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Oprah's 'Big Give' Winner Makes Charity His Goal

When Oprah Winfrey handed Greenwich resident Stephen Paletta $1 million to give to whatever charity he wished, the choice wasn’t easy. “What I quickly learned was, yes, some people were interested in what I was interested in, but people were more interested in what they care about.”

With more than 200 charities within a 10-mile radius of Greenwich, he realized there was not enough money to go around. “I wondered, ‘What if I could hand you money on a regular basis and you could give to whatever charity you cared about,” said Paletta. With his winnings, he created his own foundation, GiveBack , which helps others establish charitable foundations.

Would-be philanthropists can join GiveBack and set up a personal foundation account. They raise money through personal donations and by doing something people do anyway—shopping. At different retailers, online and in-store, shoppers can earn small percentages of purchases of everyday items—kids shoes, rakes, flowers for mom, Starbucks gift cards—to go to their foundation.

Their funds become part of GiveBack, but the members can give their money away whenever they choose, as a single donation or as part of a group. One hundred percent of the money is sent to the charity.

“Our value proposition is to celebrate and activate the everyday philanthropist,” said Paletta. “I hope that GiveBack can do for others what Oprah did for me.”

At the time “Oprah’s Big Give” launched, Paletta, a Cornell University-trained civil engineer, was out of a job. His business had been repairing pipelines in New Orleans until Hurricane Katrina hit. While building his business, Paletta had also built schools in Rwanda. His pastor urged him to audition, saying not only would he be selected for the show, he would win.

“The truth is, philanthropy has nothing to do with money. The real meaning is to love and serve mankind … and everyone can be a philanthropist.”

Do you know any unsung philanthropists in Greenwich? Comment below or send responses to ahelhoski@mainstreetconnect.us

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