Why I Work

May 31, 2011

by Judy Groleau, Vice President of Development, Second Nature
(This post is part of a weekly series by the Second Nature team about why we do what we do.)

In retrospect, very early on in my life, I can recall two constant themes that arose in almost of all the communication in my home as a child. It did not matter what the topic of discussion was, delivered in a soft spoken manner or as loud as shattering glass, somehow it always centered around money or more succinctly put, not enough money to make ends meet.  I believe that this is why I ended with a career in Development.

I am the youngest of five children and we were always encouraged to share as kids.  For me, it was always important to have things to call my own.  I would never share things unless my father or mother forced me to.  I remember always being eager to make a trade in lieu of sharing and was usually pretty successful at swaying one from “sharing something” to having one commit to “trading” instead.  No matter how many times I got the lecture from my dad, “You know they name streets after you, one way” it never dawned on me that there was any other way but to trade.  I always felt like a success when I was able to clench that “deal.”

The toy I dreamed most of having as a child was a cash register.  I spotted it in the annual edition of the Sears and Roebuck Christmas Wish catalog.  It was an especially good Christmas that year as Santa left me that very toy under the Christmas tree.  It was a hot pink, Tom Thumb, metal cash register with black buttons.    I ran about the house making and placing price tags on everything.  I made my own currency.  I sold siblings objects that belonged to them, back to them all for the love of the “transaction.”

Later in life, in my role as an assistant for a college president, I opened a piece of mail that contained a check for $30,000.   It was my first introduction to philanthropy. My hands began to shake and what ran through my mind was…how does someone get this much money?  Why would someone give money away? I equated that sum instantly to the size of the mortgage on my parent’s home and how that amount of debt would take them almost the entirety of their lives to pay off.  You can bet that for the minutes, days, months and years to follow I learned all about those questions and the more I learned the more curious I became, and with that experience the two childhood themes of money and lack of resources converged and philanthropy became a passion for me.

I was so moved by the power of generosity, of caring for community and others and how money could become such a powerful tool in the quest for social justice. Philanthropy was an unknown concept, having come from a middle-class family who lived so closely on the edge of almost being in the “poor house”.  (The “poor house” as I understood it meant the local housing projects.)  As a kid, I was always looking for ways to earn money and learned a lot about being resourceful.  A common theme stemming from my spiritual upbringing was a constant reminder of how waste of any kind is a SIN (be it food on your plate, running the water unnecessarily, leaving on the lights…).

The six lessons key lessons that I learned over and over and practiced repeatedly as a kid have been ones that I live by today.   (I would like to caution that in my twenties I went through a backlash that lasted until I became a homeowner and chief executive bill payer.)   I continue not only to practice these behaviors religiously but I have become the dreaded PREACHER and I now have a daughter to continue a family tradition of reminding her how sinful it is to waste.

Six household behavioral training techniques learned as a child:

  1. Never let a family member shower for longer than 2 minutes.  If necessary bang on the bathroom door repeatedly and holler, “YOU ARE WASTING WATER.  SHUT THE WATER OFF.  DO YOU KNOW HOW MUCH YOU ARE COSTING ME?"
    TIP: Purchase a water heater that goes below household consumption as it saves you the aggravation of having to shut of the main hot water valve in the basement when you encounter stubborn violators.
  2. During the cold weather season set the thermostat temperature between the “one can see white smoke when they exhale” to just above “don’t let the pipes freeze”.
    TIP: Don’t walk around the house with too many layers of clothing on as others may see this act as a weapon to build a case that it IS too cold to inhabit this house.
  3. During the hot weather season closely monitor how long the refrigerator door is held open.  If you observe a household member viewing longer than 2 seconds, say loud and firmly, “SHUT THE DOOR!  YOU ARE LETTING ALL THE COLD AIR OUT!”
    TIP: Train family members to know what they want and continually remind them that when they open the refrigerator door it ISN’T THE TELEVISION OR A SHOW’ remind them that they need to be strategic and “GET IN AND GET OUT”.
  4. Discourage your children from watching traffic pass by at the school bus stop as they might start to imagine what if feels like to be in nice warm comfortable car on their way to school.  Play up how fun the elements can be and don’t worry if they lack proper rain and or snow gear as this is a lesson in stamina and it builds character.
    TIP: Share stories about how you NEVER got a ride anywhere from your parents as a kid and how you walked MILES and MILES and MILES and how you didn’t know anyone who owned a car when you were a youngster.
  5. Conduct daily routine interrogations with random family members about the thermostat settings each day so as to frighten anyone from ever touching the settings.
    TIP: Follow each interrogation with the amount it costs for a gallon of heating oil or gas …if oil heating remind them how much oil is left in the tank and the length of time you expect that to last and the number of days the tampering has upset the calculation.
  6. When you find that someone has left a room and has not turned off the light be sure to BRING EVERY ACTIVITY IN THE HOUSE TO A SCREECHING HALT UNTIL YOU EEK OUT THE VIOLATOR.    You can begin by shouting, “WHO LEFT THE LIGHT ON IN [insert any room name]?!
    TIP: This is a perfect opportunity whilst you have the attention of every household member to provide an update that includes the monthly cost of the electric bill in relation to your income level and what socio-economic class the family is characterized by (poor or rich).  Also, you may replace [light] with any appliance that requires electricity to reinforce this point.

I wouldn’t change a thing about the way I was raised.   I am proud of where I come from and I am more grateful today than ever knowing how creative and thrifty my parents had to be to raise five children.

My experiences as a child coupled with my passion for philanthropy and its purposeful power in addressing social inequities made coming on board at Second Nature one way to combine my passion and my talent for the greater good.  Our mission to create a healthy, just, and sustainable society is one that deserves all the green that I can help to secure so that each of us has the opportunity to “inherit the earth”.

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