Americans have been stereotyped as both wonderfully generous and stubbornly stingy. You can certainly find both in whatever part of the state you find yourself. The Philanthropy Roundtable indicates that Tennesseans gave 4.5% of their gross income in 2016, making Tennessee the 4th most generous state in the Union. Of all giving, almost three-fourths of donations come from individuals. We support religious causes (39%), education (19%), human services (15%), and health care needs (11%). We also give to support the arts, the environment, and causes outside the country. Charitable giving in the United States equals about 2% of the nation’s GDP.
Although Americans give throughout the year, autumn brings a host of opportunities to do so. Cooler temperatures and harvest festivals bring people together and lend themselves to sharing resources with those less fortunate. You will likely see Veterans’ support groups handing out flags and asking for donations around Veterans Day. The Tuesday after Thanksgiving has been designated #GivingTuesday. Soon you will see the iconic “bell ringers” from the Salvation Army standing in front of stores ringing a bell for your change to be put in a red “kettle.” The Marine Corps collects new, unwrapped toys for local children in a Toys for Tots Campaign every year. Angel Tree is a ministry of Prison Fellowship to children whose parent(s) are incarcerated.
Not only do Americans donate money, they also give of their time. 25% of adults and 63 million children and adults volunteered an average of 139 hours last year. Volunteering in a good way to meet a variety of people, not just the smiling student faces you see in advertising brochures. Although international students are unable to to work off campus, volunteering is not prohibited. At Thanksgiving and Christmastime many people volunteer to serve meals at shelters or bring food to the elderly. Perhaps your school will collect coats and jackets for Coats For Kids. Many groups work together to pack shoeboxes full of gifts for Samaritan’s Purse. If you want to volunteer for a longer period of time, it is a good idea to let your International Student Advisor know what you are doing. Your advisor may want to note it in your records so that there will not be any concerns about it later.
In November 2016, wildfires in Tennessee destroyed 17,000 acres of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park and parts of nearby resort towns. The fires affected almost 2,500 homes and businesses and killed 14. Tennesseans came together in creative and moving ways to send help to families and even their pets and wildlife. From across the nation, donations came in. Singer Dolly Parton, who was born in this area, created a fund called My People that would give 900 families money for five months. Mountain Tough Recovery Team continues to provide assistance. As these names imply, the people of Sevierville see themselves as survivors and you will find Tennesseans to be fiercely loyal to their neighbors. And when you come to Tennessee you will likely find that neighbor to be you as well.