I was in Washington, D.C., recently for the 2017 National Forum on Family Philanthropy. There, author and thinker Robert Putnam presented material from his book Our Kids: The American Dream in Crisis. This is a book we’ve been passing around at The H. E. Butt Family Foundation since it became a New York Times bestseller in 2015.
Like Putnam and the other family foundations represented at the event, we, too, want all kids to have the same great opportunities. We, too, want to address the opportunity gap—the growing disparity between the top and bottom thirds in our country.
Putnam doesn’t have easy answers for readers, and he didn’t have easy answers for his audience that day. There is good news, though. His research continues to confirm that four simple things correlate with children having a better chance at the American Dream. Read to children. Have dinner together. Provide extracurricular activities. Worship together.
It struck me how many of those things we offer in our programs. For example, at Singing Hills this summer, counselors read to young campers every night from The Jesus Storybook Bible. In every program, guests share meals together. Our activities send them on mountain bikes, paddleboards, and rugged hiking trails.
We also invite our guests to worship God. LLYC and Family Camp have Roundup. Laity Lodge gathers in the Great Hall and the Cody Center. Foundation Camps and HEBFF Outdoor experience God’s grandeur in the natural beauty of the Frio River Canyon.
When people visit our programs, they live out these rituals that we all need in our lives and that Putnam has found to be essential. His work is helping us see what it looks like to go deeper with the families and children we serve, and it affirms so much of what we have been doing since 1933.
Years ago, Mary Holdsworth Butt planted bald cypress trees, just saplings, along the river. Today, those majestic trees are 70 feet tall, and they bring such joy because of Mrs. Butt’s foresight.
A bald cypress grows about 18 inches per year. It’s not much, but they grow slow and steady in the right environment.
Each year, we hope our guests grow a little stronger, a little more healthy. Until generations from now, children will become better parents, parents will become better grandparents, and these healthy families will bring such joy to everyone they meet. That is a dream worth preserving.
David Rogers, President
The H. E. Butt Foundation