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Doing Good

From Tragedy to Altruism

In September 2013, Dennis Bavaria and his wife, Claire, returned from a vacation to France with Claire battling a stomach ache. Two weeks later, doctors discovered that Claire had pancreatic cancer. After just three chemotherapy treatments, she and her husband were told that the end was near. Just 10 days later, Claire died with her sons and husband holding her.

“I was devastated! She had less than eight weeks to live from the time she was diagnosed until she passed away on December 16, 2013,” Dennis recalls. “I cried for eight straight weeks. It was the worst time of my life.”

After time spent in grief counseling, Dennis decided that he needed to do something to remember Claire. He discovered the Lustgarten Foundation in Long Island, N.Y. through which every dollar donated goes toward pancreatic-cancer research. The husband and basketball coach now holds an annual foul-shooting competition for which shooters secure sponsorships with money going to the Lustgarten Foundation.

“My cause is to raise awareness of pancreatic cancer and help find a cure for this deadly disease,” says Dennis. “Claire and I always felt we have been blessed with many things and friends, and we needed to give back. To do it in her memory is very special to me.”

Tragedy was also the spark behind the Kyeremeh family’s mission to give back. In July 2011, a motorcycle crash killed Charles Kojo Kyeremeh, Jr., a Cedar Crest High School graduate and college athlete.

In honor of his athleticism as well as his West-African heritage, his family created the Kyeremeh Jr. Foundation in 2013. It grants scholarships to high school triathletes and financial assistance toward youth camps. In addition, its volunteer program facilitates avenues by which Americans travel to Ghana to support athletic programs there. It has donated school supplies and launched a library project.

“Charles would have wanted it this way. It brings closure and makes us feel like he’s still with us,” says his sister, Nana-Ana Kyeremeh. “It’s so important to support charities like this because it strengthens our community.”

It is not unusual for selfless beauty to come from pain.

Dr. Diane Brockman, who teaches social psychology at Messiah College, a class that addresses helping behaviors, notes that social psychologists have found two main theories for why people help others.

“We help because we perceive the benefit of our actions as accruing to others,” she explains of the altruism. “They called this ‘public benefit’ because the public, or some section of it, benefits.”

On the other hand, givers often receive a “private benefit” themselves. Brockman cites research by the Corporation for National and Community Service, which shows that volunteering has psychological benefits, such as greater life satisfaction, lower rates of depression and a longer life. In addition, a study by Jorge Moll and colleagues at the National Institutes of Health found that when people give to charities, it sparks brain activity dealing with “pleasure, social connection and trust, creating a ‘warm glow’ effect.”

Furthermore, Brockman refers to a study by Harvard Business School professor Michael Norton and colleagues that determined that giving money to someone lifted participants’ happiness more than spending it on themselves.

Our region is one with a large number of philanthropic organizations, some founded out of pain, others founded by pure passion. Bi-monthly, Harrisburg Magazine will highlight these organizations for what they are: lights shining in a sometimes dark world. In doing so, we hope to inspire our community to give of themselves to improve the lives of people around them.

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