the Langille family fund
As Hurricane Harvey made landfall in Texas and Louisiana in August of 2017, the apples in Michelle and Ben Langille’s small backyard orchard in Manchester, Massachusetts, were just beginning to ripen.
Hearing about the devastation left behind by the storm, the Langille’s’ two elementary-aged children got an idea. They would pick and sell the apples to raise money to help the thousands of people suffering in Harvey’s aftermath. They set up a stand on the sidewalk in front of their house and called their philanthropic business: The Crabby Apple: Apples for a Cause, and encouraged passersby to take an apple and leave a donation.
The Crabby Apple has become a yearly fundraising tradition for the Langille children. In 2018, in the wake of the gas explosions in Lawrence, Andover, and North Andover, the kids raised money for ECCF’s Greater Lawrence Disaster Relief Fund. This past fall, they sold apples to support the Longevity Bench Project, an effort in Manchester to install a sitting bench every half-mile along popular walking routes to promote and encourage walking as a healthy activity for people of all ages. The Langille’s had a bench installed on their property in 2019.
“It became a family affair –an opportunity for all of us to connect with our community,” said Michelle. “The kids manned their apple stand and told everyone passing by what the Longevity Bench Project is about and why they were supporting it.”
“They both felt so proud that they contributed to the bench installation,” added Ben. “They got to see a tangible result from their efforts.”
And they have their parents to thank for understanding what giving back means and looks like in its many different forms. Michelle, a former attorney who now works as a grant writer for local nonprofits, is a member of the Board of Trustees at Wellspring House, a Gloucester-based nonprofit that helps families and adults achieve employment and financial security through stable housing, education, job training, and career readiness. The Langille’s also has strong ties to ECCF. Ben, an attorney who serves as Senior Vice President and Senior Counsel at Affiliated Managers Group, has been a member of ECCF’s Board of Trustees since 2016 when the couple also opened a donor-advised fund with ECCF. They have both been involved in the Foundation’s NextGen initiative, which seeks to engage the region’s next generation of philanthropic leaders, since its inception. Michelle also serves on ECCF’s Grants Management Committee, as well as its County Leadership Council.
“I grew up with an understanding that giving back is important,” said Michelle, who was raised in the Jewish tradition learning about tikkun olam, a concept that has been a guiding principle in her life. “Tikkun olam translates to ‘repair the world.’ It is the idea that we have an obligation to act compassionately for all people and to leave the world better than the way we found it.”
“Now that we have kids,” she added, “we’ve been looking for ways to pass along those same values to them.”
Bringing up children who exhibit empathy and generosity is no easy task in today’s fast-paced world. Schedules filled with work, meetings, after-school activities, and carpools can leave little time to think about anything else. But the Langilles have found a way to not only talk to their children about giving back but to also lead by example.
Through NextGen–an initiative that strives to create opportunities that fit into these busy schedules –the Langilles have connected with other young families in the area and have had the opportunity to attend educational and social events that facilitate discussions about the real needs that exist in our local communities.
“I don’t think many people know how great the need is in Essex County,” said Michelle.
One recent NextGen event Michelle particularly enjoyed was a gathering at which attendees discussed values using Motivational Values cards from nonprofit 21/64. The result was a lively, eye-opening, and engaging discussion about what drives people to make all kinds of decisions.
“ECCF gives people the opportunity to have critical discussions like this, which are central to deciphering what’s really personally important as you make decisions about giving back,” said Michelle. In addition to donating their time on nonprofit boards, committees, and councils, and engaging in the charitable work they do as a family, the Langille’s use their ECCF donor-advised fund to support educational organizations such as their children’s schools and their alma maters, healthcare nonprofits that conduct research on and provide support for medical issues that affect their family and friends, and local nonprofit organizations like Root, Essex County Greenbelt Association, Backyard Growers, Wellspring House and ECCF.
While much of their current giving now is focused on nonprofits they are connected to, the fund, the couple says, will grow and evolve as their own lives and interests grow and evolve. But the vehicle through which they give is already securely in place. “Our fund at ECCF is something that is largely the groundwork for where we’ll be in five, 10, or 15 years,” said Ben.
Right now, the Langille’s are focusing on passing down the values of giving to their children so that they understand why it’s so vitally important, and so that in the future, they can be more involved in which causes and nonprofits the Langille Family Fund at ECCF supports. For the Langilles, talking about giving helps to dispel the idea that only certain people are able to give back.
“It’s important to talk about giving back in all its forms because while many people view themselves as charitable, fewer people feel comfortable calling themselves ‘philanthropists,’” said Michelle. “There’s a stereotype that philanthropists must be extraordinarily wealthy, which causes a lot of discomfort and disconnect. In reality, a philanthropist is anyone who makes an active effort to promote human welfare.”
“The more people talk to each other about these topics, the more they realize that we can all give back in some way. It’s not about how much money you have at all,” said Ben. “We are grateful that ECCF has provided us with a vehicle to have these discussions amongst ourselves and with our peers.”