The Power of Half: One Family's Decision to Stop Taking and Start Giving Back

The Power of Half: One Family's Decision to Stop Taking and Start Giving Back

by Hannah Salwen, Kevin Salwen


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Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780547394541
Publisher: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
Publication date: 01/07/2011
Pages: 246
Sales rank: 1,043,411
Product dimensions: 4.90(w) x 7.40(h) x 0.90(d)
Lexile: 1010L (what's this?)
Age Range: 14 - 18 Years

About the Author

Hannah Salwen  is a junior at the Atlanta Girls’ School. She has been volunteering consistently since the fifth grade.

Kevin Salwen was a reporter and editor at the Wall Street Journal for more than eighteen years. He serves on the board of Habitat for Humanity and works with the U.S. Olympic Committee.

Read an Excerpt

The Treadmill
7 55 5 6 5 7 5 6 5
Unless someone like you cares a whole awful lot,
nothing is going to get better. It's not.
-_Dr. Seuss, The Lorax
t's flat-out awkward for two people to share a pair of sewing scissors among their ten right-hand fingers, but Hannah and the tribal chief are trying their best. After a few seconds of what looks like thumb wrestling, they evenly control the scissors' gray plastic handle, then carefully move toward the sky-blue ribbon stretched across the door in front of them.
 Forget Oscar Madison and Felix Unger. This is the oddest couple I've ever seen: a grinning fifteen-year-old white American girl in her wicking REI khakis and an earnest seventyish African tribal chief in gold and brown ceremonial robes worn like a toga across his left shoulder. She speaks English and has come six thousand miles for this. He speaks the tribal language Twi, and I'm guessing he has never left the West African nation of Ghana, except for maybe a vacation journey to neighboring Togo or Burkina Faso.
 Yet here they are, pairing up for the opening ceremony of this new hand-cranked corn mill. For all their differences, they share a goal of helping this rural community on its path out of poverty, the chief because these are his people and Hannah because she is so eager to make the world a little better that she has uprooted her family and pledged more than $800,000 to help villagers in a country she couldn't locate on a map a year ago.
 Their eyes meet for a second, the chief's gray goatee and mostly bald head contrasting with Hannah's auburn hair, which falls to the middle of her back and is frizzing in the July West African heat. The chief is silent as Hannah quickly and quietly counts, “One, two, three.” Her plan is for them to squeeze the scissors at precisely the same time. As usual, Hannah is striving for fairness.
 I am standing on the other side of the ribbon, swelling with pride in our daughter. For months we've been talking about moments just like this: How doing with a little less ourselves can improve the lives of people surviving on less than a dollar a day. How we can enable opportunity for African girls who otherwise would carry corn for hours, missing school while their parents work in the fields. How humble structures like this simple cinder-block building will keep more young women pursuing education, creating much better life options for themselves. Now that dream is happening right before my eyes. And Hannah, the girl who so often crawled into bed with my wife, Joan, and me when she was younger, is fully in charge, almost an adult in her own right.

Only an hour ago our family had arrived here in Abisu Number One, which we were thrilled to find on our very detailed, two-sided map of Ghana. Amazingly, in a country no bigger than the state of Oregon, we have spent two days visiting village after village too insignificant to be mapped. That said, Abisu Number One doesn't even get its own name, instead sharing it with nearby Abisu Number
 But that's part of why this mill is such a big deal. If your community is too insignificant to merit its own name, you're not going to have the political muscle to get any resources. Forget rising to the top of the list for the food processor, school project, or health-care facility. In Abisu Number One's case, it hasn't received electricity or running water either.
 As we emerged from our vehicles in Abisu Number One, Hannah, her brother, Joseph, Joan, and I might as well have been wearing neon arrows screaming “Look here!” Like it or not, we are the center of attention. We are the outsiders_-_not just people from somewhere else, but the most foreign people for miles, miles uncrossed by villagers who don't have transportation. Small children point. They call us obruni (white person) as they see what they've never seen before, people with pale skin. They want to touch us, shake our hands, feel our arms, understand whether we're dierent.
 For our teenagers, it's a new world being the “other.” For all of Hannah's and Joseph's lives, they have been the majority: white kids in a mostly white world, English-speakers in an English-language society, affluent in an affluent community. Now we are the dierent ones, the ones with the name that the majority calls us.
 “It was really awkward to be put in the spotlight and kind of frightening at first to be the odd one out,” Joseph told me later. “It gave me kind of a fish-out-of-water experience.” Our five-foot, ten-inch redhead was about to turn fourteen, so there was no shortage of awkwardness in his life, but it was impossible to deny how much he stood out as the white kid with braces (a dental procedure, coincidentally, that cost as much as this corn mill we're dedicating, about $6,000).

Hannah and the chief are poised at the ribbon, and she has reached the count of three. Snip, cheer, and the race is on.
 Scores of cheering villagers sprint through the cut ribbon to the building's front door and pass under the hand-painted sign that announces the grandly and awkwardly named Improved Food Production and Security Program Food Processor. They are eager to see the mill, which will grind the corn used to make kenkey, a sticky, polenta-like food that serves as the staple for each day's meals.
 I don't realize it, but Joan doesn't race in with me. Always the reflective one in our family, she pauses to ponder the ribbon now dangling outside the building's front door. Hannah and the chief had cut the strip almost perfectly in half. Half, Joan was thinking. How appropriate.
 Inside the mill, a villager attaches the crank to the machine, which looks like a large supermarket meat grinder. One turn, a second turn, then the mill whirs to life. A cheer reverberates off the peach cinder-block walls and corrugated metal roof. Jubilant men and women grab handfuls of corn and toss them into the intake bin; others grab the powdery meal coming out the bottom and fling it into the air.
 “The energy in the room was amazing,” Hannah later wrote in her diary. “I'd never seen people so happy, and especially for grain! Unbelievable.”
 Not surprisingly, this moment had quite an impact on our fifteen-year-old. As Hannah told me later, “I couldn't believe that something taken completely for granted in our society could mean so much in another. We don't even realize the measures that these people go through to make huge changes in their community that seem insignificant in ours.”
 She gets it! Is it parenting? Or are Joan and I finally catching up to what Hannah has long known_-_that our little band of four has the power to make a difference?

We're a long way from home in every way. It's not just that Ghana is across the Atlantic Ocean from where we live in Atlanta, Georgia. It's more a frame of mind.
 I'll explain. I grew up in Brooklyn, the youngest of three children and the only boy in our Jewish family. My parents, as the expression goes, put the dys in dysfunctional, bitterly battling for years until they split for good when I was fourteen. My solution to all this was simple: just disappear. As I was graduating from high school, I figured a thousand miles was about far enough to leave the set of the real family feud behind. So I headed to Northwestern University, outside Chicago.
 When I think back, charity was nowhere on my family's radar. I can't remember a single day of volunteering anywhere. I can't remember making any contributions, except the day in the 1960s when my family gave away an old winter coat to “a bum” (the common term back then) on the Bowery in lower Manhattan. For my mother, a desire to hold on to what she had wasn't surprising; having grown up as the daughter of an immigrant elevator operator and a piecework seamstress, she never felt comfortable giving anything away, even as she advanced to become a college professor.
 My dad, the proverbial angry young man who aged into an angry old man, wasn't about to do the government's work. A lifelong socialist, he told me more than once, “There should be no need for charity. The government should take care of people's needs. Period.”
 At Northwestern, Joan King was three years behind me, a freshman when I was a senior. She was unlike anyone I had ever met. Joan had grown up in the most stable, most normal, most Protestant household I could imagine. She was completely unethnic. Her grandparents weren't just American-born; the family had generations of history tilling the rich black soil of Iowa.
 Joan's family perceived charity the way many middle-class Americans did in the '60s and '70s: take care of the family first, then the church. There was the UNICEF box at Halloween, the occasional project with the Boy Scouts. But in general the United Methodist Church's mission arm, UMCOR, would handle the good works with the family's contributions.
 Behind our clearly different upbringings, Joan and I recognized kindred spirits. The kids of four teachers, we knew the value of education. And we were eager to build careers, snare promotions, upgrade our lifestyle.
 After graduation I joined the Wall Street Journal, where I moved from entry-level copy editor to reporter to columnist, then to the Washington bureau to help cover the first Bush administration and then the Clinton administration. I flew on Air Force One, interviewed senators on the private Capitol subway, did the black-tie party scene with those unnamed “senior administration officials.” Meanwhile, Joan was hired by the consulting firm that would become Accenture. There, through an intense work ethic and a good eye for smart mentors, Joan systematically knocked down the dominoes of projects and promotions as part of that second generation of successful businesswomen that came just after the trailblazers. She helped the state of Washington build a better tax system and New York City's Board of Elections become more efficient.
 Almost imperceptibly we rushed into our Accumulation Years. You know them, don't you? You earn more, you live larger. The bigger house, the more spacious apartment. Then, of course, the stuff to adorn that growing space. There were nicer vacations_-_travel to Alaska, Bermuda, Italy. We bought our first pieces of original art, cashmere sweaters at Christmas. Spending money meant having fun; buying electronic equipment or jewelry for each other was a token of love.
 During recessions we thought twice about how to spend, but those were mere pauses on the upward trajectory. The goal was always to upgrade.
 On Labor Day in 1992, five years into our marriage, bald little Hannah was born at George Washington University Hospital in D.C. The teacher and writer Elizabeth Stone once called having a child a decision to “have your heart go walking outside your body.” At Hannah's birth, Joan burst into tears. As she said, “It was not until I looked into my daughter's little eyes that I realized how much my own mother loved me.” We quickly read a bunch of parenting books_-_Benjamin Spock, Penelope Leach, What to Expect in the First Year_-_looking for any information to make us better nurturers of this blob of protoplasm.
 But as our hearts expanded, so did our spending. The car got larger: a nice Volvo replaced the Honda Accord. Our travel didn't stop either; we just took Hannah, who traveled to London and Paris on Joan's business trips before she was two. In her first passport photo, we had to prop Hannah up in her Hanna Andersson outfit to keep her from falling over.
 The funny thing is, we never even thought much about our spending, especially once we started having kids. Who could skimp on them? Ours might have been an extreme case, but I'll bet you've had those moments, too, hurtling without much thought from one purchase to the next. A jacket, a better TV, new furniture for the kid's room_-_hey, isn't that why God created credit cards? For us, accumulation was just part of the job description, particularly during the economic good times.
 We weren't trying to be obnoxious, consuming yuppies, we just were. This was the American Dream, wasn't it, to live better than your parents did? We were lucky to have everything we had, not because of inheritance or lottery but through a confluence of hard work, career dedication, and being in the right place at the right time. For instance, our comfort with spending grew in 1993 when Joan made partner at Accenture and our disposable income jumped again. To celebrate, I threw her a champagne-tasting party at our Washington townhouse.
 The next year, 1994, we moved to Atlanta, and soon after came the even bigger move to the Dream House. With three full floors, 116 Peachtree Circle was one of Atlanta's gorgeous historic homes. Nearly one hundred years old, with soaring Corinthian columns, the house had originally been the home of the aptly named Rich family, builders of Atlanta's most successful homegrown department stores. Now we were movin' on up. This would be the perfect place to hold big parties and host events.
 Joseph came along in 1994, and our family was complete. Two redheaded children with fair complexions, Hannah and Joseph were a perfect blend of Joan and me, with features that drew more from the Salwen side, coloring that honored the Kings.

Hannah and Joseph grew up with very different social personalities. Hannah always demanded to be with others. When she was about seven, she began to harbor fears that people close to her might die at any time, so when any of us left her, whether on a run to Kroger for milk, on a three-day business trip, or at the end of a phone call, she would close the conversation with a perky “Love you.” If the end came, “Love you” would be the last thing you'd heard from Hannah. Maybe a dozen times a day.
 Joseph, in contrast, was so comfortable with himself that he rarely noticed when others left the room. But he loved to amuse people. One year for Halloween he decided to be a movie-theater carpet. We found a remnant piece of broadloom and cut a head hole in it, and he decorated it with chewed-up bubble gum, smooshed Milk Duds, glued-on popcorn, and torn tickets. Later that night, when he trick-or-treated, Joseph refused to tell people what he was, offering only a taunting little “Guess” when they asked. Probably 90 percent figured it out, which filled him with pride; he loved the game.
 At times of disagreement, our family style was to confront issues head on. Years earlier Joan had brought into our marriage a “no sleeping until the argument is finished” rule; as a result, she and I resolved debates sometimes long into the night, but resolved they were.
 We brought that into our parenting too. When Hannah was nine, a fear of dogs that had been percolating grew into a full-blown phobia. The first question she would ask when invited for a play date was a tension-filled “Do they have dogs?” We tried to reason with her, take her to friends who had calm pets, read her more books about animals. But Hannah's fear didn't subside. In the end, in Joan's typical “resolve the issue” fashion, we headed for the Humane Society to adopt a dog and brought home a border collie-ish mix named Maggie, who Hannah apprehensively decided was calm enough to deal with.
 The girl and the dog formed a fragile truce. The first few days after we adopted Maggie, Hannah insisted that they remain on opposite sides of a closed door; when the dog came into the kitchen, Hannah perched on the counter, far from the potential licking and sniffing. But over the weeks and months, Hannah's fear of dogs subsided. She fed Maggie, and briefly petted her. As important, she began to visit pet-owning friends. Crisis averted.
 It would have been difficult to differentiate us from other families. Two parents, two kids, nice house, dog. We worked hard, got our promotions, came home. There we pitched baseballs to Hannah and Joseph, did art projects, read books. Shopping for stuff expanded beyond buying what Joan and I desired to include what the kids “needed,” creating plenty of new opportunities for accumulation: batting and pitching instruction, acting camps, music lessons, travel teams. Like others we knew, we bought most things we wanted.
 Don't get me wrong: money is not a bad thing. Far from it. But spend, spend, spend becomes a brutal way to raise kids; they start to believe that everything is replaceable or that everything costs the same amount. An ever-escalating standard of living becomes the New Normal, something they grow accustomed to.
 When our kids were old enough to start school, we sent them to the Westminster Schools, one of Atlanta's elite private institutions. Boasting thirteen academic buildings and nine athletic fields on 180 acres in affluent Buckhead, Westminster feels like a lovely college campus. Lexuses, Mercedes, and Lincolns idle in the carpool lanes as mothers wait in their tennis clothes, motors running to keep their BlackBerries charged and themselves comfortably air-conditioned.
 You know the classic analogy: the devil appears on one shoulder, urging you to follow your base instincts; the angel on the other shoulder prods you to pass up temptation and keep your conscience clear. In our case, the devil urged us to buy more stuff as the angel prodded us to stop the madness and instill better values in our kids. In the carpool lane, the shoulder devil offered a steady stream of advice: Check out that Hummer. Join the private golf club. Ski at Beaver Creek. Look what those people have! I could almost hear the angel groan in disgust.
 One Thursday when Joseph was in the third grade, we encountered a laughable new level. He had been invited to his buddy Thomas's grandfather's south Georgia “farm,” a former plantation where quail hunting was the centerpiece. Farm? Nothing like what Joan knew from her grandparents in Iowa, that's for sure. The day before the mother was to drive Joseph the three hours south, our phone rang. “Kevin, would you mind if we rode in my father's private plane down there? Dad is flying down there anyway, so we thought we'd hitch a ride with him.” While it was gracious of the mother to double-check with us, the cold, hard truth was this: Joseph was now jetting to play dates.
 The British economist and businessman Charles Handy writes about keeping up with the Joneses in his book The Elephant and the Flea: “Life becomes a long-distance race that you cannot afford to quit, but also one that you can never win, because there is always someone ahead, always more to get.” Joan and I simply called it “the treadmill.” We created a lifestyle; then, just to keep up, we had to stay in motion. And like the automated treadmill, it had a built-in mechanism to keep it going. We'd never dream of going from power windows back to hand-cranked ones or leather seats to cloth. In fact, I couldn't remember any time we had done that in any facet of our lives_-_cars, houses, electronics, or musical instruments. Better, nicer, more became the New Normal.
 All this comes with a cost, of course, and I'm not talking about the obvious financial price tag. Think about having to keep trading up professionally, fighting for that promotion or battling for that raise. The treadmill demands it. At Joan's firm, it was even baked into the system: under the “up or out” structure, anyone who didn't earn more partnership units switched from the fast track to an encouraged departure. It's easy to view just about everything through a financial prism, rationalizing along the way. (“What if I take this promotion three hundred miles away and see my family on weekends? It's only two years, and I can make fifteen thousand dollars more.”)
 I love the perspective of my friend Mark Albion, a former Harvard Business School professor who helps people improve themselves and the world through responsible business. (Mark and I have talked often about parenting and debated the question, "Are we raising consumers or citizens?") For Mark, the battle to keep up with the Joneses can be translated into drug terms. “Success, power, money, and fame have the undoubted strength of the best of narcotics: they create a deep silence,” he explains in his newsletter, Making a Life, Making a Living. “It is certain that the material offers security. At least, for a while.”
 But as with narcotics, this high is a path to nowhere. Consider this: research shows that nearly four times as many people who make over $75,000 a year feel that they need at least 50 percent more income to meet their needs as those making less than $30,000. Mark's conclusion? “Trading our life energy for it, we often forget the real cost of money.”
 Looking back, I'm not sure Joan and I actually forgot the real cost of money. We never knew it, never gave it a thought.
We were on autopilot in our careers and personal lives.
 In turn, consumerism began to affect Hannah and Joseph, whose New Normal was a disposable, trade-up society. When Joseph was twelve, his Little League Baseball All-Star team was on a roll, winning the district championship. They had won the Georgia state championship as eleven-year-olds and now had a chance to go back-to-back. But as his team moved into the state tourney, the boys had a problem: the Anderson Techzilla bats that many of our guys, including Joseph, had been swinging were often denting, so that the umpires removed them from games.
 We could have used one of the other bats in the basement, which were older but perfectly good. But they weren't Techzillas, and our culture dictated that we provide the “best” for our kids. And our kids expected the “best.” No adjustment required. So one of the other dads on the team searched local distributors and bought five new bats at two hundred dollars each. Joseph's team promptly lost in the state finals. Season over, bats in the basement.
 Who can blame kids? Of course they will emulate their parents' consumer behavior. (Feel bad, buy something!) Beyond that, by some estimates, kids are bombarded with as many as five thousand ad impressions each day, on billboards, TV, T-shirts, and anywhere else you can think of. “Our culture is working overtime to addict young people to spending, and the message is always this: if you just had one more thing, you'd be happy,” notes Nathan Dungan, the creator of Share Save Spend, a Minneapolis-based company that helps parents teach kids about financial responsibility.
 I should make clear at this point that the angel on the shoulder was trying to fight back. Even as we had ramped up spending in our marriage, Joan and I had worked in the community, tutoring young readers and serving senior citizens. After Hannah was born, Joan took her along on deliveries of Meals on Wheels. Often the octogenarians ignored their box lunches but paused to hug the toddler in her Gap Kids outfits.
 As we focused on our careers, Joan and I often took on service work for professional reasons. She ran her firm's United Way campaign, a nice visible assignment, and became the chairperson of Accenture's local foundation. She joined the Alexis de Tocqueville Society, a United Way group for annual givers of $10,000 or more. It was philanthropy as business mission.
 Occasionally we would hunt for ways to involve our kids. For instance, when we began working on Habitat for Humanity houses, Joan and I would drag Hannah and Joseph to the dedications on the final Saturday. There they often found that the home-buyers had children their age. Joseph sometimes took a ball and played with the kids on the street, and afterward, on the drive home, we'd talk about similarities and differences. And like a lot of families, we used the rule of thirds for our kids' weekly allowance, requiring that equal parts be dropped into canisters for spending, saving, and giving to charity.
 In short, we did more than many families, trying to find our center. But we were still a long way from being able to answer some really critical questions: What did our family stand for? What did we want to be_-_not do or have, but be? Now that I think of it, we didn't even ask those questions.
 In fact, we were running so fast on the treadmill, we almost missed a huge clue. Amid the frenzy of a family life filled with work and kids' activities, an emotional storm was brewing within Hannah, and it nearly escaped Joan's and my notice.
 At Westminster, the kids were part of the school's growing curriculum on service and philanthropy. The school had just created a program called Urban Edventure, in which the ninety or so students in Hannah's fifth grade volunteered for two days instead of attending classes, with a sleep-
over where they watched the movie Pay It Forward. The first day, Hannah worked at a downtown Atlanta restaurant and service program called Café 458. We would look back on that day as a true milestone.
 Set in a two-story brick building near the King Center, Café 458 serves a gourmet brunch on weekends. It's not unusual to find Carolina pulled-pork eggs Benedict or Grand Marnier French toast on the Sunday menu. But the twist is that all the profit, even the tips for the volunteer servers, goes to fund a program that helps homeless men and women get back on a path to success. Most important for Hannah, there is a weekday meal program for the homeless in the same restaurant.
 Café 458 was the pilot light for Hannah's fuel. After working during Urban Edventure, she came home full of life, reciting at dinner a quote from former congresswoman Shirley Chisholm that hung on the café wall: “Service is the rent we pay for the privilege of living on this earth.” She asked if she could volunteer there again_-_not exactly an offer even a semiclueless parent could refuse. So once a week for several months the eleven-year-old Hannah prepared food and served lunch to homeless Atlantans trying to get their lives on track.
 Now, instead of talking about friends or her teachers, many days Hannah came home bubbling with stories about the homeless people she had served at the café, especially Henry, a lonely man who always sat alone. “It's so sad, Dad. Nobody likes him, and he always sits at a table by him-
self,” she said. That, of course, just made Hannah want to stop by Henry's table even more frequently, offering him refills of water or iced tea from the clear plastic pitchers.
 Looking back, Joan and I had undergone significant changes in our own focus on service, the most obvious being the career shifts we had made just a couple of years earlier. At Accenture, Joan had run the firm's national women's mentoring task force, helping younger women move through the promotion pipeline. But now, after twenty years at the firm, she recognized a serious problem. “It drives me nuts,” Joan told me. “Too many of the thirty-something women have never learned to enjoy taking risks or to advocate for themselves.” Her solution: she needed to reach women earlier_-_in other words, to teach school.
 She sprang the concept on me during a walk around our leafy neighborhood in the fall of 2001. Her proposal was jarring, of course; it's hard to see a 95 percent pay cut as anything but. Sure, we had stock from an Accenture IPO, but the vagaries of the stock market were a tricky thing to rely on.
 As we walked together along the oak-lined streets, Joan posed the million-dollar question (literally): “What if we run out of money?” My reaction was so quick it was almost thoughtless. After all, just a year earlier I'd had my own career shift, leaving the comfort of the Wall Street Journal after eighteen years to co-create a magazine company. I wasn't going to shoot her dream down, money or no money. I reminded her of our first apartment in New York, a one-bedroom measuring less than 700 square feet (or about one ninth of the Dream House). “We've lived with a lot less before,” I said. “I guess we would just do it again.”
 So Joan earned a master's degree and soon signed on to teach seventh-grade English at the Atlanta Girls' School. Now she would have the opportunity to prepare girls to be more successful women.
 Because of our job changes, Joan and I began to spend more time at home with the kids. But nothing about those career moves and our growing kids made things simpler. Whose lives are, anyhow? If there is anything that parents complain about more than anything else, it's busyness. But sadly, busy becomes the excuse for not doing the things that truly matter. The funny thing is, we all know that we're overbooked, too busy for quality time.
 Each element of busy has a rationale. Our kids loved sports, and of course we couldn't skimp there, so we rushed them to lessons, camps, and teams. We were helping our kids; who couldn't justify that? Like lots of families, we figured we could make it up on vacations, trying to squeeze love and togetherness into a few weeks a year.
 But we were losing our core. As Hannah and Joseph grew older and more independent, they naturally entered their own orbits, with Joan and me increasingly transforming into chauffeurs. Weekend trips to Lenox Mall were aimed at socializing with friends, movies became parent-free affairs, iPods blared in ears, DVDs provided the entertainment on car trips. Conversation rarely reached any significant depth. Our family was spinning into different galaxies.
 Still, there were glimmers of hope. Through it all, the one constant was dinner, and come hell or high water we would eat together. Many nights we'd wait for Joseph to finish baseball practice and eat at eight. Or we'd throw him into the car, drive to where Hannah had a volleyball match in the northern suburbs, cheer her on, and grab pizza afterward. It might only be a twenty-minute gathering, but it was the centering event of our family day.
 And there were the stories. From the time the kids were little, I loved sharing pieces from the newspaper or radio. Sometimes it was an article about new words being added to the dictionary. Other times it was a great inspiring tale. Hannah even picked up on the idea, reading aloud her favorite Chicken Soup for the Soul stories at the table. One story would lead to another; the more sappy and inspirational, the better.
 One night at dinner I recalled a story from National Public Radio about the robbery at knifepoint of a New Yorker. The victim, Julio Diaz, described it like this:

He wants my money, so I just gave him my wallet and told him, “Here you go.” As the teen began to walk away, Diaz told him, “Hey, wait a minute. You forgot something. If you're going to be robbing people for the rest of the night, you might as well take my coat to keep you warm.”
 The robber looked at his would-be victim, “like what's going on here?” Diaz says. “He asked me, 'Why are you doing this?'_”
 Diaz replied: “If you're willing to risk your freedom for a few dollars, then I guess you must really need the money. I mean, all I wanted to do was get dinner and if you really want to join me ._._. hey, you're more than welcome.”

 The teenager joined Diaz for the meal, and, after they ate, Diaz asked him for the knife, which the young man gave him. The piece concluded with Diaz saying, “I figure, you know, if you treat people right, you can only hope that they treat you right. It's as simple as it gets in this complicated world.”
 When I finished, Joseph was silent, digesting the story. Hannah gasped: “Oh, that is amazing. It's so cool.”
 I looked over at Joan, and I knew what she was thinking. Our minds were spinning with possibilities. The career changes. The volunteering. Hannah's enthusiasm. Maybe we're not hopeless, just on the wrong track.
 Joan and I didn't know it at the time, but our teenaged girl would be the driver of that new train.

Hannah's Take
Believing You Can Make a Difference
About 111 women die of breast cancer every day in the 
United States. A million teenagers get pregnant each year. Someone dies every thirty-one minutes because of drunken drivers. I'm not writing this to bum you out. But you might be thinking, There are so many problems, there's no way that I or any one person could solve anything.
 When civil-rights activist Rosa Parks refused to move to the back of a public bus in 1955, she never dreamed of the impact she would have on millions of lives. “I didn't have any idea just what my actions would bring about,” she said years later. “At the time I was arrested
I didn't know how the community would react.” The reason Ms.
Parks didn't get up is that she knew the racist laws were wrong.
 Rosa Parks is just one of the thousands of influential people whose actions changed the views of many people today. Think about Gandhi, Mother Teresa, Greg Mortenson, John Woolman, Madame Curie (if you don't know them, check them out; they're all remarkable). Sometimes small acts significantly affect a large group of people. But even when they don't, they can have a big influence, maybe on just one individual.
 So don't get discouraged because you can't solve a whole problem alone. As the British philosopher Edmund Burke said, “Nobody made a greater mistake than he who did nothing because he could only do a little.” I know exactly what he was talking about. Before our family project I kept telling myself that no matter how hard I tried or how much money I gave, I would never be able to fully solve any of the world's big problems. When I worked at Café 458, the Atlanta restaurant for homeless men and women, I saw dozens of people come in looking depressed and lonely. But still I didn't see them as individuals, but instead as a group, “the homeless.”
 Then one day at Café 458 I heard two homeless men talking about a college basketball game that I had watched with my dad the night before. I snapped to the realization that these people are people. How stupid and rude I had been to see them as different from me. I realize now that having that epiphany was a big step for me. In that split second of comprehension, I switched from seeing them as a group of people to viewing them as individuals. When I started seeing people in need as individuals, the problem of homelessness and hunger seemed smaller and I felt like I could make more of a difference. I also started believing that I could help because the problem was on a personal level.
Think of a person from your community who inspires you. Look beyond his or her specific actions to the kind of qualities that person brings to work or volunteer activities. For example, some people are better at creating new programs than at actually putting them into action; other people are doers, ready to take someone else's ideas and run with them. Is that aunt in your family a problem-solver?
A good listener? An inspirer?
 Now think about your strengths in the same light. If you took your best characteristics out into the world, how could you use them to make a difference? Are you patient? Maybe you would be a good tutor. Are you musical? Maybe you could be playing the guitar at a nursing home (and bringing your family along to sing_-_no talent required). We all have gifts the world can use.

What People are Saying About This

From the Publisher

"We often say that young people must not let themselves be infected by the cynicism of their elders. Hannah inoculated her family with the vision to dream a different world and the courage to help create it." 
—Archbishop Desmond M. Tutu and the Rev. Mpho Tutu

"The Salwens set a new standard for families and individuals seeking to inject meaning into their lives. What does your family stand for? Read this book - it will change your life." 
—Daniel H. Pink , author of A WHOLE NEW MIND and DRIVE

"Crazy, impetuous and utterly inspiring.... The Salwens offer an example of a family that came together to make a difference - for themselves as much as the people they were trying to help." 
—Nicholas D. Kristof , The New York Times

"Mixing humor, inspiration, and self-reflection, THE POWER OF HALF will give you a whole new perspective on your life. You can't help but recommit to the values you want to share with your children. And you'll be reminded that your kids have much to teach you, too." 
—Jeffrey Zaslow , coauthor (with Randy Pausch) of THE LAST LECTURE and author of THE GIRLS FROM AMES

"Give it up for the Salwen family.... You feel lighter reading this book, as if the heavy weight of house and car and appliances, the need to collect these things to feel safe as a family, are lifted and replaced by something that makes much more sense." 
—Susan Salter Reynolds , Los Angeles Times

"Hannah inspires every one of her readers to ask, 'What can I do to help?' An adventure with a conscience. Brava!" 
—Susanne B. Beck , executive director, National Coalition of Girls' Schools

The Salwens' "book, soaring in idealism and yet grounded in realism, can show Americans of any means how best to give back." 
—Lisa Bonos, The Washington Post ,

"Hannah, you rock!" 
—Ann Curry , The Today Show

"Americans are the world's most generous people, but, as THE POWER OF HALF shows, the Salwen family is lifting hearts in a new way. Who knew Siddartha lived in the suburbs, Mother Teresa wore volleyball kneepads, and the Buddha could emerge from his dream at a traffic light: When the heart is full, give half." 
—Michael Capuzzo , author, CLOSE TO SHORE and THE MURDER ROOM

"THE POWER OF HALF is a story of generosity become realized - a family's unpretentious, morally introspective life becomes a fulfillment of an old ethical and spiritual imperative: that in giving we receive." 
—Dr. Robert Coles ,

"THE POWER OF HALF proves so much about leadership. Most importantly, that leadership comes in all ages, as long as there is a decision made to let it out and foster it. Hannah and her family inspire me." 
—Alicia Mandel , VP, Organizational Development, Apollo Group and former Director, Olympic University, USOC

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The Power of Half: One Family's Decision to Stop Taking and Start Giving Back 4 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 22 reviews.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
In these times of gloom and doom a great upbeat beacon of hope and lesson in life...Teenagers DO care, Parents CAN get along and validate them, and although we can't change everything, we can all change something...we can multiply by subtracting and grow while helping others grow...The power of half has the power of infinite possibilities if we embrace the concept...not just about giving money but so much more!! I had the pleasure of listening to Kevin and Hannah give a personal presentation of the book ...they are a great family and to those who respond to this idea with negative feedback...its not about showing you are right its about doing right , and they certainly did !! A MUST READ FOR EVERYONE!!!
plappen More than 1 year ago
This is the true story of one family's decision to actually do their bit to make the world a little better. The Salwen's live in suburban Atlanta, in a $1.5 million house, but they are veteran volunteers through the local Habitat for Humanity. One day, fourteen-year-old Hannah has a Eureka! moment. In the car with her father, she sees a shiny Mercedes car next to a homeless man. She realizes that if the Mercedes driver was driving a lesser car, the homeless man could have a meal. This leads to a decision by the family, not an easy decision, to downsize into a smaller house, and give half the proceeds to the poor. The first decision to be made was who they should help. There are many worthy charities and causes out there; the decision was made to focus on poverty in Africa. The next decision to be made was how they should help. Simply throwing money at the African continent will not help; in fact, it may just make things worse. The family was very methodical, researching a number of smaller charities, and meeting with representatives of their top 4 choices to hear their "sales pitch." The Salwen's eventually decided to assist a couple of villages in the country of Ghana, traveling there to see the results of their generosity, up close and personal. The only problem in their whole plan was that their house went up for sale right in the middle of the housing crisis, so it was on the market for a very long time. Along the way, the Salwen's learned, the hard way, that not everyone will "get it." Even friends and relatives interpreted their generosity as a comment on their lack of generosity (we're better than you are). Perhaps a bit of discretion is not a bad idea. Obviously, not everyone can downsize into a smaller house, and donate half the proceeds to the poor. Find something you can do. It can be as simple as halving your TV or computer game time each week, and spending that extra time volunteering at a food bank or soup kitchen. This is an inspiring story of how one family gave back to others, and it will inspire others to do likewise.
alexia561 More than 1 year ago
This was an interesting book with an interesting premise. I had heard of this family project through morning talk shows and various news outlets, but had misunderstood what they were actually doing. I thought that they were giving away half of everything they owned, but they were actually selling their house and giving half of the proceeds to charity. This story explains how the decision came about, how they chose the charity, and the various missteps along the way. While wanting to become actively involved in charity and helping others beyond just writing a check is noble, I had mixed feeling about the Salwen family. They seemed like nice people, but I couldn't really relate to them. Probably because they lived so differently than my family. While I don't think that they were Bill Gates rich, their planned donation was $800,000, which was half of the proceeds from selling their home. Not exactly the people next door.... Thankfully, the Salwens seem to be aware that they are privileged and aren't snooty about their good fortune. I liked one of the quotes in the book when they started discussing their project with others: "We didn't want to sound cocky or arrogant or preachy. We were eager not to be perceived as strange. And we had become acutely aware that sloppy communication of our project could make others feel less charitable in their own efforts." So they are aware that this is an unusual situation and they do try to be considerate of others, but I still had mixed feelings. Towards the beginning of their journey when they are cleaning out year's worth of accumulated items, they held a yard sale. Dad Kevin is discouraged because he felt that the sale didn't go very well and now they had to get rid of the leftovers. Son Joseph was more upbeat about the results, pointing out that they made almost five hundred dollars. Five hundred dollars. From a yard sale. When we cleaned out my in-laws home and had a yard sale, we only made enough money to pay for the permit and then dinner afterwards. Guess the rich are different than you and me. Just another example of how I couldn't really relate to this family. Aside from reminders of how different their lives are from mine, I did find this book inspiring. While we're not going to sell our house, and I doubt that the heads of various charities would meet with us to discuss sponsorships, it is a reminder that individuals can make a difference in the world. I really liked the kids, Hannah and Joseph. Hannah sounds like an amazing young woman, and I loved that Joseph was sort of the voice of reason in the family despite his young age. Didn't care for the parents as much, but I think it was just that I couldn't relate to their lifestyle and assumptions. Think that the family was brave in sharing their story, as they knew that there would be some negative reactions. While I don't usually read non-fiction, this book was worth reading and actually made me want to become more charitable. Gave it a 3/5 as Dad Kevin is a good writer and it was fun to "meet" Hannah and Joseph, but I still had a hard time relating to the family and their project.
nomadreader on LibraryThing 15 hours ago
The story is a fascinating one. This family decided to sell their house, buy a smaller one (at half the price) and give the difference to charity. The book tells the story of how this family came to this decision and how they chose where to give their money.It's not a touchy feely, over the top, inspiring book. It is inspiring, but it's inspiring in such an attainable way. The Salwens are quite honest about their finances. They were living in a $2 million home. They downsized their family of four into a $900,000 home in the same neighborhood. Sacrifice is a very personal thing. The Salwens recognize simultaneously how much and how little they did. It was a crazy idea, but they also talk about how easy it was to do (except for actually finding a buyer for their home).I enjoyed this book in different ways than I expteced to.First, as someone who lived in Atlanta for years, I enjoyed the local flavor of the Salwens' story a great deal. I appreciated the adaptation of their message. They recognize their choice is not one everyone could make, but they do encourage the power of half in some way. If your family watches four hours of television together each night, cut that in half and find some way to do something more interactive together or give back. It's an adaptable message, and it's beauty truly is in its simplicity. Lastly, I was surprised how much I learned from the way Kevin and Joan parent. My vision of familyhood and parenting is quite similar to what the Salwens have done, except, of course, our ideas are simply ideas, and they've found ways to enact them.The most interesting part of the book was the Salwens' journey deciding where and how to spend the money. We all have the desire to change the world (I still harbor illusions of this truth, even though it is admittedly buried more deeply in some than others), but no one wants to feel futile. The how is the hardest part. Kevin, the father, tells the story, but each chapter features two pages from Hannah, their oldest daughter. Hannah includes a children and teen friendly activity in each one.
cyderry on LibraryThing 15 hours ago
I used to think that I was a generous person until I read this book. I mean, after all, I gave to different charities, helped those in need, volunteered a little, and I even gave a home to a homeless person we knew. But when I read this book, I felt that I was falling short and wasn't sure that I had it in me to be as generous as this family.This is the true life story of the Salwen family from Atlanta GA who sold their $2Million house so that they could take the proceeds and donate to a charity which helped fight hunger in Africa. They donated $800,000 to this effort because their 14 year old daughter felt that they weren't doing enough to assist those that were less fortunate. I truly admire this family because I don't think that I or my husband would be willing to make this kind of sacrifice. This book raised a lot of questions throughout especially from the journal of the young daughter, but the one that I don't know how to answer is¿. How many lives would you be willing to save in exchange for the person that you love the most? I can't answer that, can you?
karieh on LibraryThing 15 hours ago
I truly admire the Salwen family for the journey they¿ve taken. The journey from being the embodiment of the modern consumerist American Way to a family that has together decided to make a difference in the world. A family that worked together to make sure that what they did and what they gave would make a positive difference and not a negative one. A family in which the parents and children have equal voices and equal responsibility.I learned a great deal about charitable giving from this book. One assumes that writing the check to a charity is the hard part¿and that money makes everything better for those in need. But, with the careful research done by the Salwens, this proves to be untrue.¿A Princeton University study showed that more than 1.6 million people go on mission trips in a typical year, spending an average of eight days. The total invested in these sojourns: $2.4 billion a year. But evidence is growing that the social impact can be a huge minus for the developing world. Critics deride the trips as ¿religious tourism¿ for ¿vacationaries¿. Often the activities undertaken by these groups are little more than make-work. The Washington Post noted that one Mexican church was painted six times by six different mission groups in a single summer.¿The Salwens learn that empowering the local people in an impoverished area is what makes the real difference, and that the way to empower them depends on the local customs and what the end goal is. ¿Willing hands certainly have a place when the organizational structure is correct, as a Habitat build alongside the homeowner. But projects must be carefully crafted, assuring that empowerment is front and center even when outsiders are involved. Generosity can¿t be a simple paint-by-numbers exercise.¿Although it goes against their nature, they learn that they need to stand back and support the people receiving their help, and not jump in and do the work for them.I hate to be critical of any part of this story, but I was very disappointed in one aspect of the storytelling. This is a story of one family¿s decision to sell their very nice house and give half of the proceeds ($800,000) to charity. That¿s huge and amazing and wonderful. That¿s what drew me to read this. But in the book it only takes 9 pages to go from Hannah¿s inspiring moment to this huge idea. And then 8 more pages after that, the decision is made by the family to go ahead with this huge life change.True, there is a great deal of discussion regarding the who, what, where kind of details¿but I was shocked that such a small part of the book was given over to the discussion, introspection and soul searching that MUST have happened before these four people agreed to change the path of their lives in such a major way.Reaction to their choice was surprising. When they excitedly told friends and family what they¿d decided to do ¿ some were supportive, some were wary, and some¿got defensive. Which made sense once I really started to think about it. Very few people could or would make this choice¿and hearing someone you know say they are going to give up their home, move to a much smaller one and give half of the money away makes one really reflect on one¿s own giving.And in the end, the Salwens benefited from their giving almost as much as the African villages that received their donations.¿To put it in a literary context, we had come of age. We had coalesced as a family, brought together by a mission that really mattered. Maybe it was a bit premature to claim victory, but sitting there at the dinner table in Accra, Ghana, I believed we had found our family legend. We knew what we wanted to stand for.¿
mckait on LibraryThing 15 hours ago
I was curious about this book when I saw it as as option on Vine. I too, feel that too many have too much and give too little. I don'tmean Trump-like folks..I mean regular people like you and me. I cringe when I am out with someone who pulls out a tip calculator.This happens most often when I am with someone who makes considerable more money than I do. Make someones day by giving them a good tip.. more than theyexpect. That few dollars isn't going to make me a millionaire, but it might make their day. Someone panhandling? They might actually be hungry, or cold.. or something other than a drug addict. A few dollars might help. If it turns out they spend it on alcohol, my intention was good. Now mind you, I love in a small town where those whoask are few and far between, not in a city. So I guess you will say it is easy for me to say, and you would be right. This book is about a family who has taken this to a remarkably grand scale. The who familymade it a priority to help others. They did research, they gave moeny, they gave time. This is the sstory of how they got to the point that they sold a two million dollar home and gave half of the profits to people they had never met.Most of the book is written by Kevin, the dad. Interludes by Hanna are stunning in their simplicity and understanding of the world and the people we share it with. This young lady will be a force to be reckoned with someday soon.. more so than she is already. What wonderful and inspiring people they are. The adults both gave up high power jobs to help others, or be happier themselves. (95 of income gone in a flash because Joan decided she could help young women better by teaching than by being a high powered mentor. Kevin followed a dream. They became happier. The end of the book has this amazing family meeting some of the people they have helped. I can only imagine how that must feel. These people raised their children to know how to give and volunteer. It was a lesson that was taken to heart.Hanna, a fourteen year old was the catalyst for the change that allowed them to give so much to so many. This is a journey worth reading about. I dare you to do it without being inspired to give more yourself. So many of us think we do "our share". (Whatever that is ?) What would happen if we decided to do more.. start small or go grand, but start. This book will help you see how big a difference we really can make.
ShastaD on LibraryThing 15 hours ago
This is a true story about a very persuasive teenage girl who convinces her family to do more to help people. The parents decide to sell their expensive house, and buy a smaller one which is half the price, and give the difference to charity. I'm not sure the book convinced me how they decided to make such a big change, but then again, and impulsive decisions are hard to explain, but the fact that they stuck with the decision is very admirable.They also decide to let their two teenage children to have a say in how the money will be used. Kevin, the father, writes the story, and Hannah, has written inserts on how we, the readers, can also help. I really enjoyed reading the story of how they decided what group of people to help, and how they went about helping. They had a hard time selling their house in the tough economy, so they actually gave other money instead of money from the sale of the house, so the premise is harder to explain.This is a great book for anyone giving money for charity, to understand how to give money so that it will do some good, instead of just giving a hand-out that winds up hurting more than helping. This book is also helpful in parent-child relations. I wish I had this kind of advice earlier about how to have family meetings, and how to share the decision-making power with the children. I also liked the journal keeping they did, through which they also shared their thoughts with each other.
plappen on LibraryThing 15 hours ago
This is the true story of one family¿s decision to actually do their bit to make the world a little better.The Salwen¿s live in suburban Atlanta, in a $1.5 million house, but they are veteran volunteers through the local Habitat for Humanity. One day, fourteen-year-old Hannah has a Eureka! moment. In the car with her father, she sees a shiny Mercedes car next to a homeless man. She realizes that if the Mercedes driver was driving a lesser car, the homeless man could have a meal. This leads to a decision by the family, not an easy decision, to downsize into a smaller house, and give half the proceeds to the poor.The first decision to be made was who they should help. There are many worthy charities and causes out there; the decision was made to focus on poverty in Africa. The next decision to be made was how they should help. Simply throwing money at the African continent will not help; in fact, it may just make things worse. The family was very methodical, researching a number of smaller charities, and meeting with representatives of their top 4 choices to hear their "sales pitch." The Salwen¿s eventually decided to assist a couple of villages in the country of Ghana, traveling there to see the results of their generosity, up close and personal. The only problem in their whole plan was that their house went up for sale right in the middle of the housing crisis, so it was on the market for a very long time.Along the way, the Salwen¿s learned, the hard way, that not everyone will "get it." Even friends and relatives interpreted their generosity as a comment on their lack of generosity (we¿re better than you are). Perhaps a bit of discretion is not a bad idea.Obviously, not everyone can downsize into a smaller house, and donate half the proceeds to the poor. Find something you can do. It can be as simple as halving your TV or computer game time each week, and spending that extra time volunteering at a food bank or soup kitchen. This is an inspiring story of how one family gave back to others, and it will inspire others to do likewise.
YoyoMitch More than 1 year ago
What happens to a family when one member has a “Eureka Moment” so bold and so loud that it causes the family to live up to its own definition?  For the Salwen’s of Atlanta, GA, when the daughter connected the dots between “what I have” and “what is needed,” it caused them to sell their historic, 6500 square-foot, multi-million dollar home and strive to give half of the proceeds to a project that could cause a long-lasting change in a small part of the world.  Kevin and Joan Salwen were successful professionals (he a journalist, she a consultant with Accenture at the onset of this adventure) raising their children, Hannah and Joseph, to be grateful for their affluence and to “give back” to their community by volunteering. As Kevin and Hannah sat at a congested intersection, Hannah noticed an individual asking for food on one side of their car and a Mercedes Coupe on the other.  Hannah had a moment of connection, stating, “if they had a less nice car, he could eat.”  Before she got home, “they” became “we” and the question was, “how can we be a family who DOES something (about the world’s problems) instead of a family who only talks about them?”  The family eventually decided they would sell their landmark home, move into a smaller (by 3000 sq./ft.) house and using half of the proceeds from this sale in some endeavor that would effect a meaningful, positive change on an issue of the world.   In researching the “where and how” of such a project, the Salwen’s were to learn much about actually helping others.  They learned that over 2 Trillion dollars has been spent on “helping” projects in Africa in the last fifty year with little or no change to show for it. “Giving help” and most mission trips do far more harm than help. Lasting aid requires those who are being “helped” to have buy-in to the change instead of giving them handouts (which cause dependency and disenfranchises instead of empowers). Projects that have lasting affect are those which are long-term with meaningful commitment from the community to which they are enacted. After completing their research, the family selected to work in Ghana with The Hunger Project, a non-profit whose mission is to end world hunger by empowering “locals” to find solutions to their own issues and helping them to do so.  The project would be to fund, for a five-year cycle, two (after receiving a matching grant, the two became four) “epicenters” in a cluster of villages that houses the community's programs for health, education, food security and economic development. By the book’s end, the project was just beginning so the outcome is still in development. There were several points of deep thought for me in reading this short, well-written “report.”  There is mention of religion in the book, but only anecdotally, the actions taken by the Salwen’s were rooted in a deep ethic of community, i.e. they wanted to help because there was a need. Their tremendous gift, by the author’s admission, did not change their life-style, they are still affluent.  They challenged, by the discoveries they made in their research, their readers to confront how they can address the needs they (the readers) have found in their world. This is a book worth reading – engaging writing, the end uncertain but a hint of how a family can make a difference.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
As I read this book, I would finish a chapter, lay the book down and stop to reflect. It made me reexamine my life and inspired me to find a way to help change a little part of the world around me for the better.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
This book is an inspiration! Hannah relized she could make a difference, so she did!!!!!!
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Is this book thick??
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Driveway_Farmer More than 1 year ago
This amazing memoir weaves together three threads to create an inspiring account of philanthropy and family connection. In one thread, Kevin Salwen recounts how his family was awakened to caring and a will to act after many years of Yuppie social-climbing, job promotions, accumulation of stuff, and occasional charitable projects. Salwen details how his 14-year-old daughter became outraged about poverty, causing the family to reevaluate the legacy it wanted to leave. Working together in a democratic committee structure, the family decided to sell its oversized home and donate half the sales price to a charity. In another thread, Salwen shares the research into why some aid projects succeed and why others fail, and he reports on the state of philanthropy in the United States. In the third and most engaging thread, Salwen's now 16-year-old daughter Hannah lays out a road map for pulling together as a family or group and getting involved meaningfully in a charitable endeavor. In sidebars entitled "Hannah's Take," Hannah describes activities families or groups can do to foster stronger connections. The first activities encourage discussion about believing individuals can make a difference and realizing how much you have. These are the first steps in a process that help any family or group to have conversations that can lead to collective action. This is a book you will want to read with others, which is what makes it a great all-school, book club or Sunday School read. It's provocative, and you will want to discuss your reactions with people you care about. In parts, you may feel preached at. In others, you will feel inspired. You may wish that the family had given more or given differently, but you can't read this book without wondering about yourself and what you have to give in exchange for a closer relationship with your adult siblings, your children, your sorority sisters, or any other group. All in all, you will feel that this book affirms humanity.
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Chloe76 More than 1 year ago
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