By Gary Swick
My assigned topic for this month’s President’s article is Giving. This seems appropriate as we are entering the giving period, culturally marked by Thanksgiving, Black Friday, Cyber Monday, and the religious holiday mother lodes in December. Now we participate in the latest non-profit annual holiday Giving Tuesday. So it’s a good time to solicit your gift for the good of Friends of the Fox River (FOFR). Indeed I am doing that, but first allow me to share a personal perspective on giving.
Societies, agencies, organizations, and groups rely on their giver/taker ratio to be a net positive to be sustainable. That’s not just an economic factor, but also involves performance and psychology. Recently, a student presentation in my class profiled ant colonies. The colony thrives with well-defined roles directed at maintenance and growth, all based on a system held together by intricate communication. The ant world offers many lessons on giving through cooperation and productivity. Just as with the ant world, we must all work together to create strong and lasting communities that are healthy and whose resources are sustainable into the future. Our Fox River is one of those resources.
Growing a Giver
Giving is in my blood. My father used to say about his mother-in-law that if she was one of only two people left in the world and they had only one loaf of bread she would insist that the other person take it. As a teenager, if I had friends come to my house and if I wasn’t home they usually stayed awhile; my parents gave them their attention. My mom would whip up some simple meal and my dad would entertain the troops. In those years, my mom worked three part-time jobs – all volunteer positions. For me, giving one’s time, attention, and resources is cultural.
I have been with Friends of the Fox River from the very early years and have served the organization in many volunteer capacities. Our FOFR culture has been built and based on volunteers. Our wealth is held in our members, partners, and supporters. Our only paid staff perform administrative functions and operate our outreach education services. Many of our educators choose to waive their pay and donate their time as volunteers.
With a Little Help from Our Friends
After three date changes, we finally were able to conduct our Elgin cleanup with partner State Representative Anna Moeller on Saturday October 13th. We had a great turnout of volunteers from FOFR and the neighborhood community. As in-kind gifts, Kane County Forest Preserve staff collected the trash and Big Apple Bagels donated breakfast bagels. On Sunday, more volunteers joined volunteer presenter Katie Meyer for our annual “Oaktober” program at the Schweitzer Environmental Center. (Side note: The Schweitzer house has been restored thanks to thousands of hours of volunteer skilled labor, and thousands of dollars in donations. Come to our November and December events there to see their fine work).
Monday, I collected monthly water samples from several Fox River sub watershed streams. Those samples are just some of the many samples collected by volunteers from other sub watersheds. The water quality analysis of these samples is also donated by area laboratories. And when I park to collect water samples at the intersection of Corran & Burlington Roads, someone in another vehicle always asks if I need help. Givers seem to abound within our watershed.
Nature seems to be pretty good at the economics of give and take. While I was collecting samples from 11 creek sites, I noticed how the recent rains have impacted the conditions there. Creeks and their critters are naturally designed to handle the flood cycles. Some would say they are “stream-lined.” Creeks withdraw and transport materials from upstream then deposit them downstream. Conditions now show that much bottom material has settled from upstream erosion. This brings changes to the stream and the inhabitants adapt accordingly. I found the bottoms of the creeks to be decorated in a washboard sculpture of fine sediment giving me a visual gift at each site.
Friends of the Fox River has many moving parts. We “Keep on Fixin’ the Fox” with the driving force and support of many volunteer efforts. This year, our new strategic plan pushed us forward into strengthening our existing efforts, and embarking on some new initiatives. We have important work to accomplish and we are committed to it.
Growing Pains and Pleasures
At this fall’s “No Clean Water No Good Beer” fundraiser there was another demonstration of multiple giving to our organization. Bandito Barney’s offers their facility, the beer vendors serve up complimentary samples of fine beer, and participants enthusiastically bid on more than 100 donated items from neighboring businesses. Of course, it was that handful of Friends of the Fox River volunteers who used their expertise to plan and implement the event. We had many givers and we enjoyed a great time that gave us a healthy monetary gift.
We have aggressively increased our budget 50% in each of the past two years and have been able to keep our bottom line in the black. Our Executive Director and Board have been strong and generous in their support. Our committees are growing in members and effectiveness but we need more help. We need more human resources; not just hands at clean ups, but people with skills and experience. We need more financial resources; not just occasional gifts, but sustainable sources.
Every organization has it’s “hand” out this month. In the non-profit world today this is the reality. Some groups offer a mug, swag, your name paraded about, or in the political world, some leverage. So what do you get from FOFR for your offering?
A Watershed of Caretakers
Every day you use water and, just like freedom, there is a price. The Fox River provides the natural world with a biologically diverse habitat. Unfortunately, this habitat is impaired and is constantly facing new threats. We work to protect, maintain, and restore its natural quality. We do our work through advocacy, education, and fieldwork. The Fox River provides three hundred thousand people with drinking water and over one million with wastewater disposal. It receives our floodwaters with all its pollution. In return, the Fox River provides us with aesthetic splendor, recreational opportunities, and in most communities, economic benefits.
Please show your gratitude to the Fox River and help support Friends of the Fox River in our efforts. Consider how you can be a giver this month. Membership is an easy route and comes with benefits. Gifting the membership to others is a great way to multiply your gift. Business partnerships, the EarthShare giving campaign at your work place, and even a bequest are valuable contributions. Your in-kind gift of service through committee work, volunteering at events, and other service donations are also needed and appreciated.
Whatever your ability, please consider being a giver to Friends of the Fox River because it takes a watershed of caretakers to protect our natural resources.