Sunday, July 26, marked the 25th anniversary of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA): landmark civil rights legislation that drastically improved the lives of people with disabilities throughout the U.S.
In 2011, the Hill Foundation—a nonprofit created by Thea Flaum and her husband Robert Hill in an effort to help other families like theirs—launched FacingDisability.com to connect families who suddenly have to deal with a spinal cord injury with people who have experienced similar situations.
The website contains 1,500 high-quality HD videos of people with spinal cord injuries and members of their families answering real-life questions about how they cope. Interviews with medical experts on important spinal cord injury topics are also on the website, as well as extensive information on resources.
The Chicago Community Trust sat down with Thea Flaum, president of the Hill Foundation and ADA 25 Chicago steering committee member, to talk about philanthropy and why helping others in your community matters.
Q: When did you start giving back? Tell us about your first experience with giving or receiving.
A: I was a television producer for more than 30 years. Seven years ago, after I sold my production company, my husband and I decided that we wanted to do something for people who been affected by spinal cord injuries. Our oldest child is a C-5/6 quadriplegic, which means she has a spinal cord injury that resulted in the total loss of movement and sensation below her neck and shoulders. Her story is extremely positive—but we knew that it was a very, very long hard road and it struck us that it would be good to do something for families who are dealing with what we went through. For a family, it can be an isolating experience.
The idea was to have people answer questions about what they learned, what they did and what worked for them while going through the process of living with a spinal cord injury that might be helpful to someone else. The goal being that everyone would find someone they could relate to. As it turns out, finding someone exactly like you doesn’t really matter, the answers to the questions and the issues of coping are personal and universal.
Q: What inspires or motivates you to do good for others?
A: I was raised that way; my parents were both very conscious of giving back. There has never been a time in my life when I wasn’t giving back in some form, both financially and with my time. It seems to me that doing good for others is part of who you are in a world where there is a need of your resources and talents.
Q: How has giving changed the way you think about receiving help from others?
A: I used to think that I was a person who was fortunate to not need help from others. But it is not always a matter of need; it’s a matter of accepting with grace something that somebody else wants to do for you. I don’t think I understood that as well as I do now and it makes you appreciate things more, and allows you to be a gracious receiver as well as a gracious giver.
Q: How do you think giving creates stronger communities?
A: There’s no question—I think that one of the reasons Chicago is an exceptionally good and giving city is that people in Chicago feel they must, if they can, get involved and try to help to do something for the community. I don’t mean only donating money, giving your time is just as important—and I think Chicagoans feel an obligation to do that, to be involved. That shared sense of “let’s do something to make this better” is what makes the City so strong.
Q: You are a philanthropist—what advice do you have for others who want to do good?
A: The most important thing is to focus on organizations, causes or ideas for which you feel passionate about. For me, it’s disability rights. If the theater or opera or children are important to you, find a way to get involved in doing something good for others in that area. You’ll meet other people who share that same passion and it will enrich your life enormously.
Thea Flaum, President of the Hill Foundation, is the creative leader of the FacingDisability.com. She comes to the foundation after a 35-year-career as an Emmy-award-winning television producer. So it’s no surprise that she created a website that took what she knew about the power of video and used it to connect families who suddenly have to deal with a spinal cord injury with people like them who have “been there” and “done that.”
This article was originally posted on the Chicago Community Trust website, and can be viewed by clicking here.