What’s the Last Gift You Gave That Just Felt Right?

I studied abroad in Kyoto for my junior year in college. It was the culmination of learning Japanese since 7th grade, and I look back on that time as some of the best months of my life. I felt by far more at home in my skin and my life there than during any of the three years I spent at college in America.

Back in September 2017, I had a bit of an epiphany. I can’t remember exactly what prompted it–perhaps the leaves changing colors in St. Louis, which is a sight to behold in Kyoto. One day I just happened to be thinking about the students from my university who were starting their time abroad in Kyoto. I didn’t know who they were, but I knew they were out there, and I was excited for them to have that experience.

As I was thinking about this, it occurred to me that I could do more than just think: I could help those students have the most enriching experience. You see, as much as I loved my time in Japan, there were times when I felt constrained by my limited budget. I come from middle-class background, and going to a private school was a financial burden for me and my parents. I had everything I needed, but my budget was constantly on my mind while I was in Kyoto.

I’m far from wealthy now, but I have disposable income. In that moment, I decided to use some of it to help students who might be in a similar position.

So I reached out to the Japanese director at my university and explained that I was looking to make a donation to a student or students from my university studying abroad in Kyoto who had a constrained budget, just as I had back in 2001. After some back and forth, we worked out a way to make it happened–basically, they formed a grant specifically for this purpose.

It was not a small amount of money, but it made me feel really good. I had walked in those shoes (well, while in Kyoto, I mostly biked in those shoes) 17 years ago, and I was excited for the possibility to give some students the freedom to have no-strings attached money to enrich their experience. I left it wide open–they could use the money to go on a trip or stay out later with their Japanese friends or eat a series of extravagant meals.

I made the donation last year, and from time to time I’ve wondered what came of it. I didn’t know if any of the students had actually applied for the grant or if they had used the money.

Until today.

Today I got an e-mail that brought me to tears (happy tears). It was from the Japanese director, and it included two attachments–letters from the students who had applied for and used the grant.

I have to say, it was one of the happiest moments of my life. It’s really hard to describe, but I really feel such a kinship with these students, and it means the world to me that I could make a small difference in enriching their experience in Japan. I look forward to adding to the grant later this summer.

I’m writing about this because, well, I like to share joyous moments on this blog. But I also thought it might be worth mentioning in case it triggers an idea for you. There are lots of charities and nonprofits to which I donate out of obligation or because I’ve gotten in the pattern of doing so, but this was different. This was of my own impetus, something truly close to my heart–like I said, those months in Japan were some of the best of my life.

I’m sure we’ve all made a gift at some point that just felt right. What was that gift for you?


13 Responses to “What’s the Last Gift You Gave That Just Felt Right?”

  1. Sara says:

    While I’d love to have enough money to be a full-time philanthropist, alas, I am not yet that wealthy. My gifts have been totally spur-of-the-moment rather than thought out. Once, I paid to get a lady’s car out of impound because I saw her plea of sheer panic on Craigslist and happened to have the money to take care of it. Her car had been towed with all her stuff in it. She was new to San Francisco and didn’t see the sign. I always worry when I go to SF – that I’m missing some sort of signal, sign or marking that will get me or someone else killed. Anyway, I paid $1200 to get her car out of hock.

    A few years down the road, I was on the distribution list for a panicky email from another animal rescuer who had an injured dog he needed to take, but his vet wanted the existing bill paid down before he’d treat this dog. Not knowing how much it was, I found out the name of the vet and called. The bill was relatively low, actually – about $400. I paid the whole thing. The rescuer mailed me a hand-made, framed “award” of thanks that was a collage of the dog that inspired him to start rescue, photos of the dogs that had been treated thereby creating the existing vet bill, and photos of the injured dog he could now take to the vet since there was a zero balance.

    Last, but not least, I found the perfect gift for my brother’s 40th bday. We have an agreement that we will not buy each other gifts for any reason unless we happen upon something that the other just HAS to have. He had a new apartment at the time, and had been complaining about the lighting in the front room. A cursory Google search for “ugly lamps” landed on this little gem https://skk.net/product/godzilla-lamp/ (it’s 18″ tall!) which I ordered all the way from England. Not only did he use it, he actually took it with him when he moved! That just made my heart go pitty-pat.

    All that said, I do have some specific plans should I happen upon that elusive winning powerball ticket. Most of those plans involve funding existing nonprofit programs to help the elderly with small home repairs/accessibility assistance; building a commune-style compound around my dream dog adoption facility – complete with low/no-cost spay/neuter clinic for the public; a trust fund for any friends of mine who are living paycheck to paycheck; and creating a new nonprofit service that connects low-income people with rehab services when they don’t qualify for existing services. Imagine being 50 yrs old having had a stroke… losing your speech and the function in your right hand. You can still walk, so they say you’re not disabled enough for rehab. You’re too young for senior services. You’re too employed/insured to get County services. You’re not the right kind of disabled to get help from the places that do such awesome things for the developmentally delayed. You can’t drive any more.You live alone with no family or friends to support you. The social worker at the hospital hands you a list of places you can try calling (but wait – you can’t speak any more – and you can’t write or type your message either). Sorry I’ve digressed, but there are huge service gaps that need to be filled. I’d love to be able to go nuts with it and have a board & care type rehab center for those who fall in between like that. I guess I’ve strayed quite a bit from the nature of your post, but, well… that’s the kind of stuff I’d gift with premeditation if I had the means.

    • Sara:
      Given your specific plans for your Powerball winnings, I assume you buy tickets. If you have a Paypal account, people—I and, I suspect, others—who want you to win can conveniently send you money to buy more tickets. Contributers would experience the pleasure of fantasying the good getting done with your potential winnings, with you doing all the work of getting that good done. Yes, I know the Powerball odds, but still….

      • Sara says:

        Dorothy, I do buy tickets occasionally, but not regularly. I’m not that great of a fundraiser (not comfortable asking people for money). It never occurred to me that there might be people wanting to live vicariously through my potential winnings enough to support a Lotto ticket fund! I don’t have a personal paypal – just one for the nonprofit dog rescue I am in charge of. When I referred to the second person as “another rescuer” I meant because I, too, am a dog rescuer. Context is good! 🙂

    • Jamey Stegmaier says:

      Sara: I think your generosity is awesome. Those are not small gifts you gave to the woman whose car was in impound or the person with the injured dog. That’s really remarkable–I want to be more like you!

      • Sara says:

        Jamey, you’re already like me in that regard – look what you did for those kids! You remind me some of my brother. He lived in Japan for a couple of years learning the language and culture. He has never been married (at 44). He thinks he’d like to be, but hasn’t found the right woman yet.

        I’ve never been out of the country. Too chicken to plan the trip afraid I’ll screw it up. sigh

  2. I have a student with an absentee parent this year. When he first came into my class he didn’t have food or school supplies. When winter rolled around he didn’t have a coat, which is a pretty big problem near Chicago. Once I month I go out and buy him school supplies. Every morning when I make my lunch, I make him one. Over winter I provided him with a coat. I haven’t really thought too much about it, other than it was the decent thing to do so he could learn. However, the year is ending next week so yesterday I received a handwritten note from him. He was thanking me, and telling me he was enjoying reading for the first time, and wanted to know if he could visit next year. It made me cry, as this student came into my class hating school, swearing at everyone and refusing to do work. As his summer parting gift I want to get him the entire series of his favorite books. I think that would mean more to him than anything.

    • Jamey Stegmaier says:

      Mackenzie: That’s beautiful. I think you’ve made a huge different in that young man’s life.

    • Sara says:

      Mackenzie, that’s awesome – and made me cry reading your story. What a lovely thing to do – and you’ve changed that kid’s entire life for the better going forward.

      • Thank you Sara for the kind words. I truely appreciate it. After all, my goal as a teacher is to have every student that comes into my classroom have their lives changed for the better upon leaving.

  3. Sara:
    I want to send you thanks—too loosely associated with the topic to post here—for a potentially very useful idea, triggered by the rescue aspect emanating from comments by you and others re this blog post. But I can’t get the email access link on your sbprdogs.org website to work. (I relaunched my Safari browser App and rebooted my iPad, but neither measure cured the problem,)

  4. I make it a point to live a life of constant giving. I work with youth and one of the last places we went to give our time to was to an organization called “Feed My Starving Children”. We brought a money donation to them as well, but there is just something great about donating TIME. We went and packed nutritional meals into sealed bags which then at this time shipped off to Haiti. The group we joined into packed enough meals to feed 75 kids for a full year. That’s a lot of meals and a lot of good nutrition going into a impoverished area. It was great to be a small little part of something which is helping peoples lives.

    I have some friends who work with feeding programs in Africa and they came to an area in Africa a week after giving out meals in the same location, to give out more again. And they asked the kids who came up for meals when the last time they had a meal was. The kids responded, “Last time you were here.” That was a week. So sad. It is amazing what we take for granted sometimes, just having clean water and so much food we tend to throw some away when we can’t finish it. We don’t really know how good we have it until we see how others fight to stay alive.

    So TIME is a very valuable gift that anyone can give regardless of income. I encourage anyone to try donate some time to an organization you can believe in and get behind. Every bit of time put together with others makes a huge impact on the world.

    • Jamey Stegmaier says:

      Jer: I think that’s wonderful! It’s great that you’re able and willing to give of your time that way.

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