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Natural Awakenings National

The Power of Half: An Inspiring Awakening

May 01, 2010 03:00AM ● By Hannah Salwen

Fourteen-year-old Hannah Salwen’s awakening to the urgent need for social justice led to a unanimous family decision to dramatically change the focus of all of their lives. They sold their huge historic house, moved into a more modest home and gave half of the sale price to charity.

In The Power of Half, co-authored with her father, Hannah describes how the project connected her family and lays out how others can undertake their own project (of any size). Hannah’s work inspires us all to take another look at our own relationships and our ability to make a difference in the world.


As the British philosopher Edmund Burke said, “Nobody made a greater mistake than he who did nothing because he could only do a little.” I know exactly what he was talking about.

Before our family Power of Half project, I kept telling myself that no matter how hard I tried or how much money I gave to causes, I would never be able to fully solve any of the world’s big problems. When I worked at Café 458, the Atlanta restaurant for homeless men and women, I saw dozens of people come in looking depressed and lonely. I didn’t see them as individuals, but instead as a group called “the homeless.”

One day, I heard two homeless men talking about a college basketball game that I had watched with my dad the night before. I snapped to the realization that these are people, and not just some anonymous group. How stupid and rude I had been to see them as different from me.

Having that epiphany was a big step for me. In that split second of comprehension, I switched to seeing people in need as individuals; the problem of homelessness and hunger seemed smaller and I felt like I could make more of a difference. I also started believing that I could help because I was aware of their problem on a personal level.

I believe that no matter how little you have, it’s worth parting with half of something in order to make a difference. Sometimes giving time is better than giving away money or clothes. The point is not as much about personal sacrifice as it is realizing how much you have available to give in time, talent and treasure to improve someone else’s life. 

Excerpted from “Hannah’s Take” in The Power of Half: One Family’s Decision to Stop Taking and Start Giving Back,” by Kevin Salwen and Hannah Salwen, © 2010. Reprinted by permission of Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. Find more information on creating your own project via the family’s CD, blog and study guide; visit

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