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Neighbors of DuPage

Why do we even care about helping others?

Oct 06, 2015 12:22PM ● By Neighbors Magazines

Volunteers help keep the pantry stocked at the People's Resource Center in Westmont.

“Social Responsibility” is so important to community that Neighbors Magazines includes it in the six basic components that define community: governance, education, recreation, culture, commerce and social responsibility. In 2012, over 60% of Westmont residents reported charitable donations on their tax returns, totaling over $12,094,000. Add in unreported donations and the figure is closer to 83% of those who donated money, according to a Gallop Poll. Several studies of volunteer time for not-for-profit organizations indicate that about 27% (ages 16 and up) donate time. In a Gallop Poll study, 65% said they volunteered time in the past year.

In many studies the United States ranks at, or near, the top in the world, with regard to individual donations of time and treasure. Over 75% of Americans agree that “social responsibility” is an important ingredient in a successful community.

What is social responsibility, why is it important, and how does it impact our lives in Westmont?

Wikipedia tell us that “Social responsibility is an ethical framework which suggests that an entity, be it an organization or individual, has an obligation to act for the benefit of society at large. Social responsibility is a duty every individual has to perform so as to maintain a balance between the economy and the ecosystems.”

Maybe social responsibility starts at home. When you cut the grass it makes you feel good. Your neighbor will appreciates it, too. Placing a paper bag in a recycling bin doesn’t do much for you, but in a very small way you’ve just made the world a better place to live. Drop a buck in the Salvation Army bucket and you make the world a better place…for someone else. But when you step out and donate your time, that’s when you really start to embrace social responsibility.

Are you going to Holly Days? While you’re there, consider the hundreds of volunteers from the community that make this festival possible. Organizations like the Westmont Rotary Club, the Westmont Chamber of Commerce, the Village of Westmont and the Westmont Park District are just a few of the local organizations represented.

Every month Neighbors Magazines receives hundreds of press releases announcing upcoming events in Kane and DuPage counties. Our list of over 400 not-for-profit organizations is just a very small part of the 1.5 million registered charities in the U. S. The 62 million Americans (27%) who volunteer 50 hours per year (Bureau of Labor Statistics) says something about the culture of giving in America. Drill that down to the town level and we find a very strong sense of responsibility to help each other within our community. If national statistics can be applied, 4,000 to 5,000 Darien residents put in about 250,000 hours of time supporting the charities of their choice.

Earlier this year, the People’s Resource Center opened its new location at 104 Chestnut Ave. in Westmont.

It’s now a 13,000 sq. ft. center offering a food pantry, computer literacy and art classes, job assistance and other social services and a clothes closet with gently used clothing for all ages.

Founded in 1975, the center is a lifeline for individuals and families in times of crisis, “bringing neighbors together to respond to hunger and poverty.”

Between the Wheaton and Westmont facilities, the team of over 2,000 volunteers serves nearly 32,000 DuPage residents every year.

Hank Anzelone and his wife Linda (pictured on the cover) have lived in Westmont for over 43 years. He is now director of the food pantry at the People’s Resource Center in Westmont and Linda is a volunteer.

 “As I reflect upon [social responsibility], I feel it starts with a perception of ‘Freedom.’ In its essence, I view ‘Freedom’ as a paradox. It offers a liberty (which is as far as too many people grasp), but it also demands Personal/Social Responsibility. In a community, responsibility takes many directions. It seeks involvement. It denies the ‘that’s not my job’/‘let someone else do it’ attitude,” says Anzelone. “It’s obvious that the more people that step up and accept ‘Responsibility,’ the shape of the Community takes on a positive outlook of warmth, that Norman Rockwell would love to illustrate. Responsibility doesn't stop with individuals. In Westmont there is a cooperation between departments, agencies, and groups that have developed over the years that I think make many places a little envious of us.”

“Charitable organizations contribute immensely to community,” says Tim Sullivan, publisher of Neighbors Magazines. “From youth organizations that help build a path for future contributors to senior organizations who give service in thanks to those who have spent a lifetime as productive citizens. Perhaps one of the greatest misconceptions is that charities exist primarily to support the indigent and poor. While important, that segment is just a slice of the culture of social responsibility.”

“All of us have the potential to be vulnerable in our lives when unemployment occurs, a medical crisis happens, aging is more complicated than we expected or quite simply, life does not go as planned,” says Melinda Kintz, Executive Director, Batavia United Way. “But sometimes we need to call upon the experts. Our goal is to ensure these services are available if/when the time comes for the betterment of all.”

Studies report many benefits of individual social responsibility: improved relationships within the community, improved communications between socio-economic classes, better education for poor and rich alike, less depression, improved health overall, lower crime rates, and happier lifestyle.

In a 2001 study, Independent Sector, a charity umbrella group, found that 84% of charitable donors said they give time and treasure because believe they can improve the welfare of others. This begs the question: why is someone else’s welfare important and why would such a large majority care?

For the many organizations and professionals studying this question, it has been difficult to pinpoint an answer. Is it for tax deductions? According to Independent Sector only 20% of households that contribute cite the tax deduction. Is it religion? Gallop Poll says “…religious Americans are just as likely as nonreligious Americans to report nonreligious giving and volunteering.” Perhaps it has something to do with gender? There is no difference in self-reported involvement with charitable activity or donations by gender, according to Gallop Poll.

Eugene Tempel, executive director of the Center on Philanthropy at Indiana University, says their studies have found varying motivations. “Typically, people give because they identify with a cause…there are people who feel a responsibility to give back…and often people will say if they are asked by the right person, they will give.”

“Almost 43 years ago my bride and I purchased our first home in Westmont,” Hank Anzelone reflects. ”We are very proud to be part of this community. Over the years I’ve been heavily involved in my church, the Knights of Columbus, and the village. Since 2008, I’ve been given the opportunity to operate a local food pantry for People’s Resource Center. We offer more to a family now than we did seven years ago. People’s Resource Center’s mantra of ‘Meeting our Community’s Needs—Neighbor to Neighbor’ is paramount in accepting ‘Freedom.’” And to becoming a community.

“It seems then, we give because we are good. The part of the American character that is hopeful and generous—while flawed, while not perfect—is fundamentally intact,” concludes Albert Oetgen, NBC News (Nov. 20, 2006).

As the holiday season approaches, both needs and opportunities arise. As you take part in the Holly Days festivities, consider how you can continue to help in the months ahead. From local churches, the Westmont Lions and Rotary Clubs to Westmont First, this community is truly fortunate to have so many helping hands.