Finding my own reason to walk


LLS LTNThis post comes from AJ Chalom, Foundation Beyond Belief’s humanist giving program coordinator and an active member of the Society for Humanistic Judaism.

In May, I was asked as a member of the Board of Directors of the Society for Humanistic Judaism (SHJ) to endorse Foundation Beyond Belief and encourage our communities to participate. I affirmed, and hoped people would participate, but was not overwhelmingly enthusiastic about the project. I hadn’t found a reason to walk.

In June, I found myself working for FBB as an intern. One of my jobs was to encourage new teams to register during our registration week, so I encouraged my own Humanistic Jewish community, Kol Hadash Humanistic Congregation, to join the effort, and I signed up my family and pledged to “fundraise”. But I hadn’t found a reason to walk.

SamSam became my reason. Sam is six. He goes to my daughter’s school, and in June he was diagnosed with leukemia. While I didn’t know his family well, we have many of the same friends, and I started following the daily trials and tribulations of having a child with leukemia through the family’s blog. They are inspiring. They have handled adversity with humor, strength, flexibility, and truth. While they are not humanists, their actions are, and I admire them. Sam is my reason to walk.

But fundraise? Ask people for money? Everyone dreads it. I decided to just do it. I sent 80 emails, 20 for each member of the family, to personal friends. I made the emails personal, asking them each to give what they could, and the donations came rolling in. I raised my goal from $100 to $250 to $500 as I raised more money. I raised my children’s goals from $100 to $250 as their friends’ families contributed.

One of my son’s 5-year-old friends got out his piggy bank and found $2.50 in it. He volunteered to donate it to the effort, so his 3-year-old sister matched his $2.50, along with their parents. We received a $10 bill in his school folder the next week.

All the fundraising had stalled when Light the Night Illinois reminded me that the walk was 20 days away. They said, if I raised just $12.50 every day, I would raise another $250 before the walk. Really? Is it that easy? So I found some of the heroes photos on their Facebook page and shared them on my Facebook timeline, with my network, asking for just $12.50 from one friend every day. I learned people are generous – just ask.

My family turned a fictional goal of raising $400 into actual donations of more than $1,200, all of which will be matched through the generosity of Foundation Beyond Belief and the Steifel Freethought Foundation.

I walk because of Sam, I fundraise because people are generous, I give for science, research, and family support in the face of cancer and illness–all of these reasons are at the core of my own humanist values.