Feb. 8, 2010 -- Joan and Kevin Salwen were living a "standard American life" -- until their 14-year-old daughter convinced them they should sell their Atlanta home, downsize their lifestyle and give the money to a charity. This one act set off a chain reaction that would lead the Salwens down a new path, opening themselves to new experiences, and bringing them together as a family.
Read and excerpt of their new book "The Power of Half" below.
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Our family is a fairly typical Atlanta foursome: two baby boomers (Joan and Kevin) and two teenagers (Hannah and Joseph). Our days consist of the standard American life — school, work, and youth sports. For more than a decade we aspired to the usual: new cars, a spacious home, nice vacations. Sure, we took on the occasional volunteer activity, feeding the homeless and building Habitat for Humanity houses, but largely we were consumed by our careers and enhancing our lifestyle through bigger, newer, better. We were focused on us. We moved into a huge "Dream House," large enough for us to scatter in different directions. As we drove from activity to activity, the TV in the back seat kept the kids entertained — and our family from connecting. At dinner, conversations began to center on to-do lists instead of meaningful dialogue. Our sense of togetherness was beginning to erode. I can't pinpoint the moment it happened because, after all, erosion is so much harder to recognize than earthquake damage. Still, when we stopped to take a hard look, it was clear that we were drifting apart. We were losing our core.
Then our life took an amazing turn.
Prodded by Hannah, who at fourteen had become increasingly upset about the imbalance of opportunities in the world, we launched an audacious family project. We decided to sell our 6,500-square-foot landmark home, move to a nondescript house that was half as big, and donate half of the sales price to help alleviate poverty in one of the neediest corners of the planet. We committed to donating more than $800,000 for work in two dozen villages in Ghana — a place we not only hadn't visited, but one so foreign to us that we had to look it up on the map.
The result was a remarkable family adventure. Around our dinner table, we spent hours discussing the world's problems and how we might help. We made every decision in our two-year journey collectively, with kids having just as much say as parents.
But this book is more than just the tale of a family trying to turn the good life into a life of good. It's about unintended consequences, like the way inventors stumbled across penicillin or Post-it notes or Flubber. Yes, we're helping the world a bit. But in the process we are transforming our relationships with one another. And that has been the real surprise.
Copyright Houghton Mifflin Harcourt