Lately I’ve felt the urge to give back more. Before I had kids I would volunteer on and off for various projects – ESL tutoring, teaching newspaper reporting to an adult literacy, Christmas gifts for poor kids. I give money, but there’s no substitute for doing actual work. Getting out of my head, out of my comfort zone, meeting people I normally won’t – all without financial compensation. After all, altruism wouldn’t exist if giving didn’t feel good, right?
Being a mom – a single one, as you know – makes the time required to give back seem even more precious. So when I found out about a great little public plaza that was going to be voted on by my community board, attending a board meeting in support felt like a great idea.
I didn’t have a real agenda in attending, I just knew our councilman opposed it. If I needed to, I could stand up and speak in support of the plaza, which would be a mere four blocks from my apartment. I’d explain why it would remedy a harrowingly dangerous intersection which my kids and I frequent. I’d explain why this modest investment of public funds would benefit local businesses, boost property values, and better our quality of life.
I’m not sure which was the bigger force in squelching the plan: the influence of business, or board members’ mental retardation. But after three hours of spirited debate, three-fourths of the members voted it down.
I was crestfallen.
Afterwards I went for beers with a mommy friend. I admitted that I questioned whether it was a waste of my time to go, not to put the kids to bed, and spend nearly $50 on a sitter. True, I learned a lot. I enjoyed the theater of the event. Maybe my presence added something. After all, I cheered loudly when others spoke in support of the plaza, and rolled my eyes and whispered in disgust to my friend when board members verbally fretted over a mere four lost parking spots. But what did I really give back? How could I be of more use?
When I got home, I found I’d received a Facebook message from an old friend with whom I’ve recently reconnected through this blog.
I wanted to let you know that I think your blog is very powerful. I have a dear friend who is a single mom and she is having a very hard time with dating and just doing it all alone. I sent her your blog and it’s really been inspiring for her. She asked me if she could contact you, she wants to talk with more single moms and your blog has really hit home. She has a great job and is really working hard every day to be a good mom and friend, but right now she’s feeling pretty low about dating. Anyhow, would it be OK if she emailed you? Thank you, Emma and thank you for putting yourself out there. You’re really making a difference.
Nothing could have made me happier. Like I said, altruism – it has to feel good.
Emma Johnson is a veteran money journalist, noted blogger, bestselling author and an host of the award-winning podcast, Like a Mother with Emma Johnson. A former Associated Press Financial Wire reporter and MSN Money columnist, Emma has written for the New York Times, Wall Street Journal, Forbes, Glamour, Oprah.com, U.S. News, Parenting, USA Today and others. Her #1 bestseller, The Kickass Single Mom (Penguin), was named to the New York Post’s ‘Must Read” list.
Emma regularly comments on issues of modern families, gender equality, divorce, sex and motherhood for outlets like CNN, Headline News, New York Times, Wall Street Journal, Fox & Friends, CNBC, NPR, TIME, MONEY, O, The Oprah Magazine and The Doctors. She was named Parents magazine’s “Best of the Web,” “Top 15 Personal Finance Podcasts” by U.S. News, and a “Most Eligible New Yorker” by New York Observer.
A popular speaker, Emma presented at the United Nations Summit for Gender Equality. Read more about Emma here.