Half Projects & Catching Up With 'The Power of Half'

Juliet Farmer

Salwen Family
Photo from The Power of Half
(pictured l-r: Kevin, Hannah, Joe, Joan)
The Power of Half, by Kevin and Hannah Salwen, is about one family's dedication and determination to make a positive impact on someone(s) in need through charitable giving.

I've been following the family's blog and saw that they were in the midst of another Half Project, so I decided to check in with them and see how things are going.

(All questions answered by Kevin, as the rest of the family was busy studying for exams.)

Q: How is the latest Half Project going (no A/C)?
A: Not bad, really, although the dogs may disagree. There have of course been hot days (and we're expecting hotter, given that we live in Hotlanta). But we realize that a little bit of discomfort is actually a great reminder that there are plenty of people in our community who can't afford utilities, especially in this recession. So, it's definitely worth cutting our utility bill in half and using those funds to help support others who can't afford utilities.

Q: How is the initial Half Project progressing?
A: We're headed back to Ghana again in July to see first hand. But the reports from the villages have been very positive -- people are working together, women-led committees are progressing well; in other words, the work that the villagers need as a foundation to begin to build a brighter future for themselves is going as hoped. As for our family, we continue to feel more connected and trusting in our relationships with one another.

Q: What are some other Half Projects your family has undertaken? 
A: Each May, when the postal carriers collect food for their Stamping Out Hunger campaign, we clean out half the food in our pantry. Usually Hannah is in charge of that one, so the mac n cheese stays and the lentils and other veggies somehow disappear. Amazing how that works.

Q: On your blog, I saw the "And then there were 3" post. Any other Half stories you're hearing?
A: We get emails regularly from people who have crafted their own Half projects -- cleaning out half the clothes or shoes from their closets, for instance. One couple bought a house of half the size when they moved in the early spring. One of our favorites actually came from a school in suburban New York, where kids timed their showers, then cut those minutes in half. The creativity is inspiring to us and we'll soon be featuring more of those innovations on our site.

Q: For those who have yet to read the book, how do you all balance work, life, family and other obligations with charitable giving?
A: It's really a question of priority. In our family, we decided that weekend mornings would be the best time for us all to meet; that meant a bit less weekend work for Joan and me, a bit less weekend sleep for the kids. It's funny, we all seem to have plenty of time for shopping or Facebook, but structuring an hour a week to dedicate ourselves to making the world a little bit better is unavailable? I guess what I'm saying is that once we decided to become a family that wanted to define itself (at least in part) by what we give, we needed to tweak our schedules to make that happen. Once we looked at it that way, it seemed doable.

Q: Has the Half Project shaped the directions of Hannah's and Joseph's future plans?
A: Hannah has decided she would like to be a nurse, in part because of how inspired she was seeing the crucial work of the nurses in the Ghanaian villages. She is currently preparing to apply to colleges with high-quality nursing programs (Boston College, Penn, Michigan, NYU, and others). Joseph's plans are less defined; he's only a high-school freshman.

Q: How has it shaped/changed your and Joan's relationship/marriage?
A: I think it's easy for marriages to focus on matters of relative unimportance -- home-decorating projects, etc. -- or to be intensely focused on the kids (helicopter parents). But this Half Project has allowed Joan and me to explore many other facets of each other, from our desires to define ourselves through philanthropy, to the willingness to empower our children to the exotic travel in which we became "the other" in a very healthy and expansive way. You learn a lot about another person by stepping out of your comfort zone; fortunately, we each like what we see more than we even had before. So, I'd have to say that this boy from Brooklyn and this girl from Iowa who met in the left-field bleachers of Wrigley Field are in pretty good shape after 22 years of marriage.

Q: How has it changed your relationships with your children?
A: There is no doubt that this project has drawn our family closer, bringing a new level of communication among us. As we worked through the process of meeting each week to decide how to invest the funds from the sale of the big house, we researched, discussed, and voted (one person, one vote). That allowed us to understand each other's value better, and gave us a common currency for additional dialogue. There is no doubt that we trust our children more to make good decisions and that they are more open and honest with us. That's one of the most remarkable things about our Half project -- and one that we never expected.

Q: What's next for the Salwen family?
A: Summertime!  Baseball for Joe; more book travel for Hannah and me; lots of reading and R+R for Joan. Plus, we are all headed to Ghana in July with The Hunger Project to see how the work is progressing. And of course, there will be more Half projects -- they are so easily measured and replicable. We like the formula and what those projects do for both the world and our family.

Thanks to Kevin, I feel another wave of inspiration crashing over me, and I'm headed to my closet and cupboards to gather items to donate to a local charity. I've also set up the clothes line in my backyard, and I plan to line dry everything I wash for the next few months.

What's your Half Project?

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