Have you ever heard of the Henry Street Settlement in New York City? I must admit, neither had I until a few weeks ago. It was founded in 1893 by social work pioneer Lillian Wald. Based in the Lower East Side of Manhattan, the Henry Street Settlement provides a wide array of social services, arts and healthcare programs to some 60,000 New Yorkers each year. It has a staff of 450 full-time employees and 400 seasonal employees. Their goal is simple--to improve the overall quality of life of the neighbors in the Lower East Side.
The reason this settlement caught my attention was a story a few weeks ago of a recent donation to the Henry Street Settlement in the amount of 6.25 million dollars--the single largest philanthropic gift ever given to the organization. It was not donated by a Vanderbilt or a Rockefeller or a Morgan. It was donated by a frugal legal secretary from Brooklyn who toiled in the same law firm for 67 years until she retired at the age of 96--ands who died not long after.
Her name was Sylvia Bloom and even her closest friends and family had no idea she had amassed this fortune over her lifetime. She did it by investing shrewdly as she observed the investments of the attorneys in her office. She served as a “secretary” during a period of time when they effectively ran the offices and the lives of their bosses--even down to their investments. When one of her bosses ordered her to purchase a stock, she would purchase as much as she could afford, herself.
Ms. Bloom kept this a closely guarded secret her entire life--up until a sort of “Oh, my Lord” moment came for the executor of her estate. She left some money for her relatives, but the bulk she established as a scholarship fund for needy students in the Henry Street Settlement. She and her husband lived a very meager existence in a rent-controlled apartment complex, even though they could have lived on Park Avenue. A child of the Depression, she learned the hard lesson of having nearly nothing and sympathizing with others who also had nothing.
I don’t know what Ms. Bloom’s religious affiliation was--or even if she had one. But I am moved by the radical generosity of this simple woman and her desire to make her world better.
I keep imagining Jesus happening upon this scene and exclaiming excitedly, “Nowhere in all the land have I seen faith such as this woman had.”
I don’t know if you have 6.25 million laying around. But I do know that discipleship is characterized by a number of traits and radical generosity is one of them. And there isn’t a single one of us who can’t express their faith with generosity.
Thank you, Sylvia.