Generosity Grows Organically in Grosse Pointe
Philanthropy is a long-standing tradition which continues to flourish in our community.
Tell anyone you know in Grosse Pointe that you have some time to volunteer and your email inbox and voicemail will be full within the hour. That’s what I did when our family first moved to the area nearly four years ago and we’ve met the most kind-hearted people during the process.
As a transplant, I often wonder what it is about this place that makes people so generous with their time and resources. Is it the fact that Grosse Pointe is considered an affluent community with better than average public schools, services and parks? Could it be that many residents are second and third generation Michiganders that have seen and experienced many types of socioeconomic hardships? Perhaps these factors make Pointers appreciate what they have and want to share with others, but has it always been this way?
Izzy Donnelly, director of education for the Grosse Pointe Historical Society, says the area has strong roots in caring for others. The Provencal family, settlers from the 19th century, provides several examples of community spirit, helping other families with their crops and farm responsibilities as well as offering a church service in the parlor of their home.
“One of my favorite examples of generosity in Grosse Pointe is when Pierre and Euphemia Provencal adopted 24 children that were made orphans after the Cholera epidemics of the 1830s and 1840s,” said Donnelly.
Indeed, generosity is so highly valued in the area that local schools regularly host coat, book and can drives for Detroit schools and shelters, churches send teens on annual volunteer missions and the social event of the season is the annual Toys For Tots party held at the Grosse Pointe War Memorial. You may already know that the War Memorial was donated by the Russell Alger family in dedication to our United States veterans. Can you even imagine the Grosse Pointe Soccer Association, Red Barons football or local Little League programs without all of the parent volunteers? Odds are that you or someone you know is integral to at least one of these school, sports or community programs.
Grosse Pointe South High School has recently launched SERVE, which is the vision of parent and long time district volunteer Alicia Carlisle. Called Students Electing to Respond to Volunteerism through Education (SERVE), it is a posting service that makes it easier for students to volunteer and track their time. SERVE’s clearly stated mission is “to be the bridge which brings students together with meaningful opportunities.” With the help of other parents and Grosse Pointe Public Schools Superintendent Suzanne Klein, Carlisle says the SERVE program has been a success at Grosse Pointe South and will be rolled out to Grosse Pointe North within a month.
“The idea started with a small group of volunteers who believe strongly in community service,” said Carlisle. “We want students to volunteer because they want to, not because they have to, and the SERVE program provides both the opportunities and the tracking that they need.”
According to a survey conducted in 2009 by the United Way, adults who began volunteering as youth are twice as likely to volunteer as those who did not donate their time when they were younger and non-volunteers say they are more likely to serve if a trusted friend asks them. This could explain why generosity, both with time and resources, is so prevalent in Grosse Pointe.
Donna Satterfield, life-long Grosse Pointe resident and mother of two daughters, remembers participating in community service through school and her church as a child.
“I remember bringing extra candy to school for kids that did not have any at Halloween, picking up trash, helping at the library and donating clothes that no longer fit,” said Satterfield. “Now, I like to be busy and productive and there are a lot of opportunities to do that in our community.”
Satterfield has helped coordinate efforts for the annual Toys for Tots fundraiser for the past seven years. The event typically draws 350 attendees and enough donated gifts of bicycles, wagons, video game consoles, dolls, puzzles and board games to fill a large moving truck. All of the gifts are distributed immediately by United States Marines throughout metro Detroit.
“Volunteering is always fun and it is great to get together with friends doing something that has a positive outcome,” said Satterfield. “I think it comes back to a strong spiritual foundation as well as the Golden Rule and that we are fortunate and want to help those who are not.”
Maybe we don’t need to know why so much has been accomplished by the philanthropic souls of Grosse Pointe, but it is necessary to illustrate and acknowledge these acts so that the spirit of giving is passed along to future generations and remains a basic ingredient of life in this community. The intent of this column is to cultivate the incredibly meaningful donations of time and resources in our community, both past and present. Yours in gratitude.