For Justin and Genevieve Wyner, giving back to community has been a way of life since they were children.
Growing up in New Rochelle, New York, Genevieve remembers her family supporting United Way back when it was called “The Community Chest.” From the get-go, her family always felt that they had a responsibility to support the community.
Similarly, Justin started supporting United Way when he was just 10-years-old. His mother was a United Way District Captain in the Fisher Hill area of Brookline, Massachusetts. She would give Justin donation cards to solicit around the neighborhood.
Without missing a beat, Justin continued his commitment to community service at college. “When I was at Tufts, I took on United Way’s Red Feather Campaign in 1944, soliciting on the campus.” He even dressed up in a pilgrim uniform, which was the campaign’s symbol (shown below).
When Justin and Genevieve got married 63 years ago, their support for United Way continued to be an important part of their lives together.
Genevieve served on the allocations committee for Girls Organizations for a year and learned a great deal. In 1960, she was a Captain for the Red Feather Campaign and — being a philanthropic-minded family — Justin helped with her efforts. He thought it would only be short-term, but one night he and Genevieve went to a campaign meeting. He shared some ideas with the group. “The next thing I knew,” says Justin, “they put me in charge.”
Those must have been some pretty impressive ideas because Justin became the Chairman of United Way’s Red Feather Community Services of Brookline. “I was brought up with the idea that you live in a community and each person, to the best of their abilities, has to contribute to the community whether it be by service or by funds,” says Justin. “You do the best you can and that’s what makes a great community.”
Becoming Tocqueville Society Members
Genevieve recalls being part of the Tocqueville Society when the meetings took place in someone’s house. “It gave me a very warm feeling to be part of this organization,” she says. “Becoming a Tocqueville member is one way to become part of a community and to become active in a worthwhile cause. And I can’t think of anything more worthwhile than United Way. My involvement over the years has offered me a chance to grow personally. Getting involved in a community organization means working with other people and that in itself offers opportunities to make friends and grow.”
As Justin and Genevieve became more engaged in the Tocqueville Society, one of the members took them to visit service sites in the city. One time, they went to a gym in Roxbury and met a man who had been in jail. After being released, the man started rehabilitating troubled young people. Another time, they went to an organization that works with underserved youth. “Each year, for a number of years, we’d look forward to visiting a unique organization that United Way had fostered and had seen a necessity for supporting. That impressed us very much because of the community touch we got to experience.”
Justin has served in many different roles at United Way, including as a Board member. He has seen the organization change with the evolving needs of the community. “It’s been a gratifying experience,” he says. “Especially to see how United Way has been able to foster growth for Boston’s inner city children. If we don’t give them everything they need to succeed in life, then we’ll all suffer for it. Tocqueville provides an opportunity to bring in new leadership to support the community and to continue fostering that growth. We have a responsibility because without strong leadership from people who are able to give — and to give of their time — then we’ll fall by the wayside.”
Starting Family Traditions
Justin and Genevieve have three sons, three daughters-in-law, and five beautiful grandchildren ranging in ages from 14–24. They have been positive role models for their own children from the start, offering examples of how they fit into the community and the sense of responsibility that follows. “I think it caught fire,” recounts Genevieve. “Our kids are very generous in many different ways.” In fact, the act of giving has become a family tradition over the decades.
Years ago, Justin’s and Genevieve’s family would get together with Justin’s late sister and her family on the last night of Hanukkah. His sister wanted to get their children — and later on, grandchildren — in the custom of giving. Before they gathered, they would tell the children to come prepared with a charity worthy of support. When they came together, they would write down the names of the charities and spread them out across the floor. His sister would then give each child $25 and they could decide on the causes they wanted to support by placing the money on the organization’s name.
“We’d send a letter to the organization with the money, explaining this story,” says Justin. “We’d ask them to send a thank you letter back to the kids because we were getting them in the tradition of giving.”
As the family tradition continues to this day, Justin says it has been gratifying to see the children’s enthusiasm when they talk about various charities they wish to support.
Things may have changed since the days of the Red Feather Campaign and the Community Chest, but one thing remains the same — the caring, devotion and generosity of the Wyner family continues as they pass the torch from one generation t