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Charity on a Campus Budget

Jason Connell -- The next time you have five dollars and you’re asking yourself “How do I want to spend this?” consider giving it away.

I don’t make tons of money, but I make enough. Enough to cover rent and the bills, enough to chip away at my debts, and enough to go out with friends from time to time. But not much more. Consequently most of my charitable efforts are focused on volunteering as opposed to cash donations.

I recently found five dollars that I didn’t know I had in my pocket. I was psyched. I wasn’t sure what to do with it: buy a few tacos and a Coke at Three Amigos? Rent Back to the Future (which I’ve somehow never seen)? Go hunting for the perfect book at the used book store down the street?

But then I realized something -– I didn’t really need that five dollars. I have more than enough food in my apartment, I can stream or borrow just about any movie I feel like watching, and I have a stack of unread books in my room that will keep me busy through 2012.

I wanted to spend this money well, but I had no idea what to do with it. As I was walking back to my apartment I passed a beggar.

“Spare change?” he asked. “No, sorry man. Good luck, and God bless” I responded out of habit.

And then it hit me: why not give the money away to the beggars in my neighborhood. I turned the bill into five $1 coins and walked around the city giving them to the first five beggars I saw. And something strange happened. I started to feel really good. I started to feel much more connected and compassionate than I normally do.

As a modern 20-something I have my own financial, social, and professional concerns that keep me overly focused on myself, on my own reality. By taking the time to give one dollar to five homeless people, I was forced to connect to their reality, if only for a moment. Not only did I make their day ever so slightly better, it was also a very sharp reminder of just how fortunate I am. It forced me to focus again on how good my life is, and on my power to help other people.

I know that giving money directly to the homeless is a vaguely controversial thing to do -– I have no idea if my dollar was spent on food or heroine, warm clothing, or alcohol -– but it was the most satisfying thing I could have possibly done with it.

Giving this cash away directly to five people who needed it far more than I ever will, made me reconnect with my own compassion, which felt like a true luxury in the life of an otherwise distracted 20-something.

The next time you have five dollars and you’re asking yourself “how do I want to spend this?” I urge you to give it away.

Jason Connell is a 24-year-old world traveler, leader, and passionate social entrepreneur. His organization, Changing the World 101, exposes college students and graduates to the idea that they can do international volunteer work, and that this work really helps other people’s lives. When not volunteering or inspiring others to do the same, Jason is an in-demand international speaker who helps others help change the world. For more, visit.

© 2010 Jason Connell

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