I recently attended the Grantmakers in Aging conference here in Kansas City. The Grantmakers in Aging, the host of the conference, is an organization that celebrates aging. The organization speaks of the importance of an age-friendly community — one where, as their website says, a person can grow up and grow old. They support the statement that a, “society that is better for older adults is a society that is better for people of all ages.”
While this is an annual conference, 2013 marked my first time in attendance. I think that aging presents great challenges and opportunities for communities. I am so encouraged that communities are approaching this shift with thoughtful planning.
Conference speakers (left to right): Bill Dunn, Sr., chairman emeritus JE Dunn Construction; Henry Bloch, chairman emeritus of H&R Block; Barnett Helzberg, Jr., former chairman of the board at Helzberg Diamonds, founder of the Helzberg Entrepreneurial Mentoring Program; and Gene Wilson, retired senior vice president of Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation and John Knox Village trustee, who served as a moderator for the group.
During the conference, we had the privilege of listening to three of the area’s prominent leaders talk about their history in Kansas City first as businessmen, and later as philanthropists. Bill Dunn of JE Dunn Construction, Barnett Helzberg of Helzberg Diamonds, and Henry Bloch of H&R Block, shared their combined 270 years of experience related to social change, education and investment in people and organizations that have the potential to change the Kansas City area.
The men had obviously been dear friends for years and had a common sense of community, passion for their work and a great sense of humor about life. They all expressed desire to keep working at things that they enjoyed and to remain involved, even as their ages advanced.
Their discussion focused on making long-lasting changes, supporting self-sufficiency, of having high expectations for people and of themselves, and of good stewardship.
Here are a few of their inspirational stories and experiences:
- Mr. Bloch discussed how he got his children interested in philanthropy. His daughter wanted him to give some money to a cause and he asked her to split the cost. She said, “Dad I was really hoping you would pay the whole thing!” Mr. Bloch smiled, and they have been splitting these charitable investments since. He was very proud of the continued charitable activities of his children over the years.
- Mr. Dunn spoke with deep compassion about his commitment to people who have been in jail, and the incredible housing and employment challenges they face after a conviction. He has for many years supported education and reintegration training efforts to help released prisoners.
- Mr. Helzberg talked about his passion for education and the pride he felt when the students at University Academy charter school have had excellent academic successes, and how their success changes many generations to come.
Their deep kindness and commitment to the town that they love came through loud and clear.
I was buoyed by their humbleness and recognition that all people do not have the advantages that they have acquired over their lifetimes. I count myself among the lucky to have been present for this piece of living Kansas City history, and to remind myself of what a steady, lifetime commitment to my community can produce.