By Daniel Langhorne, California Business Journal.
If there’s one trait all entrepreneurs share, it’s passion. In Jeff Garell’s case, it was a passion for helping people secure financial independence and protect their legacies that led him to establish Silversage Advisors, a thriving wealth management company in Irvine, California.
When the time came to turn his attention to community service eight years ago, Garell was equally passionate about helping children secure their futures through quality education. So he set out to find a nonprofit organization that shared this commitment.
His wife’s aunt suggested he look into a Santa Ana nonprofit named KidWorks, which at that time focused on providing after-school programs to underprivileged children. He figured the best way to get to know the organization was by regularly volunteering for its after-school program at the Dan Donahue Center.
Garell particularly remembers working with a fourth-grade girl who was struggling with math. After two months of working with “Mr. Jeff,” as the students affectionally call Garell, the equations started to make sense to her.
“I could just feel that I was a stone on her foot path in life,” Garell says with an expression of joy, pride and satisfaction. “I could see her eyes light up and she would laugh. For her to light up was a win-win for both of us.”
Garell’s passion for helping children secure their futures clicked with KidWorks’ mission to help them and their families lead more successful lives. He has since become a member of its Board of Directors and he and his wife, Karin, regularly donate to the organization.
It’s a journey many in the corporate world embark upon, yet the need still outweighs the supply of volunteers. American nonprofits took in more than $410 billion in 2017, but according to the Giving Institute and the Indiana University Lilly Family School of Philanthropy, only five percent of that was contributed by corporations.
For their part, uber-wealthy individuals like Warren Buffett and Bill and Melinda Gates have spearheaded The Giving Pledge, a coalition of one-percenters who donate most of the personal fortunes. Buffett leads by example, claiming he will give away 99 percent of his personal wealth. His shares of Berkshire Hathaway are earmarked to fund current needs rather than nonprofit endowments.
Considering the U.S. Chamber of Commerce represents three million organizations ranging from family-owned businesses to major corporations, “it’s clear that the business community could be doing more to support education, public health, environmental stewardship and other causes that better society,” Garell says.
He goes on to say, “Channeling your energies into a cause you’re passionate about is the key to sustaining good work that is highly satisfying.” To identify the right charity for a long-term investment, Garell says business executives should start off by doing some light volunteering at a few different organizations to see for themselves what their people are like, the activities they’re engaged in and how to get involved. He also suggests looking at nonprofit transparency websites like charitynavgiator.org and guidestar.org to make sure an organization’s budget aligns with the mission they’re pursuing.
The fulfillment Garell gets from supporting nonprofits like KidWorks “is worth far more than the cost in the time and money Karin and I give,” he says. “We’re all a part of one big community and personal responsibility to help others is the glue for that community.”
Garell traces the genesis of his community service back 30 years ago when he volunteered with Big Brothers of Los Angeles County. He became a big brother for a 12-year-old boy whose single mother thought her son needed a positive male role model. The duo went to UCLA football games, movies and “just sort of hung out, often on the basketball courts or at a park,” Garell says with a joyful smile. Nearly three decades later, he still stays in touch with his little brother.
Garell is drawn to helping children because he enjoys “their energy and inquisitiveness” and recognizes their need for guidance. “If these children don’t have education and personal self-confidence, it’s going to be difficult for them to advance when they’re done with high school,” he says.
KidWorks offers services to support children from preschool through college. Among its central strategies are getting children at a young age to understand the importance of working towards a college education. KidWorks also offers English, health and parenting classes to its students’ parents.
Over the last several years, all of KidWorks’ high school seniors have graduated and enrolled in post-secondary education or training. During that time, it has bulked up mentorships for its college students who face cultural and financial challenges just to stay in school. Garell ardently supports KidWorks’ efforts “to help young adults find solutions to the challenges that prevent them from earning a college degree,” he says.
When David Benavides, executive director of KidWorks Orange County, is asked about Garell, he pauses for a moment and shakes his head out of admiration. “Jeff just has a great passion for our organization and he shares our belief that all children deserve an opportunity to succeed in life regardless of the neighborhood in which they grow up,” he says. “Jeff generously gives his time and talent. He is a true treasure. We sincerely appreciate all he has done over the years to the benefit hundreds of our students and their families.”
Garell’s passion for building better futures is equally evident in the way he challenges other entrepreneurs and corporate executives to follow his lead. “Our community is made up of board rooms and one-bedroom apartments. Perhaps vastly different, but all part of the same community, and there are great needs out there,” he says. “We’re all neighbors. Where are our area’s next leaders going to come from? Many people just need our help.”
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