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Gaining a Higher Purpose Through Giving Back

Tax Assistant, Joanne Spencer, discusses the power of giving back to the community.


In what ways do you give back?

Joanne: Much of what I do to give back to the community comes from my own life experiences, as well as my being a member of Union Baptist Church in Montclair, NJ, where I serve on the church’s Ministerial Team.

Giving needn’t be faith-based. In fact, for many people, their life experiences have had a great bearing on how they have responded to others’ needs within the community, and how they have chosen to effectuate change for the better.

I am an adult adoptee.  As an adopted person, I understood what other adoptees were going through in trying to establish a sense of self-identity in their transition into adulthood.  My way of helping that along was to become a part of a grassroots organization (NJCARE) that pushed for adult adoptees to obtain their original birth certificates.  The Adoptees Birthright Bill was signed into law in 2014, and adoptees 18 and older were able to obtain their original birth certificates in 2017 (myself included).

Due to my own experience of domestic abuse as a young wife and mother, I began to conduct Domestic Violence Seminars at my church, which led to my becoming a member of the Montclair Domestic Violence Response Team (DVRT).

And over the years, I have volunteered with Habitat for Humanity, the Food Bank of New Jersey, Team Walker, and reading to special needs children at the Horizon School in Livingston, NJ.  These were Wiss-based endeavors that held great meaning for me, and I have appreciated being a part of them.

But my concern for the homeless has been a constant for me since my early years in ministry in Newark, NJ.  I normally volunteer with the Salvation Army Citadel on Thanksgiving Day, helping to serve dinner to local shelter residents and those living on the street.  Covid-19 has hampered efforts by many churches and organizations to supply respite from the cold on a consistent basis during winter months.  Yet, our Sunday School Ministry continues to give out Christmas gifts (hats, gloves, socks, scarves, hand sanitizer, and masks) to the homeless gathered around Penn Station – Newark each year.

“And over the years, I have volunteered with Habitat for Humanity, the Food Bank of New Jersey, Team Walker, and reading to special needs children at the Horizon School in Livingston, NJ.  These were Wiss-based endeavors that held great meaning for me, and I have appreciated being a part of them.”

In essence, in my giving back, I have tried to put a face to some of the harder things we go through in life. I want to convey the message that no matter how difficult your circumstance has been, there is still hope.  You can get through it, and you can help others get through it as well.

“No matter how difficult your circumstance has been, you can get through it, and you can help others get through it as well.”

That’s an empowering approach to take. 

Yes, I believe so.  Whether it’s providing care packages to hospitals and nursing home staff, providing meals and laundry services to elders, or sending water and financial resources to cities like Flint, Michigan – we all can do something to help our neighbor.  We try to support people in their times of need, but also in their times of rejoicing.

“We try to support people in their times of need, but also in their times of rejoicing.”

You are incredibly giving. Why do you give back?

Because it’s the right thing to do.

I think we live in a societal culture that can be very self-centered; it’s a “me” culture. We need to become more concerned about our neighbors, and about our communities. And that entails a lot. It’s not just at the local level; “humankind” is our community. We need to be more actively involved with making this larger community that we all live in a better place. Beyond a “feel-good moment” of giving back, you gain a sense of purpose and meaning.

Joanne Spencer, Month of Giving, Thanksgiving

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