I think I witnessed history in the making last Saturday. It was the dedication of Paul Newman's Hole in the Wall Camp (Dynamo) here in Italy. Paul Newman started the first camp 20 years ago in Connecticut for children with chronic or fatal diseases. His idea was that these kids, like all kids, just need to 'raise a little hell'. And the underlining principle of the camps is that 'fun is a great medicine'. All of the profits from 'Newman's Own' products (such as his popcorn, spaghetti sauces, salad dressings) go to these camps and other charities.
When I heard that there would be a camp here in Italy, I thought it would be perfect 'fit' for The Florentine. From the inception of the newspaper, I knew I wanted to take advantage of our ability to reach such a large audience, to do 'good' in Italy. We always give exposure to the different non-profits and services that are provide aid and benefit to this magnificent place.
Why I thought this project was so important was that it is such an understandable and credible endeavor for our readership. I'm not as familiar with other countries but I think they are similar to the United States, in that there is already a culture of giving, and most everyone has heard of Paul Newman and his charitable projects. He has earned a reputation as being reputable and honest. And, so many of us ex-pats want to contribute to this country that gives us so much. This camp is for Italian children, and thus the great 'fit', a way to help children here, in a manner that we feel confident about. And it's even a registered US charity, so American's can get the tax benefit.
Now the 'history making' part. Each of the Hole in the Wall Camps is 'owned' by a person, a philanthropist, who is part of the Hole in the Wall association, but who is responsible for coming up with the funds to buy and run the camp. The 'philanthropist' for the Dynamo Camp here in Tuscany, is Enzo Manes, an Italian.
When I first went to visit the camp last year, I went with an Italian girlfriend. We were blown away with the beauty of the camp and the enthusiasm of Enzo and the staff. Afterwards, my friend asked me, 'what's with Enzo? Who is he?' What she didn't understand was why he was doing all this. She wanted to know if somehow he was making money off of the camp.
To me it was obvious, and I answered that he was a very successful businessman, and that after a person makes so much money, you realize you don't need all this money for yourself, but you want to use it to help others. To her this was a strange concept, and she explained, that her family was 500 years old, and it's a responsible to them, not just to provide for their children and grandchildren, but that the money has to last for another 500 years!! And so there never is enough money to do that.
Since being in Italy, I have had many discussions with Italian and ex-pats about how come Italians 'don't give.' My conclusions are: 1) They come from a culture that human and cultural services were taken care of by the church and state, and since they gave at church and paid taxes, they shouldn't have to give more. 2) That there is a fear if they do give money to an organization there is corruption, and so they have a lack of trust that the money will be used for the right purposes. 3) There are little or no tax benefits to individuals who give money to non-profits. 4) The Italians are generous, they just haven't established 'giving' in an effective way in their culture.
What I witnessed at the Dynamo camp with Enzo Manes, I think, is the turning point that will shift the culture.
Enzo gave a speech at the opening of the camp, that moved the 500+ people at the event. He started his speech with the words, "Is it worth it?" (in Italian of course). And he went on to describe his journey from deciding to 'invest' in a non-profit, to choosing the one for him, to building the camp, the staff, finding the children who would attend, and of course, answering the question with an overwhelming 'yes!, it was worth it.'
After the talk, I spoke with many Italians, who came to the event out of 'duty'....the President of the region, Martini, James Ferragamo, Carmela Batacchi (who is director of Target's buying office in Europe) and others, who were all questioning themselves about how 'they' could give, make a difference, and how inspired they now were to 'act' rather than to complain or explain that the 'Italians don't give'. They agreed with me that something momentous had happened that Sunday...maybe it was a 'death' of the phrase, and birth to the next, which is 'Italian do like to give.'