Exploring Our Legacy of Giving

6, 7, 8

In this lesson, students explore their personal responsibility to the community. They recognize that everyone has something to give, and that includes them. Students brainstorm local philanthropists and positive traits of their own communities. They assess local needs and make a plan to address one need through volunteering or advocacy at a later date.

PrintOne 50-minute lesson, and one 20-minute lesson

The learner will:

  • analyze the meaning of a famous quote about community philanthropy and relate it to their own lives.
  • generate a list of positive traits of the local community.
  • explain their drawings that symbolize the needs and envisioned future of the community.
  • discuss possible projects for addressing a community need, to be implemented at a later date.
  • identify local philanthropists for a project in the next lesson.
  • Completed homework of two positive traits of the community and a drawing of the envisioned future of the community (See Handout Three: Our Community Homework) from Lesson One: Discovering Our Legacy of Giving
  • Student copies of Handout One: Local Philanthropist to be handed out at the end of Day Two for homework
Home Connection 

Students seek input from their families to brainstorm a list of local philanthropists.


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)


  1. Day One

    Anticipatory Set

    Remind the students of these words from the documentary The Gift of All: A Community of Givers (See Lesson One): "In a healthy community, everyone is important. Everyone has something to give." Discuss what that statement means. What does a "healthy community" mean, and who is "everybody"? Ask the students whether they are important to the community.

  2. Write one of the following quotes on the board. Have one student read it aloud. Tell the other students to listen as if the person is speaking directly to them. Discuss what the quote means in the context of the students' lives. It may be helpful to give a little background about the author of the quote. For example, knowing that Anne Frank was close to their age and in a very difficult situation may add significance to the hopeful words. Guide the students to recognize that they are members of a community with a responsibility for strengthening it.

    1. "How wonderful it is that nobody needs to wait a single moment before starting to improve the world." --Anne Frank
    2. "A community is like a ship; everyone ought to be prepared to take the helm." --Henrik Ibsen
    3. "I am only one, but still I am one. I cannot do everything, But still I can do something; And because I cannot do everything I will not refuse to do the something that I can do." --Helen Keller
    4. "Citizenship comes first today in our crowded world...No man can enjoy the privileges of education and thereafter with a clear conscience break his contract with society. To respect that contract is to be mature, to strengthen it is to be a good citizen, to do more than your share under it is noble." --Isaiah Bowman
    5. "Take care of your family first. But then reach out to your neighbor, your block, your city, your country. Everybody wants change, but they want it to come by way of somebody else…" --Edward James Olmos
  3. As an optional extension to the discussion above, group the students and give each group one of the quotes to discuss. Have them write in their own words what the quote means to them and what it challenges them to do in the community. Then have groups report back to the class a summary of what they discussed or a drawing (picture or symbol) representing what the quote means to them.

  4. The homework from the previous lesson was for students to talk to their families about two positive attributes of the community and two issues that need improvement. Have students share their homework with one other student. After a few minutes of sharing, ask for volunteers to share some positive traits of the community. List these traits on chart paper with a heading such as "What Makes Our Community Great."

  5. Guide the students to display (in an array) their drawings from the homework assignment of what they hope the community will look like--this may be on a bulletin board or the floor. Invite everyone to stand around the drawings. Have each student in turn explain what issues they addressed and how they envision the future of the community. Keep notes of the issues the students mention. This will be a thoughtful time with students expressing their voice about what they would like to see changed. This is a time to build empowerment, trust, and respect. After the discussion, the class will be choosing a project based on one or more of the issues raised here. Because the idea comes from the students, they may feel empowered to work for change.

  6. This discussion may lead to a service project to be implemented at a later time. Have the students think about the issues they just discussed. Lead them to recognize that the issues they identified in their community can be addressed by this class because they are important members of this community, and they have "something to give." The people in the documentary said repeatedly that they have great respect for the people who give time and talent and touch the lives of the people in the community to a greater degree than those who give money. Keep a list of their project ideas on a "parking lot" (chart of ideas to be revisited at a later time). When it is time to develop an action plan for a service project, follow these steps:

    1. Assess need.
    2. Make a plan to address the need.
    3. Set a schedule, gather resources, contact community agencies, determine skills needed.
    4. Do it.
    5. Reflect on the process--What went well? What didn't work? What can we improve? Did we make an impact?
    6. Demonstrate--make a report about what you did and document the results.
  7. Teacher Note: Some general categories of needs to assess include building neighborhoods, helping special needs students, educational issues, environment, illness, justice and fairness, and hunger and poverty. (Examples: make lunches for school children, pick up trash at a park, plant trees, collect mittens or blankets, read to preschoolers.)

  8. Day Two

    Anticipatory Set

    Tell a personal story about someone who shared time, talent, or treasure with you, or tell about someone who contributes time, talent or treasure to the community. Focus on the person and make it clear this is a philanthropist.

  9. Discuss who might be philanthropists in your community. This includes people who give in many ways. Encourage the students to think of people they know and encounter that they might not have recognized as philanthropists before: People who volunteer in their faith-based organization or school, the crossing guard, family members who help others, etc.

  10. Brainstorm a list of people in your community who volunteer and share time, talent, and treasure for the common good. If you are not in Grand Rapids, you can include the names from the community whose names are on buildings and in the names of parks. If your class is in west Michigan, focus on people not in the documentary.

  11. Tell the students that they are each going to choose one local philanthropist to learn more about. They will be doing research, conducting interviews, and writing a story about that person. The story will be shared with others outside this class. The person they choose may come from the brainstormed list, but for homework, they should talk about this with their families and get more ideas about local philanthropists to write about. In the next lesson, they will learn more about the assignment and make a final decision about whom to write. See Handout One: Local Philanthropist.


Observe student participation in discussions. Seek the thoughtful input of each student in the discussion about community needs and envisioning a better future.

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. 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.7 Give examples of common resources in the community.
    3. Standard PCS 05. Philanthropy and Government
      1. Benchmark MS.2 Define civic virtue.
      2. Benchmark MS.3 Identify the relationship between individual rights and community responsibilities.
      3. Benchmark MS.8 Define civil society.
  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.2 Explain and give examples of enlightened self-interest, egoism, and altruism as they relate to philanthropy.
      3. Benchmark MS.5 Describe the responsibility students have to act in the civil society sector to improve the common good.
  4. Strand PHIL.IV Volunteering and Service
    1. Standard VS 01. Needs Assessment
      1. Benchmark MS.1 Identify a need in the school, local community, state, nation, or world.
    2. Standard VS 02. Service and Learning
      1. Benchmark MS.1 Select a service project based on interests, abilities and research.