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The Power of Half: One Family's Decision to Stop Taking and Start Giving Back Paperback – January 7, 2011
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"We often say that young people must not let themselves be infected by the cynicism of their elders. Hannah inoculated her family with the vision to dream a different world and the courage to help create it."
—Archbishop Desmond M. Tutu and the Rev. Mpho Tutu
"The Salwens set a new standard for families and individuals seeking to inject meaning into their lives. What does your family stand for? Read this book - it will change your life."
—Daniel H. Pink, author of A WHOLE NEW MIND and DRIVE
"Crazy, impetuous and utterly inspiring.... The Salwens offer an example of a family that came together to make a difference - for themselves as much as the people they were trying to help."
—Nicholas D. Kristof, The New York Times
"Mixing humor, inspiration, and self-reflection, THE POWER OF HALF will give you a whole new perspective on your life. You can't help but recommit to the values you want to share with your children. And you'll be reminded that your kids have much to teach you, too."
—Jeffrey Zaslow, coauthor (with Randy Pausch) of THE LAST LECTURE and author of THE GIRLS FROM AMES
"Give it up for the Salwen family.... You feel lighter reading this book, as if the heavy weight of house and car and appliances, the need to collect these things to feel safe as a family, are lifted and replaced by something that makes much more sense."
—Susan Salter Reynolds, Los Angeles Times
"Hannah inspires every one of her readers to ask, 'What can I do to help?' An adventure with a conscience. Brava!"
—Susanne B. Beck, executive director, National Coalition of Girls' Schools
The Salwens' "book, soaring in idealism and yet grounded in realism, can show Americans of any means how best to give back."
—Lisa Bonos, The Washington Post,
"Hannah, you rock!"
—Ann Curry, The Today Show
"Americans are the world's most generous people, but, as THE POWER OF HALF shows, the Salwen family is lifting hearts in a new way. Who knew Siddartha lived in the suburbs, Mother Teresa wore volleyball kneepads, and the Buddha could emerge from his dream at a traffic light: When the heart is full, give half."
—Michael Capuzzo, author, CLOSE TO SHORE and THE MURDER ROOM
"THE POWER OF HALF is a story of generosity become realized - a family's unpretentious, morally introspective life becomes a fulfillment of an old ethical and spiritual imperative: that in giving we receive."
—Dr. Robert Coles,
"THE POWER OF HALF proves so much about leadership. Most importantly, that leadership comes in all ages, as long as there is a decision made to let it out and foster it. Hannah and her family inspire me."
—Alicia Mandel, VP, Organizational Development, Apollo Group and former Director, Olympic University, USOC
About the Author
Hannah Salwen is a junior at the Atlanta Girls’ School. She has been volunteering consistently since the fifth grade.
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Kevin and Joan Salwen were successful professionals (he a journalist, she a consultant with Accenture at the onset of this adventure) raising their children, Hannah and Joseph, to be grateful for their affluence and to “give back” to their community by volunteering. As Kevin and Hannah sat at a congested intersection, Hannah noticed an individual asking for food on one side of their car and a Mercedes Coupe on the other. Hannah had a moment of connection, stating, “if they had a less nice car, he could eat.” Before she got home, “they” became “we” and the question was, “how can we be a family who DOES something (about the world’s problems) instead of a family who only talks about them?” The family eventually decided they would sell their landmark home, move into a smaller (by 3000 sq./ft.) house and using half of the proceeds from this sale in some endeavor that would effect a meaningful, positive change on an issue of the world.
In researching the “where and how” of such a project, the Salwen’s were to learn much about actually helping others. They learned that over 2 Trillion dollars has been spent on “helping” projects in Africa in the last fifty year with little or no change to show for it. “Giving help” and most mission trips do far more harm than help. Lasting aid requires those who are being “helped” to have buy-in to the change instead of giving them handouts (which cause dependency and disenfranchises instead of empowers). Projects that have lasting affect are those which are long-term with meaningful commitment from the community to which they are enacted. After completing their research, the family selected to work in Ghana with The Hunger Project, a non-profit whose mission is to end world hunger by empowering “locals” to find solutions to their own issues and helping them to do so. The project would be to fund, for a five-year cycle, two (after receiving a matching grant, the two became four) “epicenters” in a cluster of villages that houses the community's programs for health, education, food security and economic development. By the book’s end, the project was just beginning so the outcome is still in development.
There were several points of deep thought for me in reading this short, well-written “report.” There is mention of religion in the book, but only anecdotally, the actions taken by the Salwen’s were rooted in a deep ethic of community, i.e. they wanted to help because there was a need. Their tremendous gift, by the author’s admission, did not change their life-style, they are still affluent. They challenged, by the discoveries they made in their research, their readers to confront how they can address the needs they (the readers) have found in their world. This is a book worth reading – engaging writing, the end uncertain but a hint of how a family can make a difference.