Sense of charity has defined country

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Winston Churchill once famously remarked that we make a living by what we get, but we make a life by what we give.

That sense of charity has defined our country from the beginning, and even when times are tough, we don’t hesitate to reach out and help.

Consider a report early this year by the federal Bureau of Labor Statistics, which said that nearly 63 million Americans volunteered at least once last year, with each spending 52 hours on average serving others.
Incidentally, the bureau found that women volunteer more than men, and that those between the ages of 35 to 44 give more than any other age group.

Financially, the country donated about $290 billion in 2010, according to the Giving USA Foundation. That’s up about $10 billion from the year before, and it ended a two-year decline that was driven by the worst recession in most of our lifetimes.

About a third of our charitable giving goes to our churches, the largest of the groups mentioned. Educational causes and foundations are next on the list.

Here in Kentucky, there is no shortage of examples of our citizens helping others. Charitable gaming, for example, grossed $427 million in 2009, which was just a hair higher than wagering on horse racing and a little more than half of what was spent on the lottery.

Tens of millions dollars more go annually to such organizations as United Way, the WHAS Crusade for Children in Louisville and Habitat for Humanity, which over the last 18 years has built more than 1,700 homes across the state with the aid of three million volunteer hours. Our non-profit organizations, which enrich our lives in ways that can’t be measured on the bottom line, employ one in 10 Kentuckians, according to the Kentucky Non-Profit Network.

State employees have been very active in their giving over the years, too. In 2010, their charitable campaign raised $1.16 million.

State government, meanwhile, has taken several approaches to help others give back. The Kentucky Commission on Community Volunteerism and Service began in 1994, and as the name implies, it helps coordinate community service projects, serve as a conduit for federal funding and recognize those who make noteworthy contributions.

Over the last few years, meanwhile, both the General Assembly and Governor Beshear have authorized new initiatives designed to increase philanthropic donations.

A report on the subject last September showed that there is a lot of potential in this field. It estimated that Kentuckians will transfer $707 billion to the next generation over the next 50 years, as part of $53 trillion being handed down nationally. The report encouraged five percent be set aside for long-term initiatives that would promote economic development and improve quality of life.

If you are planning on giving to a non-profit organization, it may pay to be sure that its tax-exempt status is still in effect before taking a tax write-off. Earlier this summer, the IRS reported that 3,100 non-profits across the state had lost their status because they had not kept their paperwork up-to-date over the last few years. Most of these are likely to be inactive, the IRS said, either having been disbanded or absorbed by a larger group.

There is, of course, never a bad time to volunteer, but if you would like a specific date, there are two this autumn worth mentioning. One falls on September 11, which has been set aside as a national day of remembrance and service.

The other is the fourth Saturday in October, which USA Weekend Magazine has declared to be Make A Difference Day. Last year, Kentuckians donated more than 85 tons of food for local food banks on that date.

I’m proud of what we have been able to do as a community and as a Commonwealth when it comes to volunteering, because it says a lot about who we are and what we think is important.  I want to thank those of you who have been part of that, and would like to encourage others who are thinking about joining them.  It’s something you’ll never regret.

If you have any thoughts or suggestions on this subject, I would like to know. My address is Room 366B, Capitol Annex, 702 Capitol Avenue, Frankfort, KY 40601.

You can also leave a message for me or for any legislator at (800) 372-7181. For those with a hearing impairment, the number is (800) 896-0305.

I hope to hear from you soon.

State Rep. Rick Rand