The Power of Half: One Family's Decision to Stop Taking and Start Giving Back EBK

The Power of Half: One Family's Decision to Stop Taking and Start Giving Back EBK

It all started when fourteen-year-old Hannah Salwen had a eureka moment. Seeing a homeless man in her neighborhood at the same instant she spotted a man driving a glistening Mercedes, she said, "Dad, if that man had a less nice car, that man there could have a meal."

Until that day, the Salwens had been caught up like so many of us in the classic American dream—providing a good life for their children, accumulating more and more stuff, doing their part to help others but not really feeling it. So when Hannah was stopped in her tracks by this glaring disparity, her parents knew they had to act on her urge to do something. As a family, they made the extraordinary decision to sell their Atlanta mansion, buy a house half its size, and give half of the sale price to a worthy charity. At first it seemed outlandish: What, are we crazy? Then it became a challenge: We are totally doing this. Their plan eventually took them across the globe and well out of their comfort zone. In the end they learned that they had the power to change a little corner of the world. And they found themselves changing too.

As Kevin Salwen says, "No one else is nuts enough to sell their house," but what his family discovered along the way will inspire countless others, no matter what their means or resources are. Warm, funny, and deeply moving, The Power of Half is the story of how one family grew closer as they discovered that half could be so much more.

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  • Format: eBook

  • ISBN-13/EAN: 9780547486215

  • ISBN-10: 0547486219

  • Pages: 256

  • Price: $9.99

  • Publication Date: 02/10/2010

  • Carton Quantity: 24

  • Age(s): 14,15,16

  • Reading Level:

    • Lexile Reading Level 1010L

Kevin Salwen
Author

Kevin Salwen

Kevin Salwen was a reporter and editor at the Wall Street Journal for more than eighteen years. He serves on the board of Habitat for Humanity and works with the U.S. Olympic Committee.
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Hannah Salwen
Author

Hannah Salwen

Hannah Salwen is a junior at the Atlanta Girls’ School. She has been volunteering consistently since the fifth grade.
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  • reviews

    "Hannah, you rock!" --Ann Curry, The Today Show

     

    "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." --The Los Angeles 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 of The Last Lecture

     

    "The Power of Half is a story of genorosity become realized--a family's unpretentious, morally introspective life becomes a kind of lived enactment and fulfillment of an old ethical and spiritual imperitave: that in giving we receive.  In a sense, then, this is an account of kindness toward others become a family's fateful self-blessing and destiny (and for the rest of us a chain of events to behold, earnestly consider, and take to heart)." --Dr. Robert Coles

     

    "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.  Not Carnegie, Gates, or the United Way.  Sports mom, Little League dad, YouTube-addicted son, and 14-year-old "Hey Dude" daughter are pilgrims on the way of all loving flesh. 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 of Close to the Shore and The Murder Room

     

    "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 to want to improve the relationships in my life through the power of renewed energy.  I'm planning to give this book to everyone I know." --Alicia Mandel, United States Olympic Committee

     

    "The Power of Half is not just an extraordinary story of a 14-year-old girl who pushes her family to look outside of themselves and give something big back to the world.  The Salwen father-daughter duo sets a new standard for families and individuals seeking to inject meaning into their lives.  What does your family stand for?  What 'half' are you willing to give back?  Read this book and, like me and my family, you'll want to tackle these questions and change your life." --Daniel H. Pink, author of A Whole New Mind  and Drive

     

    "Hannah Salwen and her dad show what can happen when the best of youthful idealism combines with a "can-do" attitude looking to change the world for the better, one family at a time.  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

     

  • excerpts

    1

    The Treadmill

    7 55 5 6 5 7 5 6 5

    Unless someone like you cares a whole awful lot,

    nothing is going to get better. It's not.

    -_Dr. Seuss, The Lorax

    I

    t's flat-out awkward for two people to share a pair of sewing scissors among their ten right-hand fingers, but Hannah and the tribal chief are trying their best. After a few seconds of what looks like thumb wrestling, they evenly control the scissors' gray plastic handle, then carefully move toward the sky-blue ribbon stretched across the door in front of them.

     Forget Oscar Madison and Felix Unger. This is the oddest couple I've ever seen: a grinning fifteen-year-old white American girl in her wicking REI khakis and an earnest seventyish African tribal chief in gold and brown ceremonial robes worn like a toga across his left shoulder. She speaks English and has come six thousand miles for this. He speaks the tribal language Twi, and I'm guessing he has never left the West African nation of Ghana, except for maybe a vacation journey to neighboring Togo or Burkina Faso.

     Yet here they are, pairing up for the opening ceremony of this new hand-cranked corn mill. For all their differences, they share a goal of helping this rural community on its path out of poverty, the chief because these are his people and Hannah because she is so eager to make the world a little better that she has uprooted her family and pledged more than $800,000 to help villagers in a country she couldn't locate on a map a year ago.

     Their eyes meet for a second, the chief's gray goatee and mostly bald head contrasting with Hannah's auburn hair, which falls to the middle of her back and is frizzing in the July West African heat. The chief is silent as Hannah quickly and quietly counts, “One, two, three.” Her plan is for them to squeeze the scissors at precisely the same time. As usual, Hannah is striving for fairness.

     I am standing on the other side of the ribbon, swelling with pride in our daughter. For months we've been talking about moments just like this: How doing with a little less ourselves can improve the lives of people surviving on less than a dollar a day. How we can enable opportunity for African girls who otherwise would carry corn for hours, missing school while their parents work in the fields. How humble structures like this simple cinder-block building will keep more young women pursuing education, creating much better life options for themselves. Now that dream is happening right before my eyes. And Hannah, the girl who so often crawled into bed with my wife, Joan, and me when she was younger, is fully in charge, almost an adult in her own right.

    Only an hour ago our family had arrived here in Abisu Number One, which we were thrilled to find on our very detailed, two-sided map of Ghana. Amazingly, in a country no bigger than the state of Oregon, we have spent two days visiting village after village too insignificant to be mapped. That said, Abisu Number One doesn't even get its own name, instead sharing it with nearby Abisu Number

    Two.

     But that's part of why this mill is such a big deal. If your community is too insignificant to merit its own name, you're not going to have the political muscle to get any resources. Forget rising to the top of the list for the food processor, school project, or health-care facility. In Abisu Number One's case, it hasn't received electricity or running water

    either.

     As we emerged from our vehicles in Abisu Number One, Hannah, her brother, Joseph, Joan, and I might as well have been wearing neon arrows screaming “Look here!” Like it or not, we are the center of attention. We are the outsiders_-_not just people from somewhere else, but the most foreign people for miles, miles uncrossed by villagers who don't have transportation. Small children point. They call us obruni (white person) as they see what they've never seen before, people with pale skin. They want to touch us, shake our hands, feel our arms, understand whether we're

    di¬erent.

     For our teenagers, it's a new world being the “other.” For all of Hannah's and Joseph's lives, they have been the majority: white kids in a mostly white world, English-speakers in an English-language society, a±uent in an a±uent community. Now we are the di¬erent ones, the ones with the name that the majority calls us.

     “It was really awkward to be put in the spotlight and kind of frightening at first to be the odd one out,” Joseph told me later. “It gave me kind of a fish-out-of-water experience.” Our five-foot, ten-inch redhead was about to turn fourteen, so there was no shortage of awkwardness in his life, but it was impossible to deny how much he stood out as the white kid with braces (a dental procedure, coincidentally, that cost as much as this corn mill we're dedicating, about $6,000).

    Hannah and the chief are poised at the ribbon, and she has reached the count of three. Snip, cheer, and the race is on.

     Scores of cheering villagers sprint through the cut ribbon to the building's front door and pass under the hand-painted sign that announces the grandly and awkwardly named Improved Food Production and Security Program Food Processor. They are eager to see the mill, which will grind the corn used to make kenkey, a sticky, polenta-like food that serves as the staple for each day's meals.

     I don't realize it, but Joan doesn't race in with me. Always the reflective one in our family, she pauses to ponder the ribbon now dangling outside the building's front door. Hannah and the chief had cut the strip almost perfectly in half. Half, Joan was thinking. How appropriate.

     Inside the mill, a villager attaches the crank to the machine, which looks like a large supermarket meat grinder. One turn, a second turn, then the mill whirs to life. A cheer reverberates off the peach cinder-block walls and corrugated metal roof. Jubilant men and women grab handfuls of corn and toss them into the intake bin; others grab the powdery meal coming out the bottom and fling it into the air.

     “The energy in the room was amazing,” Hannah later wrote in her diary. “I'd never seen people so happy, and especially for grain! Unbelievable.”

     Not surprisingly, this moment had quite an impact on our fifteen-year-old. As Hannah told me later, “I couldn't believe that something taken completely for granted in our society could mean so much in another. We don't even realize the measures that these people go through to make huge changes in their community that seem insignificant in ours.”

     She gets it! Is it parenting? Or are Joan and I finally catching up to what Hannah has long known_-_that our little band of four has the power to make a difference?

    We're a long way from home in every way. It's not just that Ghana is across the Atlantic Ocean from where we live in Atlanta, Georgia. It's more a frame of mind.

     I'll explain. I grew up in Brooklyn, the youngest of three children and the only boy in our Jewish family. My parents, as the expression goes, put the dys in dysfunctional, bitterly battling for years until they split for good when I was fourteen. My solution to all this was simple: just disappear. As I was graduating from high school, I figured a thousand miles was about far enough to leave the set of the real family feud behind. So I headed to Northwestern University, outside Chicago.

     When I think back, charity was nowhere on my family's radar. I can't remember a single day of volunteering anywhere. I can't remember making any contributions, except the day in the 1960s when my family gave away an old winter coat to “a bum” (the common term back then) on the Bowery in lower Manhattan. For my mother, a desire to hold on to what she had wasn't surprising;

Available Resources

Related Categories

  • Format: eBook

  • ISBN-13/EAN: 9780547486215

  • ISBN-10: 0547486219

  • Pages: 256

  • Price: $9.99

  • Publication Date: 02/10/2010

  • Carton Quantity: 24

  • Age(s): 14,15,16

  • Reading Level:

    • Lexile Reading Level 1010L

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