What inspires people to give? And what do they get out of it? We asked readers to tell us about people who make a real difference in their community, then asked experts in the science of altruism how their generosity pays off for more than just those they set out to help.
Paul Latour is the kind of neighbour everyone would love to have.
A woman battling multiple sclerosis was unable to maintain her yard, which Mr. Latour found upsetting “because it was completely unusable for her.” So the Victoria waiter decided to throw a big party in a bid to find the money and supplies for a cleanup.
He had high hopes but few expectations, so no one was more surprised when he persuaded 27 businesses, 75 volunteers and 10 musical acts to take part. They raised $25,000 for a renovation that transformed the property.
“It was a magical thing – no one said no to me,” Mr. Latour says. “A third of the businesses gave me more than I asked for. After that, people kept coming up to me, thanking me for giving them the opportunity to make a difference.”
Next, he took on a more extreme makeover – a two-day, $100,000 renovation of the delapitated Casa Maria Emergency Housing Society, with the help of 86 contributor from contractors and landscapers to restaurants.
Hooked on doing “bigger and better good deeds to make a greater difference,” he then turned to the Mustard Seed, a food bank badly in need of a facelift.
“They gave me a tour and all the volunteers and staff were kind, and there for the right reasons,” he recalls, “but the place was butt ugly and things weren’t up to code.”
Completed last June, the revamp wound up being worth $500,000, with trades pitching in to replace all the lighting, five bathrooms, paint inside and out, and replace the awning.
“More than 100 companies were involved,” Mr. Latour says. “We had 400 to 500 volunteers who completed everything in nine days.
“It was gratifying to make the place feel beautiful for all those people coming in, instead of feeling worse about themselves. Many people who used to be clients of Mustard Seed are now volunteers.”
Next he wants to figure out how he can devote all his time to restoring properties that cater to society’s less fortunate. “I feel inspired by other people and people feel inspired by me. Connected together, we can make a radical difference.
“Sometimes we lose track of what’s important in life. This reminds me what is really important.”
Positive outcomes: Mr. Latour has strengthened his community by encouraging neighbours to take care of one another. Social connectedness is a feature of a successful life. In volunteering to improve the physical environment in which they live, these community members have built a network of engagement. Positive feelings spread through the social network wildfire. Mr. Latour’s efforts have created a set of social ties that leave people feeling as though they are care for and buffered from may of life’s difficult experiences.
– The Canadian Positive Psychology Association