PrintThree 50-minute lessons

The learner will:

  • define philanthropy, philanthropist and humanity.
  • view and discuss the documentary The Gift of All: a Community of Givers.
  • identify character traits of philanthropists in the documentary and of self.
  • respond through discussion and writing to the documentary.
  • read a two-page biography and write four bullet points.
  • write a metaphor about responsibility to community.
  • interview family members about benefits and needs in the local community.
  • The Gift of All: a Community of Givers, DVD by the SOUL of Philanthropy project, available for purchase through the Grand Rapids Public Library or by streaming video.
  • State quarters from a variety of states (to be returned to you); one quarter for every two to four students; Or printouts of the reverse sides of the state quarters.
  • Student copies of handout Journal Prompts
  • Journals made by stapling several sheets of notebook paper (students make their own)
  • Printed copies of Briefing Papers found under the Professional Development menu (above); give each student a different article (some students may get the same paper)
  • Student copies of handout Philanthropist Biography
  • Student copies of handout Our Community Homework
Home Connection 

For homework, the students read their biography and make a list of facts to share with the class the next class period. The list should include name, profession, contribution to the community, and one significant or unique trait. The listed points should be concise and written neatly for their classmates to read. Students should bring the briefing paper and lists to school the next class period. Copy Handout Two: Philanthropist Biography and attach to each student's briefing paper.


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 https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dmaJoQicCEE

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." https://www.loc.gov/classroom-materials/ 

National Archives. "The Great Depression and W.W.II" https://www.archives.gov/education/lessons/depression-wwii.html

New York City School Library System. "The Great Depression" https://nycdoe.libguides.com/err.php?err_id=404&uri=/content.php&pid=295186&sid=2423720 [no longer available] 

Wikipedia. List of Generations. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_generations



  1. Day One

    Anticipatory Set

    Ask the students to name some local parks, sports fields, and large facilities that include a proper noun. Have them raise their hands if they have heard about the people for whom the park or facility was named. Ask the students if they know why the local facility or park was named after someone. How do you get your name on a building or get a park named after you? Alternative: Go to a MapQuest of your neighborhood or community to find places named after philanthropists in your community. Project the community map for the students to see and zoom in on parks and major facilities and public areas that have names in their title.

  2. Tell the class 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. (Examples: Giving time includes helping a neighbor take care of a garden. Giving talent includes tutoring someone in math. Giving treasure may include giving money or a possession that is valuable.) Discuss acts of philanthropy the students have participated in this year.

  4. Show the DVD jacket or video for the movie The Gift of All: a Community of Givers. Say, "In 2004, 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."

  5. Ask the students whether they would share their resources more or less when times are tough and money is scarce. Discuss their responses. Many students will think we share less when we have less to share, but some students may recognize that when the need is higher, we tend to work together to help each other more. Tell them you are going to show them the first part of the film. Have them listen for stories about people sharing and giving during the depression. Ask them to be prepared to recall some of the stories from the film of sharing in a time when resources were scarce.

  6. Give the students a little background about The Great Depression. See Bibliographical References. 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.

  7. 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. Tell the students that each of these people contributed to their community in a big way. (We'll read biographies of the individuals later.) Ask the students to 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).

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

  9. Ask the students to evaluate 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? Have students start a journal of getting to know their core values and motivations. See Handout One: Journal Prompts for a list of journal prompts.

  10. Give each student one briefing paper to read. The briefing papers are available under the Teach menu (above) and give background information about the people and places mentioned in the video. For homework, the students read their biography and make a bulleted list of facts to share with the class the next class period. The bullets should include name, profession, contribution to the community, and one significant or unique trait. The bullet points should be concise and written neatly for their classmates to read. Students should bring the briefing paper and bullet points to school the next class period. Copy handout: Philanthropist Biography and attach to each student's briefing paper.

  11. Day Two

    Anticipatory Set:

    Give each small group of students (2-4 students) a state quarter or a printed image of the reverse side. Ask one student 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. Tell the students to 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 the students' 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 students can read one another's metaphors.

  12. Tell the students that you are going to show them the second part of the documentary The Gift of All. 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.

  13. To give the class a little background on the people featured in the documentary, organize a "walkabout" for students to read the index cards with points summarized from the briefing paper biographies. Set up the room so students can walk around and read everyone else's four bullet points (from the briefing paper homework). Have each student display their index card on top of their philanthropist's biography on desktops or a table or bulletin board. The students move from paper to paper and read each set of bullet points.

  14. Write the following topics on the board and tell the students to take notes while viewing for the discussion after the film: issues or needs, the term "multiplier effect," what motivated people to give, benefits for the whole community, and new challenges for the next generation.

  15. Show the film from 15:34 ("Youth and Work") to 39:45 ("Lessons").

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

    Assign the students 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, the students 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.

  17. 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 students if they know anybody from this generation. Do the people they know have similar traits?

  18. Day Three

    Anticipatory Set:

    Bring in a bag of groceries and unpack it in front of the class. Tell them that you just went grocery shopping and you are wondering what you can do with this bag of food. Ask them for suggestions. They may offer menu ideas. Encourage them to brainstorm ideas (Prompts, if needed: What else could I do? Who else might need this food?) until you hear someone say you can donate it. Then ask them for ideas of where to donate it. When they come up with an idea that works with your schedule and location, tell them you are going to do that. Tell the students that there are lessons to be learned from the generation of people we have been hearing from in this documentary. "One thing they taught me is that in a healthy community, everybody has something to give, and we all have a responsibility to give."

  19. Before you show the last part of the video The Gift of All, ask the students to listen for lessons we can learn from these philanthropists. And ask them to be ready to discuss five reasons why people give their time, talent, and treasure for the common good.

  20. Show the end of the movie (from 39:45 to end).

  21. Ask the students, "What are some reasons people in our community might want to volunteer time, talent, or treasure to make our community a better place?" (Community may be the school, the town, or any group we belong to.) In this discussion, lead the students toward personal responsibility and motivation rather than specific local issues. (Possible motivations in our community: it is our responsibility, want to improve the community, make it safer, to do something with friends, a faith-based organization encourages it, family values, want to get my name on something, want to give back, recognizing there is "more to life," etc.)

  22. At the end Margaret Sellers tells about the concept of paying it forward. She says that "those who came before me helped me. Now I help others, and they can help others. This keeps us growing. It keeps humanity alive." Ask the students to define humanity. Then discuss whether this statement rings true.

  23. Have the students write a reflection in their journals about the documentary. Brainstorm a few topics to get them started. They may use a prompt from the handout, Journal Prompts. The reflection might be about what they can learn from the people interviewed or one thing in the film that motivated them. They may write about an idea for something they can do to help. They may write about core values or words that stuck with them. They may write about something in Grand Rapids that reminds them of their own community. The journals should not be graded.

  24. For homework, have the students talk to family members about their own community's benefits and needs. For the next lesson, each student should come up with two good things about our community and two things that they would like to see improved (envision what it could be like). See handout, Our Community Homework.


Student groups write a metaphor that meets the expectations. All members of the group contribute. Students write four bullet points that accurately and concisely characterize the biography. Students write at least two pages in their journals, but content is not to be graded. Students participate in group discussions and contribute to the different charts.

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.