Faiths Make a Difference
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by Lisa Olson
At first glance, it may seem that Forbes’ Top 10 Largest U.S. Charities have little in common. After further examination, however, each of these organizations seem to reflect something Alexis de Tocqueville noticed over 180 years ago.
In 1831, Alexis de Tocqueville traveled thousands of miles to observe different aspects of American life. One conclusion he drew from his visit was the importance of religion in preserving a stable democracy. The prominent role of religion in American public life would have been particularly striking for de Tocqueville coming from secular France. Tocqueville wrote that “the main business of religions is to purify, control, and restrain” and noted religion plays a significant role in encouraging people to do good.
Now, the landscape in America has dramatically altered. Yet, Forbes’ 2016 list seems to indicate that at least one thing remains the same: America continues to benefit from religion. Each one of Forbes’ top 10 charities were founded by people of faith, inspired to make a difference. Just as de Tocqueville noted, religion is still a powerful force in encouraging people to reach out beyond their “exclusive taste for well-being” and materialism to help others. Below are some fast facts and inspiring stories about the origins of the 10 Largest U.S. Charities on Forbes’ list.
- United Way. Founded by a Jewish woman, two ministers & a rabbi in 1887, it now raises over $5 billion each year to educate, improve health & decrease poverty.
- Task Force for Global Health. Founder William Foege, son of a Lutheran minister, was a medical missionary credited with devising a global strategy that eradicated smallpox by 1979.
- Feeding America. John van Hengel, a devout Catholic, is credited with founding the first food bank in 1967, which later led him to develop Feeding America.
- Salvation Army. William & Catherine Booth walked London streets in 1852 preaching the gospel & helping the poor. Now over 67,000 volunteers carry on their work.
- YMCA of the USA. This bible study was created as a refuge for young men, breaking rigid lines separating social classes. It continues to serve people in over 119 countries.
- St. Jude Children’s Hospital. Danny Thomas was so moved as a poor young man by mass that he donated his last $7 to collections. When he later became an internationally renowned entertainer, he founded this hospital as “a beacon of hope” for those in need.
- Food for the Poor. This Christian group encourages people to put their money where their mouth is. Along with prayer roles, they’ve raised nearly $12 billion to help others.
- Boys & Girls Club of America. Three women believed that boys who roamed the streets should have a positive alternative. This group not only focuses on providing education, but building character in youth and encouraging them to provide service. For years The Boys & Girls Club Code underscored the importance of faith and protecting religious freedom for all.
- Catholic Charities USA. These Catholics provide service to people in need, advocate for justice in social structures, and encourage the entire church and other people of good will to do the same.
- Goodwill Industries International. Methodist Minister Edgar Helms began collecting goods from wealthier areas and then training and hiring the poor to fix them. His philosophy of “a hand up, not a hand out” continues in this $4 billion nonprofit.
by Lisa Olson: an attorney and mother.
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