“You don’t need to be rich to be a philanthropist”
By Darren Garnick
May 9, 2007
Longtime commuter Mark Dunning doesn’t remember the exact date he
forgot to bring his wallet to the South Acton MBTA station five or six
years ago. But he’s never let go of the feeling that came next.
Dunning, who works as an IT specialist for L.E.K. Consulting in
Boston, expected he would be treated like a freeloader. But instead of
being unceremoniously tossed off the train, he was given a $20 loan by
an empathetic conductor.
“Everytime I saw him, I felt like I wanted to do something nice for
him,” he recalls.
That same sentiment ripples through Dunning’s ongoing work to support
children with hearing loss. Since 2003, he and his wife Julia have
helped raise more than $150,000 – in $25, $50 and $100 chunks – for
early intervention sign language and speech therapy programs serving
Central Massachusetts families.
After three years of driving their daughter Bella to a hearing loss
program in Boston, the Dunnings started the Decibels Foundation to
support a brand new service in Concord threatened by state budget
cuts. They now allocate $25,000 – $30,000 each year to the Minuteman
Arc Early Intervention Program, even though their 8-year-old daughter
has long outgrown the services.
“There were so many people who came to our aid, we felt we had to give
something back,” Dunning says. “The money we give away each year is
pocket change compared to Bill Gates, but when we give money to
Minuteman, they are thankful to a point that’s embarrassing.”
There’s no shortage of noble causes competing for donations, but
Dunning has found that philanthropy need not be a cutthroat business.
One of the supporters of his annual Decibels Charity Golf Tournament
is Dracut real estate lawyer Wade Sauls, who runs his own “Little
Battlers Foundation” for cancer research.
In 2004, while watching his then four-year-old son Julien struggle
with chemotherapy, the attorney quit his job at a larger firm to open
his own practice. “I figured if he could fight cancer, I could build a
successful business,” he says.
“The challenges of being a little guy in the endless line of charities
is something I accept. I do not and will not ever complain about the
fact that the Jimmy Fund, St. Jude, Curt Schilling’s Strike Out ALS,
or any of the other big boys take away from our efforts,” Sauls says.
“…My foundation is built around trying to build community involvement
Little Battlers raises funds by sponsoring road races and sports bar
charity nights, reaching out to friends and neighbors for smaller
donations. The same philosophy has been adopted by Lowell Spinners
executive Jon Goode, who runs the C2 Mission charity from his home
office in New Ipswich, NH.
C2 grants “Pick Me Up” wishes for local children with cerebral palsy
and cystic fibrosis. Donations have provided birthday parties, music
lessons, vacations, and even customized bicycles for families
overburdened by medical bills.
Reaching out to working-class families “who can’t break the bank,”
Goode organizes “fan press conferences” for donors to mingle with
professional athletes for $15. This weekend, he’s bringing former
Patriots star Mosi Tatupu to a Tewksbury restaurant to sign autographs
and pose for pictures.
“A lot of the charity events I get invited to are $150 a ticket or
$250 a ticket or you bid on expensive items,” he says. “There aren’t a
ton of affordable events geared toward families.”
And as that generous MBTA conductor proved with only 20 bucks,
sometimes it doesn’t take much to change a life.