Barrie is a community of diverse people and a common bond that holds the community together — a good will of generosity.
John Tom is the owner of MediChair medical equipment supply. Recently, he reflected on what inspires people to give: how does culture and religion impact on ordinary people wanting to make extraordinary differences?
“I’ve always enjoyed donating money and volunteering my time and skills. Although there are strains on my finances and schedule, I find I get more out of it than I put in, if you can believe that. I think that most philanthropists and volunteers give of themselves because of one basic uniform foundation — ‘we are fortunate.’ We are fortunate that we have our health, our wealth, our family and friends; we eat every day, we enjoy a high standard of living and we don’t worry about bombs and treatable diseases… and we should assist those that don’t. Beyond ‘We are Fortunate’ — I think there is one other foundation that philanthropy is driven by — ‘Lead by example’.
“In my corporate life, I was too busy to donate much time and so my primary giving was in the form of writing a cheque for causes that I believe in. My favourites are those that assist children and the elderly. That comes from the realization that those demographics are sometimes the weakest in a society and a civilized society is only evident when the weakest are taken care of and respected. I joined a Lions service club ten years ago and on a semi-regular basis was active in our community. Lions International is a wonderful organization with an 87-year history, 1.4 million members world-wide in 193 countries and has done so much for so many people on a local, nation and global basis.”
Did being a first generation Canadian of Chinese immigrant parents had a bearing on John’s nature to be involved with the community? “In general — I think immigrants of all nationalities (not only Asians), over time, tend to Westernize themselves and it is truly in the Western World where capitalism has such a strong history — that leads to wealth — that ultimately leads to giving back to society.
“Chinese/Eastern culture is more focused on family than the general community. This is more of the Confucius belief. The rules of behavior set forth by Confucius apply to one’s inner circle, i.e. family, friends, colleagues, and acquaintances. They do not, as a rule, apply to people outside the circle, i.e. strangers. This explains why there is no strong concept of philanthropy in China.
“Having said that, I believe Asians in North America, especially those like myself who are born here, combine elements of each culture and philanthropy thrives as a result. As a first-generation Chinese-born Canadian, I feel I have more roots in Canada than China obviously. And so I can make that leap from the strong inner family circle of giving/sharing/helping and apply it to the community/society overall. Looking at my own parents who were immigrants, they now contribute money to causes that they believe in and I don’t know if that would be the case if they were still in China.
“As a new local small-business owner in Barrie I find volunteering to be more of an appropriate philanthropic medium now for many reasons. It allows me to learn more about the community and its needs. It allows me to donate what I can. It has enabled me to meet literally thousands of people and co-volunteers and I’ve been able to build hundreds of friendships as a result. It allows me to feel like I am a part of the community as opposed to being ‘that new guy from Toronto’. I really feel like I can call Simcoe County and Barrie my home after living here for only nine short months.
“I am absolutely fascinated by the level of philanthropy evident in Barrie and Simcoe County. The volunteer spirit and fundraising efforts at the Royal Victoria Hospital and the 1,300 Lions members of District A-12 are phenomenal just to mention a few groups. Our three Rotary Clubs in Barrie alone hold wonderful events and raise so much money. The Barrie Dragon Boat Festival, after only two short years, has developed into a world-class event which raises awareness and $100,000.
“I believe if you’re interested in giving find a cause closest to your heart and then do some research and determine how best you can support them. Ask yourself ‘How can you support them?’ It’s by donation of your money or your time. Remember that both are critical. Planned giving is not out or the realm of possibility for most average income family. Planned giving is an increasingly popular and beneficial method of philanthropy. It involves making a charitable gift of estate assets to one or more nonprofit organizations, a gift that requires consideration and planning in light of the donor’s overall estate plan. It’s a way to leave a lasting legacy and to grow spiritually.
“Being a Certified General Accountant and having worked in the financial services sector for ten years, I’ve seen the increasing importance of planned giving for both donors and charitable organizations. Everyone should have a will and have their wishes respected upon their death. Planned giving can be a component of that and surprisingly, it doesn’t have to detract from the assets you leave to your family or friends. Planned giving can be structured to minimize taxes paid to the government from your estate and leave it to the cause of your choice instead. You will need to speak with the planned giving representative at your charitable organization and your financial planner/accountant/estate lawyer to co-ordinate this.”
John summed his thoughts up succinctly, “Most of all — feel pride in giving to your community.”