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When it comes to philanthropy, the legacy of Andrew Carnegie is a model for today.

ALBA Farmworkers

ALBA, an organization that trains farmworkers in organic farm management, and helps them advance their careers toward farm ownership, is just one nonprofit taking part in the 2022 edition of Monterey County Gives!

Bradley Zeve here, reflecting on the legacy of Andrew Carnegie. Having amassed the greatest personal fortune of his time, Carnegie, the legendary Scottish-American industrialist, became the greatest philanthropist of his generation, too. 

Carnegie, who died more than 100 years ago, arrived in this country at the age of 13, poor and uneducated (his father died while on the immigration journey with Andrew and his brother). His first job was at a cotton mill, then as a messenger for a local telegraph company, then the railroad. He was a voracious reader and utilized a private library shared by a local citizen—made available to local, working boys.

His rags to riches story was in part thanks to hard work and timely investments into core elements of the industrial revolution: steel, iron, railroads. It paid off, handsomely.

Carnegie first became philanthropic at age 35, and that expanded into a lifetime goal of doing “real and permanent good in this world.” He sought to make individuals and society independent rather than dependent: “Wealth is not to feed our egos, but to feed the hungry and to help people help themselves.” And Carnegie believed that we ought to give our money away before our death: “The man who dies thus rich dies disgraced.”

Andrew Carnegie never forgot his early roots and believed with wealth came responsibility. By the time of his death, Carnegie had given away $350 million. “It was from my own early experience that I decided there was no use to which money could be applied so productive of good to boys and girls who have good within them and ability and ambition to develop it…”

Carnegie founded 2,509 libraries in the late 19th and early 20th centuries (1,679 of them were built in the U.S., including in Salinas, Pacific Grove and Monterey). He founded Carnegie Mellon University, Carnegie museums, and many, many more institutions, some of which you may know. When he died, he still had $30 million to give away, which in large part ($10 million) went to establish the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace. Carnegie was also a devoted pacifist. He sought to achieve world peace through the power of international laws, and to avert conflict through mediation. He supported the founding of the Peace Palace in The Hague.

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The arc of Carnegie’s life is one we all ought to emulate. While most of us won’t become the richest person on the planet, we can share Carnegie’s aspirations. We can die with little money. Our lives can be representative of this spirit. What could be a higher calling?

Monterey County Gives!, which launches today, Nov. 10, is a fabulous local conduit and catalyst in support of these ideals and purposes. Its impact is real and measurable. Your donation to any of the 202 selected nonprofits in the 2022 MCGives! furthers our community’s legacy of creating and supporting real and permanent good. Every donation matters, so please, give what feels right and encourage your friends and family to join you. 

It’s been immensely rewarding to be one of the instigators and key partners in Monterey County Gives! But our work will never cease. Nonprofits are doing vital work, often thanklessly. They need all of us to join in. 

Thank you.

Read full newsletter here.

Founding Editor & CEO of the Weekly, September 1988. Bradley serves as the Free Speech Chair on the board of the national Association of Alternative Newsmedia.

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