Opinion: A culture of giving can improve, transform lives of many

May 27, 2013 - Atlanta - All stand as the Honor Guard from the 94th Airlift Wing, US Air Force Reserve, presents the colors. The newly expanded Veterans Park at the Atlanta History Center was formally dedicated on Memorial Day. Funded by a grant from The Home Depot Foundation, Veterans Park at the Atlanta History Center was designed by landscape architect Mack Cain of Jacobs. Originally conceived in 2000 with the help of the Atlanta Vietnam Veterans Business Association, Veterans Park began as a small garden honoring veterans from the Vietnam War. Lt. Colonel Richard A. Lester, US Army Retired, and a Vietnam helicopter pilot, dedicated the park with a soil ceremony. Soils from every major conflict in which our country has fought were distributed on the grounds. BOB ANDRES / BANDRES@AJC.COM
May 27, 2013 - Atlanta - All stand as the Honor Guard from the 94th Airlift Wing, US Air Force Reserve, presents the colors. The newly expanded Veterans Park at the Atlanta History Center was formally dedicated on Memorial Day. Funded by a grant from The Home Depot Foundation, Veterans Park at the Atlanta History Center was designed by landscape architect Mack Cain of Jacobs. Originally conceived in 2000 with the help of the Atlanta Vietnam Veterans Business Association, Veterans Park began as a small garden honoring veterans from the Vietnam War. Lt. Colonel Richard A. Lester, US Army Retired, and a Vietnam helicopter pilot, dedicated the park with a soil ceremony. Soils from every major conflict in which our country has fought were distributed on the grounds. BOB ANDRES / BANDRES@AJC.COM

Credit: Bob Andres

Credit: Bob Andres

The recent news articles on the Marcus Foundation’s gift to the Shepherd Center to support their expansion generated many letters and calls of appreciation. I am heartened that so many people care about this great institution.

The Foundation’s gift is part of a long tradition of giving that was part of my family’s story and which was defined at an early age and carried over to all our work. The culture of giving is the greatest gift.

When Arthur Blank, Ken Langone, and I opened our first Home Depot store in 1979, we never imagined that we would become the largest home-improvement retailer in the nation and one of America’s most socially responsible companies. The American Dream is not dead. It may sound a little corny, but I believe that we still live in the land of opportunity. Where else could a poor kid from Newark build the multibillion-dollar company after being fired at the age of 49?

Home Depot co-founder Bernie Marcus in his office at The Marcus Foundation in Atlanta in June. HYOSUB SHIN / HSHIN@AJC.COM
Home Depot co-founder Bernie Marcus in his office at The Marcus Foundation in Atlanta in June. HYOSUB SHIN / HSHIN@AJC.COM

I learned about giving from my mother. She would put the pennies she set aside for our snacks in a tin box so it could be donated to those even more less-fortunate. There is no doubt that the same things that my mother taught me helped make The Home Depot successful and led to the establishing of The Marcus Foundation.

When I retired, I was able to dedicate my time to philanthropy. We do not make gifts. We make grants that demand impact and tell stories about members of our community who need help — the family grappling with a genetic disease, the young woman trying to stitch her life together after being paralyzed and finding hope, the veteran who contemplated suicide and now helps other vets re-enter civilian life. That veteran works to help others not become one of the 22 veteran suicides that plague this country every day.

Employees at a Florida Home Depot store built a lemonade stand for a boy who wanted to raise money for a friend who had cancer.
Employees at a Florida Home Depot store built a lemonade stand for a boy who wanted to raise money for a friend who had cancer.

Credit: Justin Sullivan

Credit: Justin Sullivan

I have used what I learned as an entrepreneur to ensure that my philanthropic investments create momentum, are transformative, and are sustainable. We are moved every day by what we receive in return — the heartfelt letters from wives whose husbands received life-saving PTSD treatment that now has led to a national initiative called The Avalon Network. The young child mesmerized by a whale shark at the Georgia Aquarium, a facility which not only gives people hours of joy but has also helped revitalize downtown. There are the parents who cannot wait to tell me about their daughter who had a breakthrough at the Marcus Autism Center, which then led us to create Autism Speaks. There’s the man who anonymously paid for my lunch at Subway because his job at Home Depot helped send his three children to college, and the Grady Hospital billboard that tells the story of another life saved by the stroke center that we helped fund.

To truly help solve a problem or save somebody’s life makes all the hard work worth it. There is no better gift than that.

I did not become a philanthropist for the headlines or the applause. We do it because we care about lives. The success of Atlanta-based Home Depot, led by its dedicated management and associates, ensures our future holds the opportunity for many more grants.

I wish for you all joy and good health, and I want to say to you “thank you” for the work you all do to make our community better for everyone.

Bernie Marcus is co-founder of The Home Depot and chairman of The Marcus Foundation. He has given away approximately $2 billion.

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