The Grace of Giving and Receiving: Healing Through GenerosityNov 28, 2023 ● By Carrie Jackson
In today’s fast-paced world, where self-interest often takes precedence, the capacity for generosity can make a huge impact. Giving and supporting others fosters a more openhearted society, paving the way for greater connection and unity.
A study published in Applied Psychology: Health and Well-Being shows that gratitude can increase self-esteem and long-term well-being, leading to greater fulfillment in myriad areas of life. In this season of giving (and throughout the year), gratitude can help shift perspectives on everyday circumstances and remind us of what really matters. Stories of people supporting one another through their generosity can move and inspire us to make every day a little brighter.
Facilitating Health Care
Gratitude is often felt the most by those that have been helped through a loss or trauma. When her young adult son was afflicted with devastating ulcerative colitis, Phyllis Johnson remembers feeling desperate and frustrated by traditional medicine practitioners unable to help. “Watching a loved one suffer is the most helpless and isolating feeling,” she recalls. Her son finally found relief after introducing complementary and integrative therapies, and Johnson set out to help others that were not so fortunate.
“If I didn’t have the cash, I don’t know what we would have done,” Johnson remarks, acknowledging her privilege. In 2013, she founded eFundYourHealth.org, a South Carolina-based nonprofit, to encourage and support community giving when conventional health care and health insurance are inadequate. “We pull from a team of passionate experts in the integrative and alternative health community who want to change the world,” she explains.
Patients apply for grants for the care they need that is not covered by insurance. They are required to raise a minimum of $500 on their own, and eFundYourHealth.org connects with donors to meet the rest. According to Johnson, this model of people helping each other benefits everyone, including donors, patients and healthcare providers. “The patients are able to receive the often essential care they need and deserve to heal, and the donors and practitioners are making a vital difference in someone else’s life. The sense of gratitude connects everyone and heightens the healing process,” she says.
Johnson identifies with the desperation of family members that would do anything to help their loved ones and says that serving others is the only option for her. “When someone you care about is suffering, not being able to make them better is excruciating. Once you’ve been through a traumatic experience, it builds a fire within you. Turning that into empowerment becomes part of your calling, and you are driven to ensure that others don’t have to go through the same thing,” she asserts.
Feeding the Hungry
Generosity is often shared by the very people that have been on the receiving end. For Frieda Holly, experiencing homelessness changed her perspective and ignited a desire to help others. More than three decades ago, the Chicago resident was forced to move her family out of their apartment when her youngest son tested positive for lead poisoning. Unable to find housing on such short notice, Holly lived for six months with her children in a nearby shelter and was transformed by the experience.
“It was not what I expected,” she remembers. “They treated us with extreme kindness, and I had never felt so loved and taken care of, especially in such a down moment. When we moved out, I wanted to share that feeling and generosity with others.”
Holly began collecting food from nearby pantries and making soup for the community out of her new home. What started as providing a meal to a few people quickly grew into a bustling soup kitchen. Today, Frieda’s Place has been a cornerstone in the community for 35 years. “A soup kitchen is different from a pantry, because a warm meal touches people’s heart and soul. I put a little love into every meal and make my guests feel special,” she muses. Some of her guests are regulars, others come by once or twice, and everyone is welcome at her table.
While Holly runs the kitchen on her own, she is never alone. “Volunteers from the community stop by all the time to help out. Every day that we’re open, people drop off clothing, toiletries and other essential items,” she says. Much of the food is donated from nonprofits, such as the Chicago Greater Food Depository, and businesses, such as Trader Joe’s, and Holly makes do with whatever she’s given.
“Most days, I wake up not knowing what I’m serving that day, but it always works out and my guests are always grateful for a hot meal,” says Holly. “People come to Frieda’s Place for more than just the food; they are craving emotional attention and connection. If I can give them more love or even just listen, it’s a spark in their day that may have ripple effects.”
Leveraging Art for Positive Outcomes
Ruth Westreich never thought she would become a philanthropist. The California native grew up in poverty as a young caregiver for her ill mother. When a generous employer from a teenage job funded her college tuition, she was inspired to pay it forward. Westreich set out to help anyone she could by sharing her time, attention and financial resources.
A passion for the arts set the groundwork for The Westreich Foundation, primarily funded by her affluent husband, who saw how impactful her work could be with the right support. Now in its 20th year, the organization funds programs and individuals at the intersection of art and healing, focusing on the welfare and education of youth, restorative farming and organic agriculture, scientific research and independent investigative journalism.
“Art, science and intergenerational dialogue are inextricably linked, and harnessing them helps move beyond the societal and political entanglements that interfere with overall health,” Westreich explains. “We fund a lot of early adopters with big ideas that need investigating. We are especially interested in highlighting the dangers that need to be exposed in things like PFAS [per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances] and other chemicals that are harmful to the overall health of the planet.” The Westreich Foundation helped fund the nonprofits, scientific research and journalists that eventually uncovered the dangers of Monsanto’s weedkiller RoundUp.
A painter herself, Westreich is deeply moved by the power of the arts in healing, and the foundation combines thought-provoking art, activism and philanthropy to engage and unite people. “By supporting and elevating these passionate groups, we are encouraged that their work will result in an exponential impact that can be scaled for dramatic changes in human and planetary health,” she asserts. “Gratitude emanates between our donors and our recipients. They are incredibly grateful for the support, and I am equally grateful to be able to give. More than the money, it’s the relationships that make us all feel the richest. I believe in the law of attraction and know in my heart that the more you give, the more you get back.”
Spreading Holistic Hope and Gratitude
When Suzan Walter co-founded the American Holistic Health Association (AHHA), her knowledge and understanding of holistic health was limited. The businesswoman and parent of two children had no intention of entering the health world, but her life changed course when a close friend was diagnosed with cancer and given two weeks to live.
“During my grief, I read Bernie Siegel’s book Love, Medicine & Miracles and learned about terminally ill patients who took control of their illnesses and extended their lives beyond medical predictions,” she recalls, adding that her friend with cancer came to believe that he would recover. He accepted treatment and lived another two months. According to Walter, when he stopped believing, the treatments stopped working, and he died.
Seeing firsthand the power that positivity could have in healing, Walter committed to learning more about holistic wellness and eventually founded AHHA, a free, online clearinghouse of resources and articles to support active self-care and healthy lifestyle changes.
“We encourage the powerful, whole-person approach to health care that integrates physical, mental, emotional and spiritual well-being. We are connecting and empowering holistic warriors with the resources to help them heal and a community to help support them,” Walter explains. “I am humbled and blessed that by being willing to serve, these opportunities to leave the world a little better have emerged. My friend was asked at the end of his life if there was any meaning he could take away from his suffering, to which he responded, ‘It allowed me to let others in and receive their love.’ Gratitude enabled him to find a gift, even under the most dire circumstances, and that is a beautiful lesson.”
In this hectic season, slowing down and helping others can make a world of difference. By nurturing a culture of giving, we can help create a grateful, united community that reflects the values we want to instill.
Carrie Jackson is a Chicago-based freelance writer. Connect at CarrieJacksonWrites.com.