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Fitz's Opinion: Tucson has more philanthropists than Tortolita has javelinas
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Fitz's Opinion: Tucson has more philanthropists than Tortolita has javelinas

From the Fitz's opinion: A collection of David Fitzsimmons' opinion columns series
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David Fitzsimmons, Tucson’s most beloved ink-stained wretch.

Mom asked me,“You heard the story of the widow’s mite?”

I was 7. “Bible story about some lady and a bug?”

She winced. “When Jesus saw a poor widow put only a few small coins in a treasury, he praised her, saying that poor widow gave more than all the rich guys, who gave plenty, because that was all she had.”

“Mom. The macaroni is boiling over.”

Mom believed if you wanted something good to come your way, you had to create a kind of spiritual vacuum in the cosmos. Tithe something to get something. And the best thing to want is “to feel good about doing good in the world.”

“Can I have my macaroni?”

“Giving. That’s what matters in life.”

“Parmesan cheese matters in my life.”

When I got the email from Ally Baehr, the chief operating officer for Make Way for Books, I thought maybe she wanted to talk about the Tucson Festival of Books. Nope, Ally was writing to me on behalf of the National Philanthropy Day Planning Committee. She was recruiting “judges.”

I’ve been a judge before. I took the task seriously. I arched my best judgmental eyebrow.

“What would I be judging?”

“On Friday, November 15, 2019, the Association of Fundraising Professionals Southern Arizona Chapter will host its 31st Annual National Philanthropy Day Awards luncheon at the Grand Ballroom of the Tucson Convention Center.’

“Hm.”

“Six major awards will be presented to individuals and organizations whose philanthropic contributions and dedicated volunteerism improve the quality of life in our community.”

“And who are the other folks who’ll decide the award winners?”

“Stephen Garcia, from TEP, Joseph Howell with Citi Bank, Lulu Youngerman of the Women’s Foundation, Danielle Bautista, Desert Diamond Casinos, Kasey Hill of the Greater Tucson Leadership, and Jill Rich, a past award winner, from Long Realty. And you. Dave Fitzsimmons. Arizona Daily Star”

“Cool. How many nominees?”

“Gazillion.”

Renting a crane, I picked up my pallet of 1 gazillion nominating letters to review.

I read many of the letters to Ellen. “Ready for another one?”

“This is the thousandth. I have no more tears left.”

“Aren’t they great? Say, do we have any mac ’n’ cheese?”

“How about this one about these 13-year-olds at Rincon Vista Middle School who belong to a Business Leaders of America club?” Selfless kids. Not the children of wealth or privilege. They put on suits and ties, made a PowerPoint, went out into adult world, and raised $200 for Youth on Their Own. Astounding! Thirteen years old? I couldn’t sell a single candy bar in my 12 years of self-absorbed slithering through all of TUSD.

Salpointe kids engaged in over 100 service projects ranging from tutoring first graders to partnering with the Tucson Refugee Ministry to cheering patients at the Peter and Paula Fasseas Cancer Center.

Countless kids across this valley worked on hunger, poverty, environmental and justice issues. When I was their age all I ever worked on was my tan. (I’m sure that’s not why the Association of Fundraising Professionals Southern Arizona Chapter asked me to emcee their big to-do.)

The humble kids at San Miguel High School have spiritual wealth beyond belief. They held fundraisers for the victims of Hurricanes Maria and Harvey, donating a van full of cleaning supplies and over $1,300 for the hurricane victims.

The gazillion nominating letters included many stories like this one about the kids at Arizona College Prep Academy, 90% of whom qualify for free and reduced lunch. A group of them came up with a plan, went out into the community and raised $348 for mental health. To help strangers. Next time you’re feeling tight with a tithe, remember these kids.

Mom would have torn out the news story and waved it in my face. “They’re making the world a better place.”

So are the adults. Like the David and Lura Lovell Foundation that has given $11 million to 60 nonprofits across Tucson through the years, or Dr. Steve and Diane Uhl who have donated close to $100,000 to public schools through grants. Or the Diamond Family Philanthropies, which gave United Way $2.2 million to enroll 45,000 kids in good child care.

Last week I gave a buck to the homeless guy at Congress and the freeway. We all do what we can. Many do more.

When you’re feeling hopeless about humanity, hit “pause.” Remember your mom’s calls to do the right thing. Reflect on the thousands of selfless hometown neighbors who give their time and their widow’s mite, and more, back to our desert community. As my mom would say, “The best thing to want is to feel good about doing good in the world.”

David Fitzsimmons: tooner@tucson.com.

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