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March 15, 2010; The New Yorker | It’s one thing to give away your wealth after you die, but quite another while still living and you have a family to support—and not to mention friends to explain your actions to.

Kevin and Joan Salwen, of Alanta, didn’t give it all away, but they did sell their house and donate half their proceeds to help villagers in Ghana. The story of the gift is told in the book, The Power of Half, which Kevin wrote with his daughter Hannah, who was the inspiration for this grand act of charity. . According to the New Yorker, 14-year-old Hannah started a conversation one day in which she questioned whether her parents did enough good for others. Even after detailing how they volunteered at a food bank, wrote checks to charities and let a family displaced by Katrina stay with them, that still wasn’t enough for their daughter. In response, Joan asked, “What do you want to do, sell the house?” Hannah said, “Yeah! that’s exactly what I want to do.”

Because friends reacted with scorn after hearing what the Salwen’s did, they tried to keep their actions quiet. Later, after agreeing to share their story on television, they came under criticism again. This time from people angry that they’d given their money to Africans instead of Americans. Others thought the couple had lost their minds. One wrote: “What kind of ass clown works his tail off, and busts his hump getting a decent education, only to listen to his kid suggest they give away the house?”

In trying to encourage others to do charity on a larger than normal scale, Ken Salwen says there are some risks to watch for. They guard against judging people for not doing what they’ve done while also not suggesting those who haven’t—or won’t sell their house for charity—aren’t as good as them. Instead, they just hope their example itself carries the day. “When I tell people, I try so hard not to come off as boasty,” Hannah says. “I want people to feel, like, ‘That’s actually cool. I want to do something like that in my family.’”

Does it work? According to the New Yorker, a few days after a recent appearance before a group of teenagers at Marymount in New York City, they received an email that said, “I have dreamed of living in a huge mansion and marrying a millionaire. But now, I see that the world is a largely connected community. I owe that to you. Today, I took out clothing from my closets that were too small or that I didn’t wear . . . You’re making a difference!”—Bruce Trachtenberg