This article appeared in the July 2011 issue of Oklahoma Magazine.
As Told To Jami Mattox
Lynn Schusterman and her husband, the late Charles Schusterman, established a family foundation in 1987 dedicated to spreading the joy of Jewish living, giving and learning around the world and to enhancing the quality of life in Tulsa. You can see buildings around Tulsa, from educational institutions to public libraries, burnishing the Schusterman name. Lynn recently signed Warren Buffett’s Giving Pledge. She also authors articles and opinion pieces for publications across the nation on various topics, including women in philanthropy.
The Schusterman Family Foundation bases our giving on helping people move out of circumstances they were born into. I think that the most important aspect of philanthropic giving is empowering people to realize their full potential. When Charlie and I began the foundation, we operated under the thought that if you give a person a fish, you feed him, but if you teach a person to fish, he can feed his family.
One of the causes I’m thrilled about (funding) is Teach For America; it’s helping kids in underprivileged, under-taught areas get an education. That’s one of the things I enjoy and how we base what we do. I can already see the impact Teach For America is having.
I became involved in Birthright Israel at its inception 13 years ago. Part of why I became involved in Birthright is because I am a product of birthright. When Charlie and I were married and had our young family, we decided that before we went any place in the world, as a family, we would go on a trip to Israel. Before then, I took my Judaism and ancestry for granted, and Israel wasn’t on my radar screen. I fell in love with the country and the people. I began reading about the Holocaust because I thought, “How can I ask others to get involved if I don’t know anything?”
The impact (of Birthright Israel) has been far beyond what any of us dreamed. It has changed the face of Israeli relations, and for young people it has become a rite of passage and has secured a place on the Jewish communal landscape.
We also do a Birthright trip for Teach For America teachers. I think it’s important for people to learn about their roots and their ancestors. Young people today have capabilities beyond anything I will ever be able to do.
They’re still looking for identity. “Who am I? Where am I going? Where did I come from?” The trip impacts Teach For America teachers in how they teach and how they view themselves. These trips have been so successful that we’re looking at doing similar trips for Teach For America teachers of other nationalities, ethnic groups and religions.
There were a few things that compelled me to sign The Giving Pledge. One was to encourage people of all ages and capabilities to join to repair the world, to make it a better place, and to really understand the joy of making it a better world. It’s important to learn that it’s the little things that you do that make a difference. To make someone else’s life a little bit better, a little bit easier, it’s an incredible feeling. I get euphoria from helping people through some projects. Who ever thought a woman from Tulsa, Oklahoma, would become involved in something this large?