News / USA

Family Sells Home for Hunger

Georgia family downsizes, donates half to charity

The Salwens in front of their smaller home after selling their mansion and donating half of the profits to charity.
The Salwens in front of their smaller home after selling their mansion and donating half of the profits to charity.

Multimedia

Audio
Philip Graitcer

 

One day in 2006, Hannah Salwen and her father, Kevin, stopped at a traffic light in downtown Atlanta. The 14 year old remembers looking out the window. "And I saw this homeless man sitting on the sidewalk, holding up a sign that said, 'Homeless. Please help.'

And then, on my right, I saw a man in a Mercedes coupe." She looked back and forth between the two extremes, the 'haves' and the 'have nots' and then turned to her father. "I said to my dad, 'You know, if that guy - to the right, the man in the Mercedes - didn't have such a nice car, then the man, the homeless man, would have a meal,'" Hannah recalls.

It took the Salwens two years to sell their palatial $2-million house.
It took the Salwens two years to sell their palatial $2-million house.

Coming to grips with the world's inequities

That evening, she was still angry about what she'd seen. Her dad, a writer and entrepreneur, tried to explain that their family was really trying to make a difference. He pointed out that they were out in the community doing good work, volunteering at the local food bank and homeless shelter.

But that wasn't enough for Hannah. "I'm looking across the table," Kevin recalls, "and all I could feel is Hannah's eyes staring at me with one word shining in them, and it's, 'This is lame, totally lame.'"

Her mother, Joan, suggested, a bit facetiously, "Oh, what do you want to do? Do you want to sell the house?" And Hannah replied, 'Yeah! That is what I want to do.'"

There's no longer a separate room for the ping-pong table and the dining room table doubles as a computer work station in the family's new house.
There's no longer a separate room for the ping-pong table and the dining room table doubles as a computer work station in the family's new house.

A dramatic move

So the Salwens sold their seven-bedroom mansion and bought a house one-half its size. They donated half of the profits to charity.

To Hannah, the house was a tool for her charitable work. But her father wasn't convinced, until he looked around and saw how many possessions the family had that they really didn't need. And he says he realized something else. "This could be kind of fun. I wondered what this process would be like and I wondered what it would do. It was kind of a little bit of journey into the unknown," Kevin says.

Hannah visited Ghana in 2008, where her family's $800,000 donation to The Hunger Project is helping to build community meeting halls, micro-loan banks, food storage facilities and health centers in several villages.
Hannah visited Ghana in 2008, where her family's $800,000 donation to The Hunger Project is helping to build community meeting halls, micro-loan banks, food storage facilities and health centers in several villages.

Since everyone in the family including Hannah, her younger brother Joseph and her parents had to give up something in order to downsize, Joan thought each ought to have an equal say in what would happen to the proceeds from the house sale. It would be one person, one vote.

It took more than a year for the family to choose a charity to support. On Sunday mornings, they'd meet over breakfast to discuss projects. Finally, they chose the Hunger Project. Kevin says its philosophy matched the family's thinking. "What we loved about the Hunger Project was that their methodology was 'We trust in the people in these communities to build their own futures.'"

The Salwens say their endeavor has brought them much closer as a family.
The Salwens say their endeavor has brought them much closer as a family.

Trading stuff for togetherness

The family is adjusting to life in a smaller house. There's no longer a separate room for the ping-pong table and the dining room table doubles as a computer work station. But still, Kevin thinks they got a good deal.

"I think we're a family that honestly set out to do a little bit of good. And we are doing a little bit of good, but the good we did for ourselves, I think, in some ways dwarfs the good for mankind or for other humans on this planet," he says.

In thinking about philanthropy, Kevin says his family is committed to the idea of half, in part because it is easy to measure.

"I think a lot of us look at the world and say, 'I ought to be doing more.' But 'more' is such a mushy and amorphous concept that we end up being paralyzed by it. And so, what we decided to do is say, 'Look, half is completely measurable.'"

 The power of half

Since their book was published earlier this year, the Salwens have been touring the country, appearing on television and speaking at schools and libraries about the power of half. The response has been positive, they say, and they're looking forward to seeing others start their own 'half' projects.

Hannah says it's something anyone can do. "Everyone has more than enough of something they could sacrifice," she says.

Father and daughter have written a book, "The Power of Half", they hope will inspire others. "Obviously not many people are going to sell their house," Hannah admits, "but there are so many things, so many opportunities that you can be a part of. If your family watches four hours of TV a week you could cut that down to two and use those two hours to help in a homeless shelter." 

Hannah was delighted. "It felt really good to know that if [my brother and I] had something to say, that my parents would be listening and that they would actually take it into consideration and not just say, 'Okay they don't know what they're talking about because… whatever.'" Hannah remembers that moment clearly. "I said 'I don't want to be a family that just talks about doing something. I want to really get out there and I want to make a difference.'"

You May Like

Multimedia Obama, Modi Resolve Nuclear Deal Issues

Leaders find resolution on issues of liability of suppliers to India in event of nuclear accident, US demands to track whereabouts of material supplied to country More

WHO's Late Efforts in Tackling Ebola Highlight Need for Reform

Health experts debate measures to reform agency’s response to global public health emergencies in special one-day session on deadly outbreak More

One Tumultuous Year in Power for CAR's President

As sectarian violence raged across Central African Republic, interim President Catherine Samba-Panza has Herculean task: to end civil war and put country back on right track More

This forum has been closed.
Comments
     
There are no comments in this forum. Be first and add one

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Worldwide Photo Workshops Empower Youthi
X
Julie Taboh
January 23, 2015 11:08 PM
Last September, 20 young adults from South Sudan took part in a National Geographic Photo Camp. They are among hundreds of students from around the world who have learned how to use a camera to tell the stories of the people in their communities through the powerful medium of photography. Three camp participants talked about their experiences recently on a visit to Washington. VOA’s Julie Taboh reports.
Video

Video Worldwide Photo Workshops Empower Youth

Last September, 20 young adults from South Sudan took part in a National Geographic Photo Camp. They are among hundreds of students from around the world who have learned how to use a camera to tell the stories of the people in their communities through the powerful medium of photography. Three camp participants talked about their experiences recently on a visit to Washington. VOA’s Julie Taboh reports.
Video

Video US, Japan Offer Lessons as Eurozone Launches Huge Stimulus

The Euro currency has fallen sharply after the European Central Bank announced a bigger-than-expected $67 billion-a-month quantitative easing program Thursday - commonly seen as a form of printing new money. Henry Ridgwell reports for VOA from London on whether the move might rescue the eurozone economy -- and what lessons have been learned from similar programs around the world.
Video

Video Nigerian Elections Pose Concern of Potential Conflict in 'Middle Belt'

Nigeria’s north-central state of Kaduna has long been the site of fighting between Muslims and Christians as well as between people of different ethnic groups. As the February elections approach, community and religious leaders are making plans they hope will keep the streets calm after results are announced. Chris Stein reports from the state capital, Kaduna.
Video

Video As Viewership Drops, Obama Puts His Message on YouTube

Ratings reports show President Obama’s State of the Union address this week drew the lowest number of viewers for this annual speech in 15 years. White House officials anticipated this, and the president has decided to take a non-traditional approach to getting his message out. VOA White House correspondent Luis Ramirez reports.
Video

Video S. Korean Businesses Want to End Trade Restrictions With North

Business leaders in South Korea are calling for President Park Geun-hye to ease trade restrictions with North Korea that were put in place in 2010 after the sinking of a South Korean warship.Pro-business groups argue that expanding trade and investment is not only good for business, it is also good for long-term regional peace and security. VOA’s Brian Padden reports.
Video

Video US Marching Bands Grow Into a Show of Their Own

The 2014 Super Bowl halftime show was the most-watched in history - attracting an estimated 115 million viewers. That event featured pop star Bruno Mars. But the halftime show tradition started with marching bands, which still dominate the entertainment at U.S. high school and college American football games. But as Enming Liu reports in this story narrated by Adrianna Zhang, marching bands have grown into a show of their own.
Video

Video Secular, Religious Kurds Face Off in Southeast Turkey

Turkey’s predominantly Kurdish southeast has been rocked by violence between religious and secular Kurds. Dorian Jones reports on the reasons behind the stand-off from the region's main city of Diyarbakir, which suffered the bloodiest fighting.
Video

Video Kenya: Misuse of Antibiotics Leading to Resistance by Immune System

In Kenya, the rise of drug resistant bacteria could reverse the gains made by medical science over diseases that were once treatable. Kenyans could be at risk of fatalities as a result if the power in antibiotics is not preserved. Lenny Ruvaga has more on the story from Nairobi.
Video

Video Solar-Powered Plane Getting Ready to Circumnavigate Globe

Pilots of the solar plane that already set records flying without a drop of fuel are close to making their first attempt to fly the craft around the globe. They plan to do it in 25 flying days over a five month period. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video How Experts Decide Ethiopia Has the Best Coffee

Ethiopia’s coffee has been ranked as the best in the world by an international group of coffee connoisseurs. Not surprisingly, coffee is a top export for the country. But at home it is a source of pride. Marthe van der Wolf in Addis Ababa decided to find out what makes the bean and brew so special and how experts make their determinations.
Video

Video Yazidi Refugees at Center of Political Fight Between Turkey, Kurds

The treatment of thousands of Yazidis refugees who fled to Turkey to escape attacks by Islamic State militants has become the center of a dispute between the Turkish government and the country's pro-Kurdish movement. VOA's Dorian Jones reports.
Video

Video World’s Richest 1% Forecast to Own More Than Half of Global Wealth

The combined wealth of the world's richest 1 percent will overtake that of the remaining 99 percent at some point in 2016, according to the anti-poverty charity Oxfam. Campaigners are demanding that policymakers take action to address the widening gap between the ‘haves’ and the ‘have nots’, as Henry Ridgwell reports for VOA from London.

Circumventing Censorship

An Internet Primer for Healthy Web Habits

As surveillance and censoring technologies advance, so, too, do new tools for your computer or mobile device that help protect your privacy and break through Internet censorship.
More

All About America

AppleAndroid