From galas of rich people drinking champagne in ball gowns to celebrities adding their name to charity projects, “philanthropy” has become more of rhetorical label than anything. When a word like that comes to be applied to everything, it now means nothing. Especially on a college campus where there are weeks of “philanthropy” on a regular basis, institutional labels come to overshadow the real meaning of selfless volunteerism. And I think that’s sad primarily because there are so many great people doing incredible things on this campus. The spirit of philanthropy is alive and well at Drake, however hollow that label has come to be.
This week I witnessed a couple separate instances of what real philanthropy means. Wednesday night, we launched a Habitat for Humanity fundraising cleanup event at the Wells Fargo center downtown. Essentially, we bring a group of Habitat members to Wells Fargo and clean up trash and recycling after an event in exchange for a few hundred dollars to fund our volunteer projects and activities. This week, we were cleaning up after a hockey game, throwing away half-eaten nachos, emptying and recycling cans of beer, and simply walking the aisles of seats with giant buckets and trash bags. So, yeah, it’s pretty glamorous.
The great thing was that we had almost 20 volunteers sign up to do this. On a Wednesday night, there was a sizable number of Drake students willing to go strap on clear gloves and clean up the trash from rowdy hockey fans for no reward, no real explicit benefit. They did it because it would help Habitat, because it would others. One girl even had the bucket of combined drink leftovers spill all over her arm, so there was a considerable sacrifice, but also a considerable reward.
The other instance of true philanthropy I witnessed was this weekend, at a Drake Up ‘Til Dawn fundraiser for St. Jude’s Hospital. Our Student Activities Board hosted a costumed photo booth for the fundraiser, and I’m so glad we got to be a part of the event. Students stayed up all night on a Friday competing in team challenges to raise money for the kids at St. Jude’s and bring greater awareness of childhood illness to campus. Again, there was no extrinsically motivated reason all these students chose to spend their weekend this way. The simple fact is that at Drake, there are a lot of really good people who want to spend their time doing good things, And whatever philanthropy has come to mean, that’s what it really should be about.