USA Weekend Magazine Hannah Salwen, Founder of "The Power of Half" photographed with her brother Joseph, and parents Joan and Kevin Salwen in Kirkland, WA for USA Weekend Magazine. / Brian Smale/USA WEEKEND
Hannah Salwen’s parents had already been giving back. Or so they thought.
Hannah’s mother, Joan, volunteered at the local United Way, and her entrepreneur father, Kevin, sat on the board of Habitat for Humanity. The whole family volunteered together at a local food bank in Atlanta.
But after seeing a panhandler as her father was driving her home in his Mercedes from a sleepover, Hannah, then 14, began to question whether her family was really doing enough.
“I was angry at myself and my family,” says Hannah, now 18. With everything they had, including a $2 million house, she wondered why they weren’t doing more. She resolved to bring it up that night at the dinner table.
At first, her parents were defensive. But “once we pulled back and really heard what Hannah was saying,” her father says, they realized they could do more. But what?
“Do you want us to sell our home and give half of it away to charity?” Joan teased two days later. Hannah’s simple reply: “Well, yes. I think we should.”
With that, the family began an unexpected journey. After giving equal weight to the opinions of Hannah and her younger brother, Joe, they decided to sell their luxury house and give more than half the profit, ultimately $800,000, to charity.
“Selling your home and uprooting yourself is a big deal,” Joan concedes. “I miss my beautiful kitchen. But the gain — being closer as a family and having that commitment to something — has been more than worth it.”
Now the family does more together, like playing ping-pong in the middle of the house because there’s nowhere else for the table. They’ve traveled twice to Ghana to see their money, donated to the Hunger Project, in action. They also had a chance to meet Bill and Melinda Gates, who flew Hannah, Joan and Kevin to Kirkland, Wash., to meet the power couple for this story.
“We know it’s not right for everyone to sell their home, but we know people who’ve cleaned out half of their closets or now take showers that are half as long,” Kevin says. “There are so many simple things you can do.”
To which Hannah adds: “I think all Americans have the power to give something.”
To learn more, check out their book, The Power of Half, or their blog, thepowerofhalf.com.