Jimmy V And The Philanthropic Middle Class

Jim Valvano was a talented basketball coach.  He and his North Carolina State Wolfpack won the 1983 NCCA National Championship with an upset of win over the highly touted Cougars from the University of Houston.  Houston’s team boasted future NBA Hall of Famers: Hakeem Olajuwon and Clyde Drexler.  Houston was dubbed “Phi Slamma Jamma” for their high flying slam dunking prowess.

Valvano and his team of nobodies held Phi Slamma Jamma in check.  Houston only scored 52 points in the championship game.

Valvano’s coaching comrades called him, “Jimmy V.”

Jimmy V knew a thing or two about zone defenses.  I’m not talking about parenting metaphors about surveying the land and keeping your cool…  he actually knew real zone defenses.  They were his speciality.  He started trends like the box-and-one defense where four players play zone (in the shape of a box )and the top player guards the perimeter.  He had other zone schemes called the “triangle-two” and the “one-three and a chaser”.

Jimmy V was like a chess master with X’s and O’s on a basketball court, but he also was a master motivator.  He could give speeches in the locker room that could inspire the most lackluster squad.  He had the quick wit of a boy that grew up on the streets of Queens, NY, but he also was an English major in college and liked to discuss topics like nutrition and world diplomacy.  He was the ultimate jack of all trades, master of one.  His one was coaching college basketball.




The ESPY Awards airs during this time each year and it’s a great time to re-watch the famous “Don’t Give Up” speech that Jimmy V gave in 1993.  If by chance you have never seen this speech… please… please… please, click on this You Tube link and check it out.

It was his final goodbye to the sporting world and the general public.  Jimmy V was dying of cancer and his end was very near.  It is crazy to think that a man with that much vigor for life and living would die the following month.  There are so many great snippets from that speech that can be saved and applied to our everyday lives.

My favorite part of the Jimmy V ESPY speech in 1993 is when he says this:


“To me, there are three things we all should do every day. We should do this every day of our lives. Number one is laugh. You should laugh every day. Number two is think. You should spend some time in thought. Number three is, you should have your emotions moved to tears, could be happiness or joy. But think about it. If you laugh, you think, and you cry, that’s a full day. That’s a heck of a day.”


When thinking about this quote and applying this to our everyday lives, days like this probably pretty rare.  Perhaps in times of extreme happiness or sadness, our emotions are accelerated and the frequency of days with laughter, deep thinking, and crying are more prevalent.

There are mundane Monday, Tuesdays, and Wednesdays in my own personal life that fly by without much thought, laughter, or emotion.  They just exist.  Work. Dinner. Bed.

These days are not necessarily a waste of time.  Our kids are learning.  My wife and I are communicating.  We are taking care of needed and important tasks and logistics, but there is no deep thinking or emotion.

I yearn at times for deeper, more meaningful, full days like Jimmy V talked about.  I yearn to give back to the community.  I feel successful with my own life and family, and feel a responsibility to my friends, family, and community but as a parent of multiples, I’m also EXTREMELY BUSY.




This triggered my thought pattern about the many ways we’ve aided charities over the past several years.  It got me brainstorming about ways we’ve given back to those less fortunate or in-need.  Was it all enough?

Thinking about this made me feel less guilty about my philanthropic endeavors of the past and present.

Below are ways I thought of to aid those less fortunate or in-need.


Ways to give back:

– Direct monetary donation

– Cash back credit cards that donate to charities of your choosing

– Charity dinners

– Creating something, for example, a playground or garden

– Charity sporting events, for example, golf scrambles or 5K races

– Donating your time

– Offering professional advice

– Donating used goods or toys

– Donating food

– Giving blood

– Helping family and neighbors/elderly

– Adopting families in need during the holidays


The different ways of giving back are plentiful and sometimes have just as large of an impact on any given cause as a direct monetary donation.  Studies show that The “middle class” in America is in fact a very charitable bunch.

Recent public information data obtained from the Internal Revenue Service demonstrates that the middle class donates a larger percentage of their discretionary income to charity than other income group.  This is telling, as this does even not take into account some of the non-financial acts of kindness the middle class are most famous for, as mentioned above.

In 2012, households earning $50,000 to $75,000 donated 7.6% of their discretionary income to charitable causes.  Those making $100,000 to $200,000 donated 4.2% and households making over $200,000 donated 2.8%.

Ironically, I had read this article about the philanthropic middle class and was thinking about various ways to help out recently.  Watching Jimmy V’s speech again was further inspiration to reserve a time soon to partake in a scheduled/planned act of kindness and charity.  If I was a fruit, I was ripe and ready to donate my time.  I’m compelled to make the most out of this short time we have on this earth and any day when I can laugh, cry, and think (any particular order), as Valvano eloquently described, is a day worth living.




Aptly timed, Jacquie, a local blogger (blogging at http://clevelandkiddos.com/) messaged me about possibly joining in a group volunteer opportunity at the the Ronald McDonald House in Cleveland in July.

There was no hesitation in signing up.  I was in.

I was very familiar with the Ronald McDonald House and had made direct monetary donations to the house in Ann Arbor, Michigan, in the past.  There are more than 300 Ronald McDonald Houses in the world to include homes nearby in Cleveland, Akron and Ann Arbor.  For those who may have some reservations about aligning with an huge corporate fast food restaurant, the homes are supported very sparingly via financial backing from Ronald McDonald Charities.  While they bear the McDonald’s affiliated name, they are all largely local, independent non-profit entities that are funded organically.




From their website:

“The Ronald McDonald House of Cleveland offers a place to call home at little or no cost so families can access the best health care, regardless of their location.  We allow families to stay together, which can help their children heal faster and cope better.


Our House enables families to focus on the health of their child rather than anything else – like paying bills, cooking meals, cleaning the House. We preserve a sense of normalcy with home-cooked meals, comfortable beds and recreational activities for the family to enjoy.  Most importantly, we help families create connections with other families, staff and volunteers.  In doing this, families have a support system to turn to during the most stressful moments of their lives.”


I mentioned to Jacquie in-passing about knowing a lot about this charity.  I let her know that my family once was a recipient of kindness from this organization.  I didn’t offer up more details and she never asked.


On the ride to the charity event, I had time to THINK.

In August of 1987, I stayed at the Ronald McDonald House in Ann Arbor, MI, with my parents following the birth of my brother.  He was born with a infection and needed to be life flighted to the University of Michigan Hospitals and placed on an experimental heart lung bypass machine called ECMO while his body fought the infection.  Doctors gave him a ten percent chance to survive the helicopter ride to Michigan.  We immediately drove from Ohio to Michigan to check on the arrival and well-being of my brother without hotel reservations or a plan.  Upon arriving in Ann Arbor, no hotels in the area had vacancy.  The hospital did not have space for all of us to spend the night in a hospital room or waiting room.  They referred us to the Ronald McDonald House and luckily they had space for us.

At age 6, I don’t remember much about the visit to the house.  I remember my mother was very emotional and felt helpless about not being about to help her sick young child.  I remember they had lots of food there for breakfast and dinner, which was important!  I remember there being video games there to play and other young kids there to play with.  These kids similarly had sick siblings too, and could relate to my situation.  My brother eventually recovered from the infection, he was discharged and sent back to Ohio.  Our family was very luckily to get through this rough patch in our lives.  Since that time our family has always supported this charity, which we never knew existed prior to this emergency in 1987.


Upon arriving at the charity event this July, I had the opportunity to LAUGH.

I like to cook and immediately jumped right in to cutting fruits with my friend Katrina.  Cutting strawberries, grapes and melon was a breeze (I thought to myself).  We were putting together a succulent fruit salad for 60-80 dinner guests we expected in a hour or two.  Out of nowhere Katrina and I were handed four massive pineapples!  We both looked at one another for guidance on how to chop up pineapples and neither one of us had a clue.  I’d never cut a whole pineapple up myself.  It’s not my favorite fruit.

Obviously the top green leafy thingy needs to be chopped off, right?  We laughed.  Instructions were provided by another blogger on how to slice and dice the pineapple and we were pretty proud of that fruit salad upon completion.

Dinner was a wonderful spread of homemade chicken fingers, homestyle macaroni and cheese, thinly sliced fresh veggies, and our prideful fruit salad. Everyone seemed very happy with the meal.  We were greeted with a huge thank you from Laura Klinger Doyle, the Communications Manager of the the Ronald McDonald House of Cleveland.  She asked us to spread the word about the need for volunteers.  If you are an individual or a group looking to participate in a similar activity, contact her at (216) 229-5757, extension 1105.




Some of us were thanked individually by those consuming the meal.  Others sat quietly and ate the food with seemingly more pressing matters on their minds.  Confidently, our group of local bloggers thought that those staying at the Ronald McDonald House of Cleveland that day received a nice, warm and nutritious meal.


The last event of the night was an event where we helped kids that were staying at the house decorate cupcakes.  I was doing dishes at the this time and was thinking about heading home to see my own kids before they went to bed, but I decided to hold off a little longer and watch the youngsters have some fun after dinner.  We had various frosting options and colors to paint the cupcakes.

A young boy came up to me about age 10 and asked me if I could help him with his cupcake.  I obliged, as I saw his mother was nearby in deep conversation with her spouse.  I handed the boy eyes and nose shaped pieces of candy as he started to make a smiley face on the top of his cupcake.  This warmed my heart as I thought back to the time I stayed at the Ronald McDonald House and found momentary happiness resting in a home-like atmosphere with other people going through similar circumstances.

I thought the boy was done decorating the cupcake and ready to eat it, when at the last second, he added tears running down the face of the cupcake figurine.  He was obviously having some mixed feelings about his current situation.  I did not inquire about who he was there with or why.  It was none of my business.  What I did tell him was that I really liked his cupcake and I had fun hanging out with him.  He thanked me and went back to his parents to eat the cupcake.

After leaving the event, I was overcome by nostalgic, happy, and sad emotions and sat in my parked car and CRIED for a few minutes before my drive home.




It was a mundane weeknight, but I was able to think, laugh, and cry.  Not all days are like this, but I urge you to put yourself in situations to have as many days like this as possible.

This particular day… it was full day. It was a heck of a day.



Have you ever heard of the Ronald McDonald House?  Which charities are your favorite to support?  Do you prefer monetary or non-monetary ways of aiding charities of your choice?  How many times per year do you abide by Jimmy V’s advice and think, laugh, and cry in the same day?




5 thoughts on “Jimmy V And The Philanthropic Middle Class

  1. Mason, thank you so much for this thoughtful recap!

    I have been holding off from writing my post until the other bloggers wrote theirs so I can share a link to everyone’s on my blog, but I just have to say, every blog post about this event has just blown me away!

    We all have our stories and I appreciate so much that you shared yours. I understand being overwhelmed with emotion. The last time I was at the Ronald McDonald House, my newborn daughter was fighting for her life. I think I stayed somewhat strong while it was going on but it’s later you realize the reality of what really was happening. It’s times like this that bring it back and help you have more empathy for what others are dealing with.

    You obviously have a HUGE heart and I’m so grateful to you for coming out to assist and that I got to meet you! I was running around overseeing things and I know we didn’t get a chance to talk much and I also apologize that I didn’t take the time to ask you your story when you first emailed me. I was definitely interested but I didn’t want to pry and I also was a little consumed with the huge task of organizing this event. Thank you again so much for sharing this.

    I hope our stories reach and inspire a lot of people out there and help others realize how good it feels to give back and help others who are really in need. Sometimes people are skeptical of charities or of their own ability to assist, but these stories help affirm what an incredible cause this is to support and also that it doesn’t take much to help others. Thank you again so much for everything!!!

    • Jacquie… It’s awesome that you have a personal story too. Thanks so much for the invite and thanks for organizing the meal. You were our leader and it for sure was a special evening.

  2. Love the Jimmy V speech and love how you can make it apply to everyday life. Nice to take a time out to ground you from mundane days.

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