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Giving and Getting

Our idea seemed solid enough. As a way to recognize the work the Johns Hopkins Tutorial Project has been doing for nearly half a century, senior writer Maria Blackburn would track down a handful of tutors and tutees who had kept in touch with each other over the years. We would bring them together to share reminiscences, then run their portraits in the magazine. Maria wanted to show how the program had created lasting relationships between Hopkins students and Baltimore kids, and she loved the idea of beautiful photography paired with personal stories.

However, while her reporting did uncover some pairs who had maintained contact, she also heard story after story of tutors who had lost touch with their pupils, but who'd nevertheless been profoundly influenced by their experiences as volunteers. "Some of the most lasting effects that Tutorial had were on the tutors themselves," Maria said. "The program made a difference to Hopkins kids by opening their eyes to a world outside their own." She noticed just how many of those former tutors were now working as teachers, as public defenders, in juvenile justice, and in other socially committed professions. These were stories she couldn't tell if we'd stuck to our original plan, so she wrote her article, "The Tutor Period" (page 40), as a history instead. (And we did manage to work in those beautiful photographs, taken by Mike Ciesielski.)

This is Johns Hopkins sophomore Jennifer Peng's second semester as a Tutorial Project volunteer. Here, she tutors Roland Park Elementary second-grader Alexis Tisdale.
Photo by Mike Ciesielski
Her story in its final form reminded me of a conversation I had with Michael Eicher, vice president for development and alumni relations, who I recently interviewed for a Wholly Hopkins story about the Knowledge for the World campaign's new goal (page 19). We were talking about why people give to Hopkins, especially non-alumni, and he referred to a book called Who Really Cares: The Surprising Truth About Compassionate Conservatism, by Arthur C. Brooks.

Brooks is a professor of public administration at Syracuse University, and his book argues that conservatives give more than liberals do, the result of their belief in family, religion, and the idea that individuals, not government, should take care of others. Mike was most interested in Brooks' idea about the impact that giving has on the giver. "Brooks talks about donors being generally happier people, and about some of the research [suggesting that] the act of giving connects you with things that are bigger than your life," Mike told me. "That provides some sense of meaning, some purpose. I don't know that I'd go so far as to do a cause and effect — it's possible that happier people just make better donors. But it's very thought-provoking, that the act of connecting to society and to purposes that are important to the quality of our lives makes your life richer and gives you a sense of purpose. I buy some of that."

I buy that, too. And I find it heartening — amid relentless accounts of corporate greed, political shenanigans, and our supposedly fractured society — to hear and to tell stories about people who prefer generosity, integrity, and connection.

Plenty of students come to Hopkins and get caught up in the grind. It's a tough school, and it demands a lot of focus. But the Tutorial Project, along with the many other volunteering opportunities on campus, offers them a way to get involved in something bigger.

That's a good thing — a different kind of knowledge for the world.

-Catherine Pierre

P.S. The folks at Tutorial Project are planning the program's 50th anniversary celebration for 2008, and they're trying to collect stories from former tutors and tutees. If you've got one, you can send it to them at

Return to February 2007 Table of Contents

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