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The word philanthropy is derived from the Greek words "philos," which means loving, and "anthropos," which means humankind. Anyone can be a philanthropist. Philanthropy means generosity in all its forms and is often defined as giving gifts of "time, talent, or treasure" to help make life better for others.

Philanthropy is important, because it provides opportunities. We benefit directly from philanthropy through our libraries, schools, hospitals, performing arts centers and museums supported by generous philanthropists. Philanthropy also supports scientific research, scholarships, civil rights endeavors, social services and other societal benefits. Today, philanthropists that may come to mind might include Bill and Melinda Gates, and T. Denny Sanford.

But the vast majority of philanthropists are not famous. You probably haven’t heard of Albert and Laverne Elliott of Sturgis, South Dakota. Al and Laverne were active community members. Al was an administrator at the VA and Laverne taught first grade, and they both volunteered their "time, talent and treasure" within their community during their lifetimes. Many of us are a lot like Al and Laverne. Now that they both have passed, their philanthropic legacy will greatly impact Sturgis for generations through a gift from their estate.

I have had the privilege of working with the Elliott family to facilitate charitable gifts that will be an ongoing celebration of the lives that Al and Laverne led in Sturgis. The first gift created the Albert and Laverne Elliott First Responder Fund last fall, which generated a gift to the family of the Sturgis Fire Department assistant chief who died while responding to a house fire in Tilford. In addition, two significant gifts have been given to the Sturgis Public Library to create the Albert and Laverne Elliott Children's Learning Center and to establish a perpetual endowment at the Black Hills Area Community Foundation to provide an ongoing resource for the Library. They have also provided gifts to the Sturgis Area Arts Council and the Old Ft. Meade Museum. In addition, the Albert and Laverne Elliott Fund for Arts and Literacy has been established at the Black Hills Area Community Foundation and will provide an ongoing grant resource for charitable work in Sturgis. The organizations that Al and Laverne contributed to during their lifetimes will continue to benefit from these gifts.

Al and Laverne Elliott’s legacy is an example of philanthropy for the rest of us. Philanthropy doesn’t require the wealth of Bill and Melinda Gates or T. Denny Sanford.

This week, the Black Hills Area Community Foundation and the John T. Vucurevich Foundation will be hosting conversations for a team of researchers from Stanford University. The team will be facilitating conversations about philanthropy with a variety of groups to learn what we do to give and why. These conversations will inform the research being done by Dr. Lucy Bernholz, director of the Stanford University Digital Society Lab for a book called How we Give Now (MIT Press, 2021).

The Black Hills is one of a handful of areas across the country that will be participating in these conversations. As a participant, we will receive community mapping information that will allow us to build on these conversations locally.

People show they care about their communities in a variety of ways. The Elliott’s legacy will live on forever through endowments which will impact the Sturgis community for the better for generations. At the Black Hills Area Community Foundation we work with a wide range philanthropists, connecting people who care to causes that matter.

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Liz Hamburg is executive director of the Black Hills Area Community Foundation.

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