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by Stephanie Ansalso

October 5,2006

The theme of money runs through Charlotte like a ubiquitous green vein. In the thirty years I’ve lived here, the banks have quadrupled in size through mergers, acquisitions, and overall wise management. Our Mint Museum of Art earned its name because it once was a mint coining millions. Often in everyday conversation, financial jargon creeps in, “What’s the bottom line?” and “The buck stops here.” Human capacity has been refined into “social capital.” Still, in Charlotte, our most treasured resource is better than gold.

I used to enjoy taking our boys to Reid’s Gold Mine when they were little. For a few dollars, the manager would give you a pan, then show you how to scoop a trowel full of dirt into it and add enough water to make thin mud. Our boys loved the mess. Using a circular motion we’d slosh the muddy mix over the edge. If we did it just right, the heaviest bits remained in the bottom, to which we had glued our eyes should something shiny suddenly surfaced. It was great fun and we could count on lots of kids being there, screaming and hollering, excited when someone found a speck of gold. One time a withered old man found a nugget the size of a plum. “A thousand dollars, maybe two,” we heard the manager speculate. From the look in their eyes, we could hear people thinking, “Next time maybe it’ll be me!” Truth is, the wisest among them realized that their mud-caked, child-miners were more precious than any chunk of gold washed from the dirt.

At The Echo Foundation, we believe in the power of the individual to shape a more just, humane world. Take Katie Chamblee, all grown up now. She stood on stage, her red hair curling in exuberant disarray, the freckles on her milk-white cheeks, a testament to her Irish roots. "If you don't believe that one person can make a difference, come with me to Ecuador!" That was her steely challenge to 800 spellbound students in the North Meck auditorium. Some took her up on it. In July, six young people from Charlotte followed Katie to her South American town where she was investing in the indigenous children who inhabit the villages surrounding Otavalo, Ecuador.

Remembering that school assembly, I watched, amazed at the power of this young woman and her clarity of purpose. What was the origin of Katie’s concern for children in the far-away mountains of Ecuador? Did some magic occur during Katie’s growing years that instilled in her an abiding concern for others? Did her teachers weave principles of basic human dignity into lessons of math, science, and art? What did we, the Charlotte Community, do to foster her sense of justice, personal empowerment and accountability for humankind? Her experience in Ecuador with children who had few books and a school with no roof, led her to start The Village Education Project, a thriving international non-profit. Her initiative reflects an understanding that privilege and education demand social responsibility.

How can we as a society promote action for justice in each of our children? “Education without compassion is a dangerous tool,” cautions Nobel Laureate, Elie Wiesel.

Through school curriculum and programs, The Echo Foundation promotes these essential educational elements that shape socially responsible, action oriented young people: 1. inspiration through relationships with individuals who model personal responsibility for the human condition; 2. knowledge and understanding of the urgent issues of our time; 3. the mandate to explore ones own accountability and action for humankind, and 4. consistent messages that promote respect and dignity for all people.

I like to think about the Mint once forging money and now as a home for art. Is it emblematic of a shifting balance of parallel priorities – financial capital and social capital? Do we invest sufficient assets to refine our most precious natural resource – the hearts and minds of our young; generating a force for good of empowered and responsible young citizens who will confront the urgent issues of our time? As we send forth our young people, will they be ready to take positive action for humankind? Will they look back on Charlotte and be proud to have sprung from us?

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