Ted Turner

As I started getting rich, I started thinking, ‘what the hell am I going to do with all this money?’… You have to learn to give.


250px-Secret_MillionaireLately I’ve been watching a reality series called the Secret Millionaire.. I must admit the sceptic in me raises many questions about the genuineness of the production. Surely people would be suspicious of a volunteer showing up with their own film crew in tow? However, as a volunteer in a non-profit, I am sure that people who depend the generosity of others would not voice many objections to any offer of help.

A quick trip to Wikipedia provides a history of the program.  I found that it originated in the UK (like another of my favorites, Dancing with the Stars) where it ran from 2006 through 2012 and gifts exceeding £250,00 were distributed.  From there the show moved on to the US, Australia and Ireland.  In the US, Secret Millionaire seemed to get off to shaky start, running for only 6 shows in 2008 but it was brought back again in 2011, 2012 and 2013.  In the US, gifts of hundreds of thousands of dollars have been given away.  The latest episode listed, at the time of this article, features George & Kym Rapier, George is CEO of WellMed Medical Management, Inc. who donated $1.3 Million to organizations and citizens in the city of Oakridge, Oregon.

When I watch one of these shows I am sometimes impressed, sometimes dismayed, at the choices made by these philanthropists.  I often think I would have chosen to distribute the funds a bit different.  However I can’t say that I have ever seen an unworthy cause supported.  The individual millionaires find dedicated, hard working individuals or groups who are struggling to make a difference in their neighborhoods.  I wonder if they may already have a list of these organizations available when they arrive, for it seems that it would be impossible to really locate all these groups in such a short time frame. The recipients and their work are all over the board.  Help has been given to everything from an individual fisherman recovering from the aftermath of the oil spill to day cares, school music programs, community gardens and homeless shelters.  Sometimes the millionaire has a personal tie to the cause, like a relative suffering from a similar disease.  Most often, the situations and poverty they encounter is totally foreign to them.

An interesting twist to these stories is the fact that the millionaires leave their comfort zones and for the week of filming, live on the resources their recipients might be accustomed to.   Usually this is equivalent to what they would receive from a part time minimum wage job or public assistance.  After deducting what rent and utilities would run them, they have about $30 to eat and survive on for the week.  Their housing is the bare bones, in shaky neighborhoods and often bug infested.  I personally think that the presence of the filming group would be a comfort in those environments.  If they  were truly out their on their own they might find less willing participants.

These shows are certainly inspirational and leave me thinking: “Oh if we only hit the big one on the lotto!”

In real life though, we are not likely to ever be millionaires but in comparison to the bulk of humanity we are wealthy, even living on a reduced income in retirement.  As much good as these few isolated millionaires do, I think more is accomplished by the faithful contributions of the less well off who faithfully donate monthly to one or more organization or individual who carry on the this kind of work in communities not just in one country but around the world.

Everyday the the hungry are being fed, the ill and disabled are getting help, orphans and elderly are receiving food, shelter and love, and the homeless and abused are receiving housing and help somewhere in cities, towns and villages around the world.

Each and everyone of us can help to some extent, depending on our resources, sometimes stretching a bit beyond our comfort zones to do so, sometimes without even feeling a financial pinch.  What might seem like small change to us could be life or death for someone else.  Skipping our daily latte might be a challenge but that $3-5 daily could provide a whole meal for a single mother with two children.  It is all relative.

I thank God for the millionaires featured in these shows, not only for their generous contributions but also for their willingness to venture out of their comfortable lives to see how the other side lives.  I thank God even more for the widow just getting by on social security, who collects bottles and cans to help raise funds for her favorite charity or adopts a starving stray and shares the comfort of her home.  Charity isn’t a matter of who can give the most.  It is more of who can give love consistently, even when it isn’t convenient.

Next time you are giving thanks for your many blessings, think of a group or a person who is doing something to make other people’s lives better and pass on the blessing.  If you set up a monthly contribution of $10, $20 or more, you can continue to bless others even when you aren’t consciously thinking about doing so.  How great is that!  You may not get your own TV episode, but you will be blessed in return.