I don’t know about your house, but my house is all abuzz these days about the Avengers and the recent Captain Marvel movie. I happen to love the hero’s journey in most situations: a book, a movie, real-life stories of humans finding in themselves strength they never knew they had to do something bigger than they ever thought possible, and becoming better people for it. The upcoming Avengers movie, Endgame, is the last installment of a string of movies about the hero journeys of the Avengers. It is the big payoff to a lot of dedicated fans who want to know how this whole thing actually ends. We. Just. Can’t. Wait.
While it’s easy to spot a superhero in a movie or book, the true superheroes - the ones who choose to make a difference for others - are all around us in real life. George Peabody, considered the father of modern philanthropy, received the Congressional Gold Medal in March, 1867, due to the ways he helped public causes, particularly in educational initiatives. His estimated lifetime gifts of $8 million (equivalent to well over $100 million in today’s dollars), still provide support to communities in the US and abroad. More than 150 years later, Peabody’s work and the opportunities he created for others are celebrated through a statue, a library, a museum, and an institute that bear his name.
So what if you don’t have $100 million to give away? What if you are just a chef who wants to help kids? Or a woman who wants to support her family, and leave a gift to a children’s hospital? Or an entrepreneur who energetically shares his ideas so others can be successful?
I met Chad Houser through the United Way’s social innovation fund, the GroundFloor. Chad had been a critic’s darling local chef, and dreamed up an idea through his volunteer work with boys in the juvenile system: to teach them about “playing with knives and fire” in his kitchen, where they could learn the vital skills of being part of a team, taking responsibility, and serving others. He started Cafe Momentum to give these kids an opportunity for a new life, one that didn’t include job skills and experience rather than a return to jail. Graduates of the Cafe Momentum program become contributing, tax-paying members of society, reversing the drain that they could have been on public assistance dollars. Brilliant. If you don’t yet know about Cafe Momentum or haven’t eaten at the restaurant, visit http://cafemomentum.org. And for more about Cafe Momentum, see this article written by Chad.
In a recent Children’s Medical Center Foundation Board meeting, I learned about a donor who decided in the 80s to set up a CRAT (Charitable Remainder Annuity Trust) with approximately $1.5 million. This type of estate tool designates a certain pool of money that usually pays income to a beneficiary for a lifetime, and the remainder is left to a charity when the beneficiary passes. This very well-designed, well-managed asset wound up providing income for decades to the beneficiary, who was a family member of the donor, and then left $20 million in a lump sum last year to Children’s Medical Center Dallas. Yes, you read that correctly. While the donor’s gift was quite sizable at the time it was made, she could not have known back in the 80s that she would eventually create a gift of this size, which will have direct and lasting impact on thousands of children. That’s a legacy.
We received a call at my office recently, and I was told that the caller “says he knew your dad and wanted to let you know how much he meant to him.” When I connected with this still practicing financial advisor, he went into detail about how my dad had influenced him, and also how he had just learned of his passing. “We were at lunch in Hawaii where your parents vacationed and heard some people talking about your dad. We asked when he was going to arrive and learned that he had passed. I just had to find you to tell you how much he meant to me.” He went on to tell me that my dad had encouraged him over the years to pursue excellence in his business, to strive for bigger goals, and to welcome friendly competition so that everyone who had chosen this work could be the best that they could be, for their clients and for their own families.
You may be very clear on your superhero skill - a way that you affect others that will have a lasting positive impact on their lives. I’ve never seen my friend Chad Houser wear a cape, but I bet he keeps it tucked by his bedside. His work is profound, as is the work of the nurses and doctors at Children’s. But, the CRAT donor? Did she think she was a superhero? Her vital dollars will help ensure that the best medical team with the best equipment needed to save and heal children is available right here in North Texas. So yes, she’s a superhero in my book.
As for my dad, he was my superhero, as most parents are for their kids. But meeting with my dad’s clients since he passed away has been a gift of humility and clarity - from stories of families being able to achieve financial goals they never thought possible, to tales of children and grandchildren who received an education because Dad encouraged his clients to save for college, I can see the positive effect he had on families (beyond mine) for years to come.
We all have our ways of being superheroes, whether we know it or not. What's yours?