A sign made of giant letter that spell \"V C U\" in the snow. Next to it is a black half circle with the text \"BLACK & GOLD & YOU\".
The Black and Gold and Joy All Around initiative encourages giving this holiday season to select funds that support students and employees in need of help. (Office of Development and Alumni Relations)

Black and Gold and Joy All Around: Three VCU team members reflect on their reasons for giving

Initiative on VCU’s crowdfunding platform helps donors give to causes designed to support students and employees this month.

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Looking for a little more joy this holiday season? One path to happiness is through giving to others without expecting anything in return. (Turns out the old adage about it being better to give than receive holds true for your soul and your psyche.)

That’s a lesson we’ve learned in holiday stories such as O. Henry’s “Gift of the Magi” and “How the Grinch Stole Christmas” by Dr. Seuss.

And science backs it up: A 2018 study from the University of Chicago’s Booth School of Business found we experience more sustained joy from giving than from receiving.

With its Black and Gold and Joy All Around initiative on Virginia Commonwealth University’s crowdfunding platform, VCU Development and Alumni Relations encourages faculty, staff, retirees and the community to give to student- and employee-supporting causes this month.Read on to learn why these VCU team members give back — and what they get out of it.

A reflective giver

Leslie Brown has worked in higher education for 25 years, but she never made a financial gift before she began working at VCU in 2015 as director of budget and resource analysis.

A woman wearing glasses and an infinity scarf
Leslie Brown, special assistant for special projects. (Contributed photo)

She gives back now in part because of her stage of life: “I’m a bit more reflective about what I want as my legacy,” she says.

She also gives back because she sees VCU fulfilling a mission she describes as “a bright line that runs through the university everywhere,” she says. “You walk out of your office, and you can touch that bright line and see that it leads to student success and the creation of new knowledge.”

Brown, now special assistant for special projects to the senior vice president, says donating to student-focused funds is an opportunity to directly affect students in ways she can’t in her day-to-day work. “The further away you are [from students], the more important it is to actually help [them] directly,” Brown says.

Recently, Brown gave to the VCU Libraries’ Open and Affordable Course Content Initiative, a fund created to ease the financial burden of textbooks and other course materials, which can cost up to $1,500 per year.

By helping professors develop and access low-cost and free course content, VCU Libraries are making college more affordable for years to come.

“Contributing to this fund is like nothing else I can think of,” Brown says. The impact “just multiplies.”

A grateful giver

As a long-term VCU employee, Amy Armstrong, Ph.D., who earned her doctorate from the VCU School of Education, recognizes that achieving educational goals isn’t always easy.

A woman wearing a multicolored shirt
Amy Armstrong, Ph.D., associate dean of faculty development and associate professor in the College of Health Professions. (Contributed photo)

“Our students are way more resilient than we realize, but sometimes bumps come in the road, or little barriers pop up, and they lose a sense of hope,” says Armstrong, associate dean of faculty development and associate professor in the College of Health Professions.

Armstrong works to restore that sense of hope by supporting the College of Health Professions Student Success Emergency Fund, which provides financial assistance to students facing unforeseen events that make it harder to pay their educational expenses.

“For me to give back to these students is meaningful because I appreciate that they want to give of themselves and their time, even though school is expensive and resources are tight,” Armstrong says.

Armstrong takes the long view of her donation’s impact. The Student Emergency Fund affects not only the students who are receiving support to pursue their dreams, but also the people the student will eventually serve.

“To be able to give to students who want to make a difference in their communities by supporting and helping people who may have been marginalized or may not have equal access to health care is really powerful,” Armstrong says.

Donating to student-supporting funds also enables Armstrong to show her gratitude to the university community.

“I’m fortunate VCU has given me an amazing career. I’m fortunate I have a supervisor who values and appreciates me and has made sure I’m doing well,” Armstrong says. “I want to have the contagion effect of connecting with someone else when they are courageous enough to ask for help.”

A new giver

King Goldman knows firsthand the challenges many students face when they arrive at college. “When I went to the University of Illinois at Urbana, I was ill-equipped to handle the rigors of academia,” he says. “All these people came into school with credits, and I was like, ‘What is that? We started at the same time — how do you have credits already?’”

A man wearing a blue polo shirt
King Goldman, building operations and talent resources coordinator for Development and Alumni Relations. (Contributed photo)

When he started giving to the Student Emergency Fund, Goldman was thinking of students like him, who don’t come to college with a head start on credits. He was thinking of students who can’t ask a family member or friend for money. He was thinking of students who have to leave school when faced with a crisis.

Goldman is the building operations and talent resources coordinator for Development and Alumni Relations. It’s a crucial job, but he has little contact with students; the fund enables him to make an immediate and often critical difference. “When you give, that has to come from a place of wanting things to be better where you can’t actually put your hand to,” he says.

Goldman modestly calls himself “a neophyte giver,” he says. “I’m not a big philanthropist,” but he feels we all have a responsibility to support causes that affect VCU students and employees.

“If everyone gives a little bit, it can really have an impact. Whatever our final number is in a campaign, the person who gives $5 is part of that number, just like the person who gives $20 million,” he says. “You can’t get to the total without the sum of its parts.”