Discovering Our Legacy of Giving

6, 7, 8

This beautiful documentary The Gift of All: a Community of Givers shares the motivations and attributes of the generous people interviewed. In response, the learners create their own short biographies of philanthropists in their community.

PrintThree 50-minute Sessions

The learner will:

  • define philanthropy, philanthropist and humanity.
  • interview family members about benefits and needs in the local community.
  • The Gift of All: a Community of Givers, available through streaming video.
  • State quarters from a variety of states; one quarter for every two to four students; Or printouts of the reverse sides of the state quarters.
  • copies of the handouts below

The Gift of All: a Community of Givers, produced by The S.O.U.L. of Philanthropy along with The Grand Rapids Community Foundation and Calvin College. Copyright © Grand Rapids Public Library, City of Grand Rapids, Michigan, 2008, 2009. Streaming video available at

Learning to Give. "SOUL of Philanthropy" project. Includes links to video, related quotations, and briefing papers (biographies) 

The Library of Congress. "The Great Depression: Primary Source Sets." 

National Archives. "The Great Depression and W.W.II"

New York City School Library System. "The Great Depression" [no longer available] 

Wikipedia. List of Generations.



  1. Anticipatory Set

    Brainstorm the names of some local parks, sports fields, and large facilities that include a proper noun. (See Google Maps.) Discuss the people for whom the park or facility was named. Ask how you get your name on a building or get a park named after you. 

  2. Explain that a local park was named to honor that person either because that person gave time, talent, or treasure or contributed to the community in another big way. That person is a philanthropist.

  3. Define philanthropy as giving time, talent, or treasure for the common good. Discuss examples of giving time, talent, and treasure. 

  4. Give an overview of the movie The Gift of All: a Community of Givers. "West Michigan was recognized as the second most generous region in the country. This video project set out to investigate what is unique about West Michigan people and discover what motivates people to give. Through stories, we will learn about some remarkable people."

    They should know in advance that the 1930s were a time of a depressed economy when many people did not have jobs and had lost their invested money. The adults interviewed in this documentary were children during this time and saw and felt daily hardship.

  5. Ask whether they would share their resources (money and time) more or less when times are tough and money is scarce. Discuss their responses. History shows that when the need is higher, we tend to work together to help each other more. Have them listen for stories in the first half of the movie about people sharing and giving during the Great Depression. 

  6. Show the documentary from the beginning to 15:32. Stop the movie (before the section called "Youth and Work") to discuss the stories and comments of these individuals. Notice that the documentary does not focus on their achievements but their character and their influences. The narrator told us to look for what causes people to do what they do. We look at their core values, parents, their learning environment, and the major events of their lifetimes.

    Each of these people contributed to their community in a big way. Recall some of the stories in the film that hint at why these people would be big givers as adults.

    (Teacher Note: Stories from the film to recall: two sides of the quarter, giving milk to poor people, making gloves last, using stones for heat, going barefoot to save shoes for Sunday, unemployment, community coming together to share, employer sharing any profits evenly, collecting what people can pay for rent, love in the neighborhood, war, concentration camp).

  7. Brainstorm words that describe the character traits of these people (responsible, fair, frugal, resourceful, hardworking, and compassionate).

  8. Ask the learners to reflect on their own character traits. What kind of friend, family member, community member are they? What stories do they have that tell about their environment, family, and selves? When and how did they help someone?

    See the handout below Journal Prompts for a list of journal prompts.

  9. Session Two

    Give each small group of 2-4 people a state quarter or a printed image of the reverse side. Ask them to recall from the video what the grandfather of the young B. Margaret Voss told her about her earnings as they looked at the quarter.

    In their groups, they look at their quarters and write a similar symbolic statement, or metaphor, of what the two sides of the quarter represent. The reverse sides reflect the character of the state so their statements should be different than the grandfather's comment about the eagle, but should still reflect a responsibility to the greater community. Display the written statements and quarter images where they can read one another's metaphors.

  10. Watch the second part of the documentary The Gift of All. Show the film from 15:34 ("Youth and Work") to 39:45 ("Lessons").

    In this section, they will learn about the renewal of downtown Grand Rapids. The people we met in our last class period saw many needs in West Michigan. They came together as a community and shared time, talent, and treasure to address the needs in a creative way. It took many years and tremendous dedication.

  11. Use the following reflection strategy to discuss this section of the film: 

    Assign the learners to four groups and give each group a different color of marker (the marker stays with them as they rotate). Start each group at one sheet of chart paper with a topic at the top.

    The four topics are 1. What were the issues/needs of downtown Grand Rapids in the 70s and 80s? 2. What factors helped bring downtown Grand Rapids back? 3. How did the leaders involve the whole community? 4. What are the new challenges?

    The group discusses their topic and writes notes on the chart paper. After five minutes, give a signal for the groups to rotate to a different sheet of paper/different topic. At the new site, they read the previous group's comments and add more comments using their assigned color marker. Repeat until each group has rotated back to their original sheet/discussion topic. There they reread all the comments and decide what the major points are and choose one person to report back to the rest of the class. Display the chart papers and review them as a whole class.

  12. Discuss what makes this generation unique. Why did they become a generation of givers? How did their community shape them and how did they shape their community? Ask the learners if they know anybody from this generation. Do the people they know have similar traits?

Philanthropy Framework

  1. Strand PHIL.I Definitions of Philanthropy
    1. Standard DP 01. Define Philanthropy
      1. Benchmark MS.1 Define philanthropy as individuals and organizations providing their time, talent, and/or treasures intended for the common good throughout history and around the world. Give examples.
      2. Benchmark MS.4 Give examples of how individuals have helped others.
    2. Standard DP 02. Roles of Government, Business, and Philanthropy
      1. Benchmark MS.6 Identify significant contributions to society that come from the civil society sector.
    3. Standard DP 06. Role of Family in Philanthropy
      1. Benchmark MS.2 Discuss the function of family traditions and role modeling in teaching about sharing and giving.
  2. Strand PHIL.II Philanthropy and Civil Society
    1. Standard PCS 01. Self, citizenship, and society
      1. Benchmark MS.4 Describe the characteristics of someone who helps others.
    2. Standard PCS 03. Philanthropy and Economics
      1. Benchmark MS.1 Define and give an example of a for-profit corporation demonstrating community stewardship through corporate philanthropy.
      2. Benchmark MS.4 Give examples of how civil-society-sector giving can impact communities.
    3. Standard PCS 06. Philanthropy in History
      1. Benchmark MS.1 Explain the role of philanthropy in major themes and social issues in the nation's history.
      2. Benchmark MS.4 Describe how civil society organizations developed during major historical events.
  3. Strand PHIL.III Philanthropy and the Individual
    1. Standard PI 01. Reasons for Individual Philanthropy
      1. Benchmark MS.1 Define and give examples of the motivations for giving and serving.
      2. Benchmark MS.4 Identify and describe the actions of how citizens act for the common good.