community trustees, thereby setting the stage for philanthropic activity now and in the future.
"We're showing Austin students that there's no better way to tackle a problem that to roll up your sleeves and get it done! I'm appreciative of what A Legacy of Giving has done to bring a passion for volunteerism and philanthropy to Austin students. Not only has [it] helped instill positive behavior in our youth, it has helped make Austin a better place to live."
The results aren’t just economic, they encompass what the effect of their giving means to the young philanthropists themselves. “Part of the impact is the children understanding that what they do counts,” Brucker says.
Another vital aspect is turning the recipient into the giver, so that the true meaning of philanthropy, versus charity, comes through. The program is in Title 1 schools, privileged districts, and Catholic, Jewish and Muslim schools. This hit home when one participant, who received most of her family’s food from the food bank, revealed that for the first time she felt like the giver.
“She’s a different person; she will never be the recipient again,” Brucker says. “You don’t have to be wealthy to be a philanthropist. We transform the word philanthropy, regardless of socioeconomic status.”
As a result of the growth and success of Legacy, Brucker was invited to be a panelist at the United Nations Headquarters in February, 2012 for the Committee on Teaching About the United Nations (CTAUN) Annual Conference “Education IS a Human Right.”
A Legacy of Giving is now going into its fifth year, and the program has come full circle for Brucker: it's now being taught at her children’s schools. “We’re creating a sustainable model that will be here forever. The transformation of learning is not just for them, it’s also for us.”