My mother was born in Brooklyn, New York, a first-generation daughter of Romanian immigrants. She was perpetually embarrassed by her father’s “foreignness,” a man who never lost his accent and could never correctly pronounce words that begin with the letter “w” (they sounded like they began with a “v”).
She sought to assimilate, best she could. In Danbury, Connecticut, she was editor of her public high school newspaper, co-editor of the 1948 yearbook, a cheerleader. She was voted as having the “most beautiful lips.” She graduated from the all-women’s Russell Sage College in Troy, New York, with a bachelor’s in English, and moved to New York City, a proud moment as she got her first apartment—a young woman living alone, holding a job as a copy editor for a book publisher, making it in the world.
And like so many women of that generation, she gave that up all too quickly: to meet her parents’ expectations, to marry my father, to move to an industrial steel town (he was an engineer and that’s where the work was), to raise a family. While my brothers and I are grateful for that decision, more importantly, she never lost her feisty, independent spirit.
And it’s that spirit that was firmly planted in me—both independence (the Monterey County Weekly, an independent newspaper, celebrated its 31st year), and the sense of seeing that even as one individual, there is something bigger than ourselves and we each have the opportunity to serve our community.
In my early years, I learned many things my mother intended (for example, proper grammar and respect of others). In my teen years, I learned some lessons unintended by doing the opposite of what my mother wished. Through it all, I also learned by watching how my mom lived her own life.
She grew to become a devotee of the community: an active mother who helped form our neighborhood action coalition, a neighborhood organizer who helped fight off a pending (large) disco from opening its doors a block from our house. She later worked at a women’s health clinic to teach young women about reproductive rights and to stand up for themselves—something she knew something about, having learned to live with four men/boys in her own house.
She and I once graduated the same spring: She got a master’s degree in public administration in the same month I earned my high school diploma. She went straight to work again as I was leaving the nest, serving as a nonprofit director for the Arthritis Foundation for years to come.
A secret about my mom was that she had non-degenerative MS for 60-plus years. She didn’t share that with friends; she refused to have her life limited by the disease. Some days her legs would freeze up and she couldn’t stand. She fell so many times I lost count, and she’d get into sitting position and say, “Good thing I know how to fall.” Of course that was a myth, but her deeply ingrained fighting spirit persisted.
My mom knew how to stand up for herself, even if she wasn’t all that balanced or strong. Her fortitude permeated her life. She felt all of us should stand up for ourselves—while supporting other people.
Among the many ideas my mom taught me, that approach—to be givers, not takers—was one that has been especially influential. Ten years ago, the Weekly co-created Monterey County Gives! thanks to some awesome partnerships (and inspiration from mom). MCGives! was something my mother was especially proud of. We used to look at the website together on Dec. 31, and she got a kick out of watching last-minute donations roll in, and so many nonprofits getting support from so many generous community members; over $22.5 million has been raised and donated since inception.
My mom died in May of this year, on what would have been her 65th wedding anniversary (my dad preceded her in death).
As a woman who valued deeds over promises, Florence Haspel Zeve made a bequest in her will to the Community Foundation for Monterey County, earmarked for Monterey County Gives! I’m proud to announce that in addition to the three existing special awards sponsored by the Community Foundation (see p. 4), this year I get to introduce a new $1,000 special award: the Florence Haspel Zeve award for Women, Families, Education and/or the Arts. The award reflects my mom’s deep passions.
Last year, Monterey County Gives! had many accomplishments: We raised more money from more donors than the goals we’d set, had more millennial donors participate, had a record matching fund and a record amount of Challenge Gifts. My mom would want us to do that again, raising even more than $5.25 million to break a new record; increase the number of donors from 4,700 to a new high; and attract more younger donors.
Whatever amount you have to give, MCGives! invites everyone to be a philanthropist, supporting the Big Ideas that resonate with us to help make our community thrive.
Imagine if there were 10,000 of us in our community who donated through MCGives! That’s a goal that I once shared with my mother, and a goal we can ultimately achieve. It begins with each of us, one donor at a time.
You would have liked my mom. She was witty, loving, and she was engaged in her community. She had high praise for our collective efforts.
Join me, in honor of her legacy: Let’s be givers, not takers, together.
Bradley Zeve is the Founder & CEO of Monterey County Weekly and co-creator of Monterey County Gives!