Reflections on Why I Give

By Beth Coleman ’85

I found it extremely informative to participate in an October 2023 alumni Zoom session where we brainstormed about ways Alumni could help shape the trajectory of LVC’s future. It was a delight to see some familiar faces as well as new ones, and I appreciated other’s insights and willingness to volunteer in post-meeting work. Writing to Deirdre (LVC president) afterwards, thanking her for coordinating these sessions, I realized what I could do:  share the story of why as an alumna I’ve been a monthly donor for many years, and how I hope others will consider joining me in this commitment.

I was, however, having writer’s block, so yesterday, I did what I do when I’m feeling stuck: I walked the labyrinth, a meditative resource nestled in a grove of cedar trees at The Clearing, a local folk school where my husband and I teach and volunteer.  As I slowly stepped along its meandering path, the clutter in my mind settled, and this insight from Wendell Berry bubbled up from the depths, “Within the circles of our lives we dance the circles of the years, the circles of the seasons within the circles of the years…. Again, again we come and go, changed, changing.  Hand join, unjoin in love and fear, grief and joy.  The circles turn, each giving into each, into all.”

And in that moment, I clearly realized how much my one year in LVC had profoundly shaped the seasons and cycles of my life ever since.  I thought about circling from the cocoon of the Midwest and a small college into the urban world of East Coast inner-city work and living, about the humbling lessons learned as a minority in my placement site, about the joys and challenges of creating life in community. I vividly recalled how LVC opened both my eyes and heart beyond what I had ever encountered in the prior 21 years, and has kept me focused on what matters and how I can make a difference in the subsequent 41.

I smiled as I realized that LVC as a life catalyst made it into every application essay over the years as I entered yoga and labyrinth facilitator training, a three-year “Spiritual Deepening for Global Transformation” program, and most recently massage school. Each time I wrote, I reflected on all the layers of growth that resulted from that one transformative year—whether it was professional or personal development, commitment to social issues, spiritual discernment, or the depth of friendships sustained—they all stemmed from that one very full LVC season in my life.

Over the years, I’ve come to clearly appreciate that such change was possible only because of the investments so many other hands had made in LVC—staff that nurtured it, communities that housed it, churches that engaged with it, households that donated to it, agencies that paid fees to support a volunteer—it took all those joined forces to sustain this organization that so clearly influenced my life and the lives of other alums who shared their stories during our Zoom session. Along with thoughtful discussion about ways to attract new LVC’ers, one other question loomed large—how do we encourage former ones to give back?

I remember my first vivid memory of learning that lesson: I was three and my Great-Uncle Carl was an usher at our church, and one Sunday he handed me a quarter with a wink and said, “This one’s for the offering plate.” I remember when the plate was passed I didn’t really know what the money was for or where it would go—or if I wanted to give up my shiny new coin at all.  But then I saw others offering paper bills, and my parents adding their envelope to the plate, and it suddenly looked VERY IMPORTANT to put something into that container.  I wanted to be grown-up like them and share something too.  So, I did. And for years that weekly ritual continued—Uncle Carl giving me a quarter, me passing it along.

I also remember 1986 was the first time I donated to an LVC annual appeal. It was my post-LVC year, and I gave $15. It felt like a fortune! I was an underpaid neighborhood program coordinator, barely covering rent, utilities, and groceries.  I believed my work was my way of giving back to the world.  And yet, when that appeal letter came, something nudged me. I had a roof over my head, heat, water, electricity, transportation.  My parents had provided for my education. I was rich beyond the means of many others in the world.  And while they weren’t extensive, I did have financial resources—and as a conscious adult I felt it was time to start adding my offering back to the collective LVC plate.

I don’t remember the exact year I transitioned to making a monthly gift; but volunteering for local non-profit boards had taught me how consistent donations helped level fiscal ebbs and flows for grant- and donation-based organizations.  And as my financial awareness evolved it became a conscious choice to invest more in organizations I believed cultivated positive change in this world. I was delighted when my monthly LVC gift could match–and then surpass–that first annual donation. And that I could continue to increase that amount over time. As an alumna, I deeply trust my gift multiplies beyond operational needs and building the bricks and mortar of LVC and its mission;  I also firmly believe it helps build and expand the lives of the current LVC’ers, and I hope they, too, will find their own life trajectories changed long after their year of service.  My husband and I don’t have children, so I also view LVC donations as a way to support younger generations in their search for purpose and values-driven engagement.  And I believe these gifts ripple out into the world in ways I can only imagine.

In her book, Wake Up Grateful, Kristi Nelson reminds us:

“It is only when we claim the blessings we have that we can make use of them to have an impact—not from a place of guilt but from responsibility.  Our ordinary is truly someone else’s extraordinary.  If we have money (even a little) and we are thankful, we can put it to use and share it.  If we have education, strengths, or skills, they are gifts longing to be uplifted and of use. Think about how the resources that are sufficient in your life could be of use to the larger world.  Only when we recognize and fully acknowledge our plenty can we make a difference with what we have.“

That is why I give—because I know that I have been blessed; because I know I am able. Because I believe it makes a difference in a young person’s life. Because it makes a difference in mine. Because it supports LVC, and enriches the seasons and cycles of its mission when we join together in a much larger circle—one of conscious, compassionate community—and together as Berry’s poem so eloquently echoes, “The circles turn, each giving into each, into all.”


Beth Coleman served at Hilltop Lutheran Neighborhood Center in Wilmington, DE 1984-85. She moved to Door County, WI in 1989 and lives with her husband Curt Wessel and cat Oliver in Ellison Bay.  A 1984 graduate of Capital University, she has spent her adult life exploring well-being on all levels—physical, mental, emotional and spiritual–and is a Veriditas-trained labyrinth facilitator, certified yoga instructor, musician, Reiki practitioner and gardener of the soil and spirit. In 2018 she completed a three-year program, “Spiritual Deepening for Global Transformation,” at The Christine Center in Willard, WI and will be entering a The Sedona School of Massage in February 2024. She has owned and operated The Garden Lady, a garden design/maintenance firm, for 25 years, and facilitates workshops and week-long sessions in both Contemplative Gardening Design and Mindfulness at The Clearing Folk School in Ellison Bay, WI. She is grateful to her parents and Great Uncle Carl for teaching her the gift of giving back.