Editorial Notebook

Help your community

I’d like to jump into this notebook by saying something along the lines of “give back to the community,” but I think I need to provide a little context first. I mean, why should you listen to a random person expound on the benefits of giving? If I were the average RPI student, I probably wouldn’t.

Back when I was young, I lived a life that I believe a good number of students here can identify with. My father worked for Corning Lasertron Incorporated, a subsidiary of Corning Incorporated. Because of his job, which paid pretty well, I lived comfortably in Lexington, Mass., a peaceful, and—looking back at it—probably upper middle-class area. I never really had to consider a lot of things, including money and finances.

But then, just when I was settled in as an elementary school student, my dad lost his job and my parents got divorced. The split resulted in a move across the country to Mobile, Ala., which was completely different from what I was used to. I didn’t know this at the time, but my family (which, at this point, meant my father, my brother, and me) was on the road to near-poverty. By the time I got to middle school, we had reached that point. I learned, through my father’s comments to my uncle over the phone, about food stamps. And welfare (in this case, I’m referring to financial support provided to those without a source of income). Yeah, that thing that people constantly say is a waste of money, spent only on drunks and drug addicts.

Food stamps work on a pretty simple system. Rather than actual stamps or pieces of paper, you are given monthly food stamps via what is, essentially, a debit card. Food stamps can only be used on food items—this is a very strictly controlled requirement. Welfare, on the other hand, is far less consistent. According to my father, welfare in Alabama is funded primarily by wealthy donors. As a result, the disbursement period is less than constant. Things can get difficult for families that are forced to wait for this money to come in. I won’t go into specifics, but some weeks were substantially harder to get through than others.

Fortunately, my family is back on its feet. Welfare is (hopefully) a distant memory, and money is not as critical an issue anymore. Anyway, with this background provided, I can get back to the main point of my notebook.

Give back to your community. Or, at least, give back to those who have helped you along the way. This semester, for example, I received a refund check from RPI for a little over $2,000. This was the most money I’d ever personally had at any single point in my entire life. Despite this, I donated $100 dollars to a Kickstarter project created to help fund my high school’s robotics team. This is RPI, so I don’t think I have to do the math for you, but that’s a pretty significant portion of my savings. Why did I do this? Because that team had helped form the person I am today. It helped me break out of my shell. It taught me that, while I enjoy engineering, I enjoy code just a bit more. And, it taught me that (some) teachers really do care about their students.

For a similar reason, I plan to donate some money to my fraternity next semester, once I’ve received my refund check. Even though undergraduate members are never expected to donate, I feel like I owe it to the organization and its members for helping me grow as an individual.

If you don’t want to give anything to people because you’re not a fan of people, that’s understandable. I mean, let’s face it: people, in general, are stupid creatures. And, I am in no way, shape, or form, an exception to that statement. However, there’s a good chance you still care about your own well being. Giving money to other organizations, or just spending money at local businesses, helps the economy. The whole idea behind an economic system is the flow of funds. Economic downturns often continue because people are hesitant to let go of their money. Government stimulus packages are made to, theoretically, encourage people to spend by increasing the movement of money. So, spend money. Give to organizations. It helps everyone. (Economics majors: Please don’t yell at me about my explanation of economic systems. I realize this is a grossly simplified model; I’m just trying to make a point.)

I guess what I’m really trying to say can be summed up by the phrase “pay it forward.” As soon as I heard the phrase, I realized that was how I wanted to live my life. Accept the help and good graces people wish to give you. Then, when you’re able, give to someone else. Maybe I’m naïve—or maybe even a little insane—but I think that the world would be a far happier place if everyone strove to pay it forward.