Blogger's daily $100 gift fills her inner need

Every day of 2010, Betty Londergan’s to-do list begins:

1.  Give away $100.

2.  Blog about it.

For Londergan, a writer and wife of Oglethorpe University President Larry Schall, Betty’s What Gives 365 Project is her daily statement about what matters around the world and in her neighborhood.

Londergan, 57, has publicized causes as obscure as orphaned African elephants and as familiar as her Atlanta church, funded through an inheritance from her father.

“I was really shocked,” said her daughter LuLu Londergan, 18, a student at St. John’s University. “The first thing that popped into my head was, ‘That is a lot of money!’”

With every “C note,” Londergan aims to fill a void in public awareness and inside herself. She had enjoyed a lucrative advertising career and published a humorous motherhood memoir, “I’m Too Sexy for My Volvo.”

Then came 2008.

“My husband and I managed to lose a nauseatingly high percentage of the dollars we painstakingly saved during our many long years on the planet. At the same time, I sent my darling daughter off to college, meaning that I’ve lost (or just misplaced) my identity as a mother,” she wrote online.

Money had always represented freedom -- from family fear of going without during the Depression. Money protected her as a single mom from depending on others. In 2008, Londergan realized she needed an extreme makeover of her perspective on money, and life.

Her 365 project would use money to connect her to global and local issues much greater than her own.

“My ultimate goal is to inspire other people to understand how many people are doing good in the world and how powerful it is,” Londergan said in a recent interview at the Oglethorpe University Museum of Art, among her beneficiaries.

She found goodness in the face of one serving her coffee. Six days into her project, she rewarded Brookhaven Starbucks barrista, Kevin Atkins, with $100 for always cheerfully serving her venti half caff.

An interview for her blog connected her to the person behind the java. Atkins is a Marshall University graduate and college linebacker. He was celebrating his 27th birthday that day, and his grandmother had just passed. He reamed of becoming an actor after a small speaking part in the movie “We Are Marshall.”

“It wasn’t the money. It was the thought,” Atkins said. “Just to see that somebody views me in that light. I may not be what I want to be yet or doing what I want to do, but she looks at [my] principles. I believe that whatever you want to do, you can do it as long as you work toward it.”

Londergan's Wordpress blog averages about 1,000 hits a day, with occasional criticism. In late March, Londergan wrote about wrestling with doubts, then shame, before giving $100 to a North Carolina woman with AIDS.

“You think a [woman] would lie to you about having AIDS? For $100?” an anonymous commenter fired back. “Wow. That says a lot about you.”

Giving $100 away isn't as simple as it sounds. Londergan waited weeks for the woman with AIDS to supply an address and corroboration of her nurses. This week she shipped the $100, a computer and printer donated by others who had read the woman's needs on Londergan's blog.

After 4 to 6 hours researching and writing, she will launch her daily message into the blogosphere, and hopes it sticks for good: “I have a real deep-seated horror of ever extolling the features of an organization that is not what it claims to be, or worse still, is dangerous or taking advantage of people. So I try to do a lot of homework.”

Her project honors the battered cardboard bank, decorated with pictures of kids in Africa, that her mom, Dorothy, kept in the laundry room.

“She was always talking about people who were less fortunate,” said Londergan, sixth of eight children. “Dad said if Mom had lived longer –- she died at 69 –- she would have given away all our money.”

While Londergan doubts her project will change a life, she is very satisfied by sowing her seed money. One recipient broadcasts farming advice in Africa, “and helps make their harvests 40 percent bigger, for people who make $1 a day. He’s someone who could really change a lot of lives over there. That made me ecstatic.”

Her husband predicts that Londergan, a travel buff, will set off with her passport to see firsthand what her donations wrought.

“I joke to her that I don’t know what’s going to happen to her on Day 366,” Schall said. “But I do have a pretty good idea. I think she’s going to end up being in 2 or 3 of these places for chunks of time.”