The Joy of Giving Back

Last year at this time I wrote about my Thoughts on the Year Past and the One Ahead, in which I urged companies and individuals to “feel the pain (of others) … aspire to truth, transparency and understanding.” I believe that empathy is the most important quality for a marketing person to possess, and certainly, in this hyper-partisan environment, it’s more important than ever.

In addition to marketing and personal communications that ideally reflect human understanding, we should aspire to more tangible demonstrations of concern as well. Specifically, those of us who are fortunate should support non-profit organizations, those that help people in need and/or promote the common good, by giving them our time and money. My promise was to find at least one such cause that reflected my personal and corporate values.

The Right Brain Studio is proud to support The Pico Union Project, a relatively new organization with inspirational roots.

Built in 1909 as the original location of Sinai Temple, the Pico Union Project is the oldest synagogue building in Los Angeles. When the Sinai community moved to West Los Angeles, the building became home to a Welsh Presbyterian congregation which endured for 88 years. But the Pico Union neighborhood – not too far from the Staples Center on the outskirts of downtown L.A. – had changed. People from Mexico, Central America and Korea now dominated the population. The once robust Welsh Presbyterian community was disappearing and could no longer support their church. As a result, they approached the Jewish Historical Society of Southern California to return the building to the Jewish community.

My friend Craig Taubman, the well-known Jewish musician and co-creator, along with Rabbi David Wolpe, of the Friday Night Live service that originated at Sinai Temple and is now conducted all over the world, stepped forward to buy the building. Craig and his wife Louise purchased and restored the building in 2013 as a home for his new vision.

That vision is to build empathy and motivate people to compassionate action. While founded on Jewish values, it is not specifically a Jewish organization or a Jewish space. In fact, it is home to four different faith communities.The Pico Union Project brings people of diverse cultures together through, song, story, food, prayer, and most importantly, acts of charity and kindness. It embraces and extends the principle of loving your neighbor from the local neighborhood in which it is based to people in Los Angeles and all over the world.

There are regularly scheduled cultural, educational and enrichment events, largely targeted at the donors needed to fund Pico Union’s ambitious agenda.

That work includes, among many other things, a semi-monthly farmers market called Vida Sana, a neighborhood beautification project and a workshop for teens called Art & Soul.

Vida Sana is no ordinary Farmer’s Market. Fresh, organic produce is distributed to neighborhood residents in need for free. There are also cooking classes that teach healthy food preparation and eating.

Every week, volunteers from the Pico Union Project can be found planting trees in the neighborhood and placing donated trash cans.

The Art & Soul program selects diverse teenagers from all over Los Angeles to explore notable historic events from their perspective, including the Holocaust, African slave trade, the Japanese American internment, and the American immigrant experience. The 10-week session culminates in a new theater piece written and performed by participants, open to the public.

Many of us simply click on a link to make a donation to the causes that move us, and that’s great. In fact, I encourage you to visit the Pico Union Project online, check them out, and make a donation if you are so moved.

But what is most satisfying to me is the joy I get from volunteering. Helping write the business and marketing plan is a pleasure, but completely in my comfort zone and nothing out of the ordinary. The real satisfaction comes from being physically present, such as when I was fortunate to distribute food at the annual Faithsgiving event. At this enhanced version of the Vida Sana farmer’s market, neighborhood residents in need also receive free turkeys for their Thanksgiving meals.

There’s magic in being in the moment. For me, when I’m at the Pico Union Project for an event, I feel the energy and empathy of Craig and his team, the energy of this great, historic neighborhood, and most importantly, the gratitude of the people that the organization helps. It’s truly transformational.

If you haven’t already, I hope that you find your own, personal Pico Union Project this new year. Give something of yourself. Get involved. Helping people sell software, beer, personal care products, health insurance, snacks and other products – some essential and some (most) not –it feels good to do something that really matters.

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