giving back to the givers

After spending 2017 slowly minimizing, donating and letting go of the inessentials, I am finally beginning to understand that the only things worth keeping are those that bring you joy. This holiday season, instead of circulating more junk from Amazon, I decided to spend my money and my time on the people who bring joy to others. More than simply writing a check to charity, I wanted to do my local due diligence by giving back to the givers in my own community. So, I decided to sponsor an individual here in Austin who, through her own merits and ingenuity, is making the world a better place and bringing joy to countless others in the process.

When I met Elizabeth Stephens, I knew I had met that individual. Elizabeth is an oncology nurse at Dell Children’s Hospital who spends her free time travelling to rural areas in Central America helping impoverished kids with cleft palates find their smile. When she isn’t earning a salary supporting kids with cancer here at the Children’s Hospital, she is spending her salary to help kids in El Salvador, Mexico, Guatemala, Nicaragua and the Dominican Republic. I later learned that she had been sacrificing her entire savings to this end.

Since 2009, Elizabeth has participated in 14 medical missions with Austin Smiles focusing on cleft lip and palate repair all over Central America. All surgeries and medications are provided at no cost to the patients. She also joined other charitable organizations to provide medical care in Haiti after the 2010 earthquake. In each instance, Elizabeth funded her own airfare, accommodations and vaccinations, all while setting aside money for gifts like toys, coloring books and crayons for the kids, food for the local community and tools for local nurses. Between trip fees, expenses and time off work, she spends a significant portion of her nursing salary every year travelling to provide safe medical care to kids who desperately need it.

By reimbursing Elizabeth’s most recent trips and funding her return to the missions in Central America, I hope my donation will allow Elizabeth to continue giving her gift to the world. Ultimately, I hope this offering will help Elizabeth to continue her good work here in Austin as well. Elizabeth confides that bringing smiles to kids with cleft palates allows her to be a better children’s oncology nurse, where smiles are sometimes more difficult to come by. This is precisely the attitude that makes me so invested in Elizabeth and her practice. When we have enough to give, I hope we always remember the givers; they multiply our gifts a hundred-fold.