The Power of a Penny: Little Ways Our Lives Can Count for Something Big

The Power of a Penny: Little Ways Our Lives Can Count for Something Big

by Glenn Dromgoole

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Sometimes we find ourselves feeling like an old penny. Worthless. Forgotten. Discarded. Flattened. Ugly. Yet, like the penny, we still have value, and we can make a difference.

We have the power to smile.
We have the power to be kind.
We have the power to be courteous and pleasant.
We have the power to praise.
We have the power to listen.
We have the power to try.
We have the power to care.

We do not lack for power. We just need to recognize what we do have and make the best use of it. These short selections show readers the path to cultivating the everyday powers, gifts, and opportunities we all have, so as to make a positive difference in our world.

Discover your power . . . discover The Power of a Penny.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780312314774
Publisher: St. Martin''s Publishing Group
Publication date: 12/27/1999
Edition description: First Edition
Pages: 128
Sales rank: 1,088,843
Product dimensions: 5.00(w) x 7.70(h) x 0.50(d)

About the Author

GLENN DROMGOOLE is the co-founder of Americans for More Civility, a grassroots movement promoting reason, kindness and generosity in public life and private actions. Mr. Dromgoole spent thirty years as a newspaper editor and reporter, and has taught journalism at four colleges. He lives in Abilene, Texas.

Read an Excerpt

The Power of a Penny

Little Ways Our Lives Can Count for Something Big

By Glen Dromgoole

St. Martin's Press

Copyright © 1999 Glenn Dromgoole
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-1-4668-5499-4



The Power of a Penny

One is not born into the world to do everything, but to do something.

— Henry David Thoreau

The Power of a Penny

At first I hardly recognized it. It didn't look like much. I wasn't even sure it was what I thought it was.

I was out for a walk in the neighborhood. Walking with my head down. Walking and thinking. I find it's a good way to clear the cobwebs from my mind.

On these walks I occasionally find a little money. Never very much: a penny here, a nickel there. But I always stop and pick it up, then toss it in a jar where I keep change.

That day I spotted something that looked like a penny — sort of. I stopped and picked it up and examined it. It was a gnarled coin. It looked like it had been run over many times. The edges were jagged. I could barely make out the face of Lincoln. One old, beat-up penny.

But as I felt of that tired, worn, flattened, tromped on, almost worthless penny, it began to take on special meaning. It became a parable to me about how each person has value, about how each of us can contribute something to our communities.

Sometimes we find ourselves feeling like that old penny: Worthless. Forgotten. Discarded. Flattened. Ugly. Worn out. Yet like the penny, we still have value; we can make a difference.

That old penny made a small difference in at least two lives — mine, for one, and whoever benefited from the penny when I donated it, along with the rest of the change in my jar, to a charity fund.

When we get to thinking that we are little more than a drop in a bucket, that we don't have a lot of power over what's going on around us, we can take a lesson from that simple penny.

We have one vote, which we can use to the best of our ability. We have one voice, which we can use to make a positive difference in someone else's life. We have one minute, which we can use to write someone a note or listen to someone's problem or be someone's friend.

We can have the Power of a Penny if we learn to make use of the little things in our control. Over time, they can add up to something big.

Multiplying Our Pennies

Here is a little math test. If you had a choice of (a) working for a penny a day the first day, with your pay doubling every day for a month, or (b) getting paid ten thousand dollars a day for a month, which would you choose?

At first glance, ten thousand dollars a day sounds like a good choice. In a thirty-day month that's three hundred thousand dollars.

But look closer at the other option. The first day you earn just one penny, the second day two cents, then four, eight, sixteen, and so on. By the tenth day you are getting just $5.12 a day. But by the twenty-fifth day, your pay would be more than $167,000 a day. And on day thirty, you would make more than $5 million! For the month, instead of $300,000, you would have earned more than $10,700,000!

Now think about little gifts of praise and kindness and encouragement. If one person encouraged two people a week, and the next week those two each encouraged two people, and the next week those four each encouraged two people, and so on, in thirty weeks that one person's two acts of encouragement would result in more than ten million people receiving words of support or praise.

Those pennies we have at our disposal really can add up to something when we put them to work for others.

One at a Time

Communities don't just happen. They don't spring to life all of a sudden and then magically transform themselves into wonderful places to live or lousy places to live.

Communities are built one day at a time. One family at a time. One school teacher at a time. One sermon at a time. One newspaper editorial at a time. One caring doctor or nurse at a time. One United Way donation at a time. One business at a time. One helping hand at a time. One penny at a time.

And they can be torn down the same way. One indignity at a time. One indifference at a time. One mediocrity at a time. One cynicism at a time. One harsh comment at a time.

Communities are built by people who care, and they decline when people aren't willing to invest the time and money and energy and creativity and encouragement it takes to continue caring.

Life is a series of little decisions, little deeds, little things we do that add up to something over time. They can add up to something good or something bad. What kind of community are you building?

If Everyone Did It

One way to judge our actions is to think about what kind of world it would be if everyone behaved the way we do.

What if everyone contributed exactly what we do to the community — in time and money and support? Would our city be a better place or would very little get done?

What if everyone voted as often as we do? Would democracy be stronger or would it be in danger?

What if every driver lost his temper or acted courteously to the same extent we do? Would that make for more peaceful or more hostile highways?

What if everyone's child were as considerate or as rude as ours? What if everyone were as critical or as supportive as we are, as honest or as deceitful?

What if we all decided to throw just one piece of trash out of the car? What if we all picked up just one piece of trash every day?

We can't control the actions of others, but we do have control over our own.

A Penny's Worth

A penny won't buy much these days. Not by itself. It won't even buy a piece of penny candy anymore.

From time to time we hear talk about doing away with the pesky penny. It's worth so little, some say, that it ought to be discontinued. Just round off everything to the nearest nickel. Pennies are too much trouble to keep up with.

But what if we looked at it another way? What if, instead of doing away with pennies, we decided to give away our pennies?

How many pennies do you come across in a given day — four, five, ten, twenty? Those pennies, collected over a year's time, could count for something.

Let's say there are one hundred thousand people in your city. If every person — every man, woman, and child — put just one penny a day into a jar and then donated it to a good cause at the end of the year, that would amount to more than $365,000! In a city of a million people, that would be $3,650,000. Serious money.

Or look at it this way: If everyone in a city of one hundred thousand passed along one compliment a day or did one kind deed a day, in a year's time that would be more than 36 million compliments given or kindnesses done. In a city of a million, it would come to more than 360 million deeds.

A worthless penny? Not when you figure it that way. Our pennies have power, if we can just harness that power.

A Million Pennies

The children at Anahuac Elementary School collected a million pennies. It took them more than a year. But they learned a lot about themselves, community involvement, and math.

Anahuac (pronounced ANN-a-wack) is a town of less than two thousand people near Houston on the Texas Gulf Coast. The elementary school has been recognized by the state for its innovative teaching excellence.

The pennies project was organized by teachers and students to purchase an electronic sign for the campus and dedicate it to the memory of the school's longtime principal, Cecil Fuller, who had died of cancer. The sign would cost around ten thousand dollars — a million pennies.

The kids took up the challenge enthusiastically. They dug around under couch cushions at home for pennies. They checked car ashtrays. They cleaned out their piggy banks. The fund began to grow.

The whole town got involved. Stores put out jars for people to drop their change in. People sent in checks and cash, which the bank across the street from the school converted into pennies. Winnings from scratch-off lottery tickets were converted into pennies.

The pennies were deposited in a clear plastic box, four feet tall by five feet wide. Children and teachers alike watched with pride as the box began to fill up. Class math projects — from simple counting by fives to figuring weights and volumes and probabilities — were developed around the campaign.

The project started on Valentine's Day and reached its goal by the end of the next school year, fifteen months later. It took a long time to collect a million pennies.

But they did it. When they had reached their goal, it took the seven hundred children an hour and a half to parade bags of pennies across the street to the bank.

Now the school's electronic sign announces important school and community events. It serves as a monument to a principal who devoted his life to education — one child at a time.

And it stands as a reminder to the children, and to the town, about what can be accomplished through the Power of a Penny. All it takes is a hearty mix of imagination, determination, devotion, and generosity.

A Million Dollars in Pennies

Common Cents New York has raised more than a million dollars for charity through citywide "penny harvests" in New York City.

It began with one little girl wanting to help a homeless person, and one parent's response. It has evolved into a year-round educational program involving young people becoming engaged in community service at hundreds of schools.

Each fall, thousands of students collect more than $350,000 in pennies and other change from Halloween to Thanksgiving. A hundred tons of coins are sorted and bagged at a massive Ton-a-Thon celebration and work day.

Common Cents got its start when Nora Gross, then three, noticed a homeless man shivering in the cold and asked her dad if they could take him home. Dad declined, but it started him thinking about his own responsibility and commitment. So Teddy Gross took Nora door-to-door in their apartment building collecting idle pennies, and they donated the proceeds to help the homeless.

Soon the idea spread to a congregation, then to New York City schools. In its first nine years, Common Cents collected more than $1.3 million in coins for charity, and Gross says the project's potential has barely been tapped. If all New York City schools participated, the penny harvests could easily bring in a million dollars a year. And it could become a model statewide for similar programs.

But collecting and counting the money is just one step in an even more important process of philanthropy education. Young people themselves determine how the money is spent. Students and teachers develop community service project ideas to meet needs in their neighborhoods and apply for grants from student review teams, called "round tables." Every spring, thousands of checks are issued for projects ranging from buying Scrabble sets for senior centers to developing peer mentor programs to feeding hungry people and helping sick children.

Through the penny harvests and the subsequent round table deliberations and decisions, students learn that public service not only helps build better communities and responsible citizens but personal character and satisfaction as well. They experience firsthand the Power of a Penny, a power they can harvest wherever they are, for the rest of their lives.

Count Your Pennies

The lady on the phone wanted to know if someone from the newspaper office could come out to her house and pick up her pennies. She had been saving them for the Christmas charity our paper sponsored.

She was eighty-five, lived alone, walked with a cane. She couldn't get out to take the pennies to the various drop-off points around town.

So I drove over to her modest but very neat home. She said her husband had passed away just a few months before, and then she had lost a sister, and then a sister-in-law. She wasn't looking forward to a very happy Christmas.

But, she said, she wanted to do something to help others who were less fortunate than she. So she had saved up her pennies. She had them in a freezer bag. Haven't counted them, she said, but here they are. She wished she could do more.

I put her small bag of pennies with the others that came in. I didn't count them, for it wasn't the amount of her gift but the spirit that counted. She gave what she could.

One-Penny Foundations

He must have one of the best jobs in the world. As the head of a charitable foundation, he goes around doing good, spreading money liberally to benefit a variety of good causes.

Listening to him speak about some of the interesting projects his foundation has supported, I found myself wishing I had millions of dollars to help worthwhile causes.

Of course, I don't. And won't. Nor will you. Not unless we hit it big in the lottery or some other windfall. But, you know, folks like us really can have an impact. Our money — and our time — count far more than we might realize.

Maybe we should look at our meager resources as minifoundations — one-penny foundations. We can be as generous proportionately, or more so, than wealthy philanthropists if we make giving a priority.

A few pennies a day for this group. A few dollars a year for that one. A major gift of maybe fifty or a hundred dollars to a few organizations. A gift of time. A donation of food and clothing and household goods. In the course of a year, our own "foundations" can help spread the wealth to a number of deserving charities in our cities.

It's not a matter of giving what we don't have. It's simply a matter of recognizing all that we do have — and being willing to share it.

The First Penny

The familiar Chinese proverb applies to the Power of a Penny: A journey of a thousand miles begins with the first step.

So it is with the pennies in our lives. Not just the monetary pennies — those one-cent Lincolns — but all the little things we have control over. It all begins with that first penny, that first step.

Someone decides to give one penny to a cause. Then one more. Then another one. Then he shares the idea with a church group, or a class at school, or the folks at work, and they start pitching in their pennies, their dollars.

Or it begins with one word of encouragement to someone in need of hearing it. And that person encourages one other person. And so on.

Or it begins with taking that first step toward a goal that we've had in the back of our mind. That family picture album we've been planning to put together. That fitness program we had good intentions to begin. That side business we've dreamed of operating. That church or United Way pledge we've been meaning to increase. That musical instrument we've always wanted to learn to play. That act of reconciliation toward a work associate, a family member, a former friend that might help heal a broken relationship.

It begins with that first little, but powerful, penny. And it begins today.



We Have the Power

There is no power on earth that can neutralize the influence of a high, pure, simple, and useful life.

— Booker T. Washington

We Have the Power

We don't have control over a lot of things in our lives. But it's easy to let that be an excuse for not using all the power we do have.

We have the power to smile. The power to be kind. The power to be courteous and pleasant. The power to be supportive. The power to say thank you.

We have the power to lend a hand. The power to be thoughtful and considerate. The power to compliment. The power to listen. The power to encourage. The power to make others feel important. The power to watch what we say.

We have the power to keep trying. The power to do what we can. The power to aim high. The power to do our best.

We have the power to trust. The power to be truthful and honest. The power to participate. The power to give. The power to be unselfish. The power to vote. The power to read.

We have the power to be optimistic. The power to be happy. The power to feel. The power to like ourselves. The power to be satisfied. The power to treat other people with respect. The power to be open-minded. The power to be civil.

We have the power to make a difference. The power to amount to something. The power to make our lives count.

We do not lack for power. We just need to recognize it and make the best use of it.

The Power to Smile

I have enjoyed some good times with Russian people, both here and there. I find them to be warm and friendly, even charming for the most part. However, when I visited Moscow, I observed that in the stores the clerks weren't very friendly.


Excerpted from The Power of a Penny by Glen Dromgoole. Copyright © 1999 Glenn Dromgoole. Excerpted by permission of St. Martin's Press.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

Table of Contents


Title Page,
Copyright Notice,
Part One: The Power of a Penny,
Part Two: We Have the Power,
Part Three: Using Our Power,
Resource Guide,
A Penny for Your Thoughts,
Also by Glenn Dromgoole,
About the Author,

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