The seemingly impossible task of restoring Notre Dame Cathedral will happen, thanks to worldwide generosity. The French president has vowed to complete the work within five years—determination that has sparked financial commitments worldwide from billionaires on down.

Americans are likely to step up for this cause. It’s what we do. In a 2016 study by The Independent (UK), charity donations by Americans comprised a greater percentage of GDP than in the other 23 nations studied. ( Studying data from over 140 nations, the annual World Giving Index typically ranks the US as one of the most generous nations. (

I think a lot about fundraising because I serve on the board of a nonprofit organization (Mid-Coast Recovery Coalition) that strives to help individuals plagued by the effects of substance use disorder. And as a first-generation college student who subsequently spent nearly four decades as a community college professor, I am an unofficial advocate for the importance of higher education for nontraditional students, and know how critical funding is for institutions that serve them.

The Paris fire and the charitable reaction to it prompt me to think outside the box and to urge others to do the same when we respond to that powerful impulse to use money to create change.

As we near graduation season and find our thoughts turning toward our beloved alma mater, I offer you a simple but bold suggestion: give your old college or university HALF of what you normally donate, reserving the other half for a cause that will benefit nearby people in need.

I live in mid-coast Maine, home to University of Maine at Augusta—Rockland Center, the local college campus that in terms of mission and student population most closely resembles Community College of Philadelphia, where I taught and counseled for nearly four decades. U-Rock changes lives everyday.

Sudden financial problems can derail first-generation college students at schools like University of Maine at Augusta—Rockland Center. For a student unable to pay for snow tires or a steep utility bill, the U-Rock Scholarship fund can mean the difference between success and failure. When you take out your checkbook to help your alma mater, please consider including an equal share to the “U-Rock Scholarship Fund,” 91 Camden Street, Suite 402, Rockland, ME 04841.

Those students will appreciate your help! If you want to support a similar fund elsewhere, dig just a little and you’ll find one.

Likewise, if you feel drawn to give to the causes of any of the recently destroyed religious sites in the world, why not give HALF of the money you planned to donate to that cause and use the other half to save lives in your own community.

In psychologist Abraham Maslow’s hierarchy of human needs, having a roof over your head is right there at the base. For hard-working women and men who are recovering from substance use disorder, having a recovery-friendly supportive place to live is a must. It’s also not easy to come by. Without secure supportive housing, chances for relapse increase. The alternative is to create turning points for people who need them.

Deserving organizations are aplenty, but let me tell you about one that I care about deeply.

The men who live in Rockland’s The Friends House  demonstrate to me the value of such investment in the future. Their lives are in success mode now, and it shows. Just ask any volunteer who’s worked with the men. They typically leave The Friends House with even greater determination to help than when they’d arrived.

Once construction of a stairway tower is completed, the house will be up to code to accommodate up to a dozen more men, with the increased income from the men’s rent making the house self-sustaining. On a typical day, MCRC Director Ira Mandel receives three calls asking for such housing, so the need here in Maine is enormous. Here’s how you can help:

Don’t have much to give? Don’t let that stop you. It all adds up. And your chipping in just might encourage another person to do the same. SHARE this message with people in your social network.

Let’s think twice about where and how we donate. Put that money where it will make the greatest difference. Thank you!

Ned Bachus is the author of Open Admissions: What Teaching at Community College Taught Me About Learning (Wild River Books, 2017) and of the “Turning Points” weekly blog on City of Brotherly Love (Fleur-de-Lis Books), his book of stories, was awarded the 2013 IPPY Gold Medal for Literary Fiction. Bachus’s article, “Learning From Turning Points in Our Teaching Lives,” will be featured in the May issue of NEA Higher Education Advocate, which reaches over 150,000 college faculty in the U.S.