"Duh" moment about Atheist Charity

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"Duh" moment about Atheist Charity

So, yet again, the strawman of "atheists don't do charity" has been raised, and it occured to me a few seconds ago that we've been ignoring an obvious point.

Atheism is simply a lack of theism, right?

So, duh...

Every charity that is not specifically linked to theism is an atheist charity!

Why have we been slamming our heads into a wall trying to come up with "Atheist BlahBlahBlah Charity"?  As we all know, we are simply not believers in God.  Therefore, the "Great American Bake Sale" that I just saw advertised on the Food Network, is atheist.  Its purpose is to end inner city child hunger by encouraging neighborhood bake sales.  Not church sponsored.  Just charity.

By trying to find the word "atheist" in charities, we've been taking out 99% of the charities that are implicitly atheist.  If it's not theist, it's atheist, whether the goal of the charity includes the promotion of atheism in addition to the charitable work.

Anybody feel like doing some research and coming up with a book page listing all (ok, maybe not all... a lot of) the non-theist charities in America?


Atheism isn't a lot like religion at all. Unless by "religion" you mean "not religion". --Ciarin

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Bill Gates is an Atheist, so

Bill Gates is an Atheist, so is Ted Turner and Warren Buffett and they have donated billions to charity.  How many Christian billionares have donated billions to charity?  I can't think of any.

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Notice how the school

Notice how the school teacher insisted on assigning credit for this guy to god, even though he's a self made millionaire, and atheist?  09/26/02, 13:08He felt the bumps, smooths the way
Philanthropy: A Baltimore man puts his riches to work supporting inner-city schoolchildren.
By Kate Shatzkin
Sun Staff
Originally published September 25, 2002

LaUanah King-Cassell still remembers the call. A rich man was on the phone, making noises about wanting to visit her school full of poor, East Baltimore students.

"I really thought he was a salesman or a crank call," said King-Cassell, the principal of St. James and John School. "I was like, 'What?' I was very short with him."

But once she met Wilson "Tom" Gildee, King-Cassell changed her mind: "I'll just say I knew it was a gift from God."

Gildee, a self-made millionaire from Pimlico, had plucked the school's name out of the Yellow Pages - a first attempt at his new career as a philanthropist. Five years later, he is paying tuition for 120 children in four inner-city private schools, including St. James and John.

Parentless by the age of 5 and a largely absent father for years to his own son, Gildee has embarked on a campaign to pay for the education of hundreds of children in private schools like the one that formed his earliest experiences.

When his philanthropic plan is fully realized seven years from now, Gildee will be giving more than $1 million a year to educate 260 children at a time, from kindergarten to high school graduation.

Gildee is a man of contradiction. He grew up poor in Pimlico to reach what many would consider the pinnacle of success, making more than $15 million from the sale of a technology company he founded. He sings "The World on a String" on his answering machine, yet his life is whipsawed by an endless quest for self-improvement.

An atheist, he is paying for children to learn at Catholic and Christian schools. A smart-mouthed troublemaker as a student, he expects his scholars to act right and fly straight.

His tale shows how coming into wealth, the dream of many a poor kid, is seldom the end of a story. For Tom Gildee, it has been an instrument for good along the path of a personal evolution that, one senses, will never be finished.

Wiry and well-dressed, Gildee, 55, speaks with the energy of an entrepreneur in an accent from the Baltimore streets. His hair is curly, as if wild with his head's ideas. His face has an elfin quality that springs to life when he talks about children - and about his own constantly evolving possibilities.

"If I wanted just to feel good, I would just give $1 million a year until I retire," Gildee said. "But I want to know how it turned out."

Gildee is far from the only millionaire to throw his money into private-school scholarships. Paying for low-income children to attend such schools has become a popular form of philanthropy over the past decade. The Children's Scholarship Fund, started with $100 million by two wealthy businessmen, is one of the largest, providing grants in Maryland and 48 other states.

Do-it-yourself project

Gildee's program is unique locally, educators and philanthropists say, both because of its magnitude and because he has designed it largely on his own. The gifts have drawn the admiration of the area's established philanthropic sector.

"This is a guy who can walk with college presidents and walk with the most disadvantaged kid, and communicate with both of them at the exact same level," said Walter D. Pinkard, chairman of the Baltimore Community Foundation board, who invited Gildee to be a member.

Gildee's beginnings couldn't have predicted his life would turn out this way. He lived in a modest rowhouse across from what is now Pimlico Elementary School, with his mother, grandmother and older brother.

He never knew his father. By the time he was 5, his mother had left, too, without explaining why or keeping in touch.

But one constant was St. Ambrose Catholic School a few blocks away, where Gildee's grandmother sent him. She thought that it was important for him to get a good education and that the nuns there would provide structure.

Some of the nuns believed in the boy. Others thought he was nothing but trouble. Gildee was a class clown who, through the years, grew more belligerent. In eighth grade, he announced he didn't believe in God and was banned from graduation.

"He was a hellion - I mean capital H," said Joe Spinnichio, a computer programmer at the Social Security Administration and Gildee's best friend since grade school. "He was in your face, with people, teachers, school. ... He could have easily had his entire life ruined, many more times than several."

When Gildee was 15, his grandmother died - and his wild streak got worse.

He lived with a few different relatives, even with Spinnichio's family for a time. Though he was accepted to the prestigious "A-course" at Baltimore Polytechnic Institute - then one of the nation's top engineering high schools - he began drinking and had frequent encounters with the police.

Finally, he was caught cheating on a calculus final he hadn't studied for - the last exam of the last year of high school.

"Some guys thought it was tragic," said Lou Sardella, a fellow A-course student who went on to found his own successful company, Sun Automation, in Cockeysville. "And other guys thought it was coming to him."

Gildee had enough credits to graduate from the high school's regular course, but he wasn't allowed to walk across the stage to receive his diploma. And he had lost his chance for the opportunities an A-course diploma brought. No matter - at the time, Gildee had no interest in going to college.

He went to work at an insurance firm, only to be drafted into the Army. There, Gildee had an experience that would change his life.

He was still drinking, even on guard duty in a nuclear missile unit near Frankfurt, Germany. A month before his tour was to end, he held his gun on a sergeant while he was drunk.

Gildee faced a court-martial, but another sergeant - one of those people who believed in him - intervened. Gildee was sent home with an honorable discharge, but for the last 30 days of his tour, he had round-the-clock guard duty.

During those hours, Gildee re-examined his life: "I began really getting that I had to play by the rules, or I was going to die."

Tying up loose ends

Taking advantage of the GI Bill, he enrolled in night school at the Johns Hopkins University while working during the day. It took him six years to finish, but for the first time, he graduated from the stage.

There was one more piece of unfinished business. Still at Hopkins, Gildee went back to Poly and asked to take his A-course calculus final over again.

School officials were impressed. Without requiring him to take the exam, they awarded him the A-course diploma.

Gildee's personal life, meanwhile, was following old patterns. His marriage to a Baltimore woman just before his military service was disintegrating. He had left his family by the time his only son, Craig, was 5 - his age when his mother left him. They saw each other mainly on weekends and holidays.

"I hadn't gotten below the superficial level of what it means to have a child and love a child," he said.

Gildee turned his attention to work. He learned how to write computer-programming language and worked on software for processing Medicare claims at the Social Security Administration.

From a shoestring

When the government decided to get out of that business, Gildee saw an opportunity. In 1979 he founded his own company to do similar work, calling it Viable Information Processing Systems, or VIPS.

Starting with a handful of employees and a string of all-nighters, he built the business, his net worth, and a sprawling house on 9 acres atop a wooded ridge in Reisterstown. He created a long drive lined with dogwood trees, a chandeliered dining room modeled after one in Colonial Williamsburg, and a porch with a painted mural of deer grazing in a meadow.

Still, he didn't feel complete. Haunted by his mother's abandonment years before, he resolved to find her. It turned out she had been living in Westminster - not 15 miles away.

Once found, his mother told Gildee why she had left: Because her own mother had thrown her out of the house.

Three months after Gildee found his mother, she died suddenly of lung cancer. Neither of them had seen it coming. "You never had a mama, and then you started to have one, and maybe it could have been something really beautiful," Gildee said.

A few years later, Gildee decided to sell his company because he didn't think it could flourish long by itself. And he wanted to retire by the age of 50.

"I realized that someone else could do this job the way I viewed it, and I was ready for something else," he said.

In 1993, Gildee struck a $30 million deal to sell VIPS. Half that amount went to him personally. By now, the company had more than 220 workers.

He spent the next four years helping to manage his old firm through its transition to new ownership - and pondering what to do with the money he got from the sale. Gildee thought back 40 years, to the nuns at St. Ambrose.

He decided he would give away millions to the kids who were once like him. He created a foundation, calling it KIDS-R-VIPS - a marriage of the business name that had made it possible and the priority these unknown children would have in his new life. He would invest his earnings and live off part of the interest.

In 1997, two weeks before his 50th birthday, Gildee retired - and became a full-time philanthropist. His early attempts took small, struggling schools by surprise.

When he visited Baltimore Christian School in Waverly, it was so new it took students only through the fourth grade. But Gildee was impressed that parents were expected to volunteer. After his first visit, Gildee gave $10,000, recalled former Principal Mary Beth Hardin.

"We hadn't gotten much from foundations," Hardin said. "We got a lot of people giving $25 or $50 a month - $10,000 coming in was just a huge thing."

For Gildee, that was just a toe in the water. He created a formal scholarship program, complete with rules for 20 children chosen each year from four schools - St. Ambrose, St. James and John, Baltimore Christian and Father Charles Hall School in West Baltimore.

They had to keep at least a B average. Suspensions, poor attendance and pregnancies (for girls and the boys who caused them) would not be tolerated. Parents had to sign an agreement to keep a drug-free home.

Gildee offered to pay only about 80 percent of tuition; he believed parents would be more invested in their children's success if they had to pay something. If his conditions are met, he has promised to support the children through high school.

Investments hurting

The plunging stock market has forced Gildee to re-examine whether he can carry through on that commitment. If his investments slide much further, he says, he would have to cut back first on gifts to other schools, then on new scholars. But he vows not to abandon those already chosen.

That support is crucial to students such as Jeremy Freeman and Leon Johnson Jr., who are friends and Gildee scholars at Father Charles Hall. Like 80 percent of the Gildee scholars, they come from single-parent homes. Their houses are well kept, full of school pictures, trophies and report cards covered with As.

Their mothers said they would never be able to afford the school without Gildee's help.

"He's interested in every kid," Leon's mother, Lenora Fleming, said. "He wants to have a relationship, whether he can remember your name or not."

Not every student has lived up to Gildee's standards. A third-grader was expelled from Baltimore Christian after reportedly getting physical with a teacher. Another child moved, and another was dropped for low grades.

Gildee is unfazed. "I didn't expect to lose a third-grader," he said. "But I'm sure I'll lose some eighth-, ninth- and 10th-graders, because I would never have made it through this program."

There is a personal side to his reaching out. Prompted by a self-improvement seminar, he has determined to strengthen family connections. He pledged to become more involved in the raising of his 13-year-old granddaughter, Ocean, whose parents also split up. Now she lives with Judy Gildee, her grandmother and Tom Gildee's ex-wife of nearly 30 years.

Though Tom Gildee is involved in a serious relationship with another woman, he is working with his ex-wife to form what she calls "the most functional dysfunctional family in the world." With their son, who is re-establishing his own relationship with Ocean, and significant others, they take vacations, spend holidays and have regular dinners together.

New viewpoints

His self-improvement program has led Gildee to view his philanthropy differently, too. He started out believing that public schools were too far gone to improve. Now he's reviewing that thinking. "If I really want to create better possibilities for children, why am I not playing in this bigger game?" he said.

To that end, he has been giving money to the New Song preschool in Sandtown-Winchester, a nonprofit feeder program that tries to prepare children for public kindergarten with an experimental curriculum. This year, Gildee has given the school more than $60,000.

Louise Sutherland, the school's director, gushes to Gildee when he visits about the difference the curriculum and his support are making. "I have 3-year-olds writing their names," she says triumphantly. "They are ready for kindergarten."

Without really understanding who Gildee is, the kids are instantly his friends. They want to know: Is Miss Louise his mother? "She's my friend," he replies, laughing. "We work together."

He follows them from snack time to card games to the gym next door, where the kids dart about with jump ropes and basketballs. Gildee throws himself into the mix. His arms form a basketball hoop. He bounces on the tips of his tasseled loafers. In his pressed khakis, he skips over a child-sized rope.

And finally, he hoists each wriggling, laughing preschooler above his head, running headlong toward the real basket. Perched on his shoulders, they are tall enough to shoot. http://forum.cygnus-study.com/archive/index.php/t-4052.html

Atheism isn't a lot like religion at all. Unless by "religion" you mean "not religion". --Ciarin

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