The Greatest Gift

"As the purse is emptied, the heart is filled." If there is a time to be inspired by the words of the French poet Victor Hugo, it is the holiday season, which, while joyous for most, remains a time of despair for too many of our fellow citizens and global neighbors.

Common Cents by Lurita Doan

Hugo knew the great secret of charitable giving, that each act of generosity returns two gifts to the giver.

First, helping others makes us stronger. How often do we feel powerless or overwhelmed by the tangle of problems facing our communities, our country and our world? Self-sacrifice in the name of others replaces that feeling with an empowering sense of well-being.

Second, though we’re all individuals busy with our own families, we’re also members of communities. When the least fortunate are lifted – if an operation is made possible or critical medicines become available, or even if a child gets a chance to practice a sport instead of falling in with the wrong crowd – the entire community prospers.

In Washington, federal employees of the U.S. General Services Administration and other agencies contribute through the Combined Federal Campaign (CFC) of the National Capital Area, which represents more than 3,600 charities. This year the CFC is trying to raise a record $60 million for local, national, and international charities. GSA’s target is $640,000.

That includes thousands of small gifts, by the way. Too many people fail to realize that small gifts make a difference. Federal employees know that just $10 per pay period can, for instance: pay five month's salary for an adult literacy teacher in South Africa; put wheelchairs under two landmine victims in Southeast Asia; support a mobile clinic in a remote rural area for an entire day; or cover the average cost to a family for one day's lodging in emergency short-term housing.

To help draw attention to the campaign, GSA held a talent show in our auditorium. For one hour on one afternoon, we turned down the lights as federal contracting specialists became singers, public building experts became ballroom dancers and a graphic designer played the mountain dulcimer.

While no one’s quitting his day job, the GSA Fall Follies was a lot of fun and got us in the holiday spirit. It also reminded me that while those who choose a career in public service don’t get much attention unless something goes wrong, most are caring, creative and dedicated individuals – especially our folks who were willing to get up on stage in order to shine the spotlight on a worthy cause.

So if you’re still struggling with the perfect gift this holiday season, here it is: Contribute time or dollars to the charitable organization of your choice.

Lurita Doan is Administrator of the U.S. General Services Administration.

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