PHILANTHROPISTS & CHRISTIAN CITY SUPPORTERS
Marie and Steve Swope – A Marriage Strengthened by Serving Together
You celebrated your 41st wedding anniversary in 2018. How did you meet and how has serving together impacted your marriage over the years?
Marie: We met when we were 16 working at the same department store in Atlanta. We went to different high schools. After graduation, Steve went to Georgia Southern College, and I went to Georgia State. After a year, he came back to Atlanta and enrolled at Georgia State. We got married in our junior year, and both graduated from Georgia State with bachelor’s degrees in marketing. Steve went to work at Delta Air Lines and I went to work for a chemical company.
Together, we’ve always served by doing things for other people. We do that within the context of our church, our community, our family and our friends. That’s one reason Marie and I have such a strong connection. We’ve both got the same mindset about service. We serve others because that’s how we were raised, and we tried to raise our kids the same way.
What’s your philosophy about the best way to make an impact through philanthropy…
I really do believe when it comes to giving, everything we do is for ourselves and for someone else. When you do something for someone else, it involves sacrifice because you could be doing something for yourself instead. As we in life have come to understand, one of the greatest pleasures is doing things for other people. It does call for sacrifice, and you’re not willing to sacrifice unless you care. Once you care about something, it’s easy to sacrifice. You see it many times with tutoring, charitable giving, people that do volunteer work. It’s because they care about that cause, they care about that person. They’re willing to give of themselves. Whether it’s their time, or their skill, or their financial resources, giving always involves a sacrifice. What value does life have if you keep everything for yourself? The more you love something, the more you’ll sacrifice for it.
We’ve always done good things. We’ve always volunteered. When the sale of the second company came along, it enabled us to do the major things. And I had way more time to fill than I had before the kids were grown. That’s when I got involved with the GED and Literacy program in Newnan. I’ve been volunteering now for 17 years, and it is the best thing I do every week.
Throughout our entire married life, we’ve always given of ourselves and financially to the degree we could. Even when we first got married, we did things in our church community mostly. When we moved to Newnan, we began to get more involved. We’ve always supported charities, church work, and schools to the degree we could. I don’t think we’ve changed. But what has changed is our capacity to do good. We can have a bigger impact than we could have otherwise.
The Bible says, “the more someone is given, the more that is expected of them.” I believe those of us who are given a lot have a responsibility to give back. Steve and I treat ourselves pretty well, but we don’t to the detriment of other people. That’s how we got started giving in a bigger way. We made the decision to Biblically tithe, and we took 10 percent of what we made on the sale of the company and set it aside to go to charity. We decided to support local charities and most of them are dealing with children.
I feel strongly about this: it’s easy to write a check, and we could have said, “we’ll just write a check,” to all of these different organizations. It’s much harder to give of yourself, but that’s what we do. We don’t just write checks. We’re on the ground and working.
What motivates you to support children’s charities in particular?
Probably 95 percent of what we do is targeted to children and vulnerable people within our community. When Marie said the most enjoyable thing for her during the week is the GED program, mine is when we go to the Title I school on Wednesday and tutor kids for a couple of hours. We’re in our third year now. The kids remember who we are, and we only see them once or twice a month. There were 25 we worked with last year. They come running down the hall when they see us, and we love working with them. Some of them say they only want to work with the “boy” Swope, not the “girl” Swope.
These are children who desperately need attention, and they’re struggling on so many levels. They’re food insecure, need clothing, sleeping on one cousin’s couch this week and another cousin’s couch the next, or in need of a bath. It’s really tough, but these kids are so optimistic.
You mentioned being involved with your church community throughout your marriage. How have you grown through serving your church?
I was raised a Methodist, but when I was 17, I converted to become a Roman Catholic. I went to mass a couple of times with Marie during our early dating years. When I was at Georgia Southern, a couple of my friends were Catholic. I went to church with them a few times, and I met with a priest in Stone Mountain. I found a depth in the Catholic church that I didn’t have previously. Maybe it was just that I was too immature to understand. So I became Catholic, and we’ve been very faithful churchgoers ever since we got married. Marie’s dad is a deacon, and in 2002 our pastor asked me if I was interested in becoming a deacon. I applied, started in 2003, went through the 5 years of formation and in February 2008, I was ordained.
Shortly thereafter, I was told the archbishop wanted to meet with me. They wanted me to be director of the formation program for all the permanent deacons. I told them I couldn’t do it, because I was CEO of a company. I had a full-time job, and there was no way that was going to work. The archbishop suggested I go home and pray about it. On the way home, I called Marie who reminded me I had been thinking about getting out of business and maybe this was my path out. I took that job. From 2008 to 2011, I had my full-time job as CEO of my company, and part-time job for the archdiocese. God graciously helped us sell the company. Then I went to work full-time for the archdiocese. In that capacity, I’ve done a lot of things, and I was director of formation for the permanent diaconate for a little over five years.
When Joseph Mitchell died, who was Margaret Mitchell’s nephew, he gave his entire estate to the archdiocese. The archbishop asked me to take that over. Up until last year, I was CEO of the company that had control over the book rights for Gone with the Wind. We still have control over all of Margaret Mitchell’s personal effects, including her press card, library card, Atlanta Journal Constitution employee ID, and driver’s license. Those effects are in our climate-controlled archives, but I’ve been working diligently with UGA, the Smithsonian, and Atlanta History Center, because the artifacts are important to the City of Atlanta. I was at St. George for 32 years, and last year I was transferred and assigned to St. Mary Magdalene in Newnan.
While your family has been connected to Christian City for many years, you became involved just recently. What prompted your engagement?
I’ve always known Christian City was here because my mother volunteered here for over 20 years. Last year, we came to realize what Christian City means to children who could otherwise have a different life story. They could be on the streets, or they could be living in abusive or neglectful situations and perpetuate yet another generation of people who are impoverished or uneducated. Christian City gives these children the chance to break that cycle. The truth is the only way out of poverty is to break the cycle, to give these children another opportunity, and being educated is the biggest opportunity.
We visited Christian City, and LaVann gave us the tour. We met the house parents and toured one of the homes while the children were at school. We found out this is “real.” It is awesome. It’s an effective program, something that works. Everyone we met were genuinely good people with the interest of the folks who live here in mind. It fits perfectly with what we want to do.
The Children’s Village is home. You feel the love, and you see the message. In society, we see the breakdown of families. What Christian City does is give that back. We can think what we want about society changing, but the bottom line is children still need families. Family doesn’t have to look like it looked when Steve and I grew up in suburbia with a mom and a dad, but that concept of family must be there.
I think that’s one of the important messages that Christian City sends out, too – that society is changing, but we’ve got to have families. Children musthave a family. And sometimes they find their family at Christian City. I think that’s one of the reasons we’re so enamored with Christian City and what is being done. It’s the fact that we can change children’s life stories.
What’s the next step for you in your engagement with Christian City?
We invited people to last year’s Drive and Dine, and they were moved when the event co-chairs, Anne and Taylor Josey, spoke. It struck them and touched their hearts. They were moved to give, and perhaps they will go out, inform and invite others.
It’s now our responsibility to inform people. Christian City needs assistance. Any non-profit needs money, and it’s our job to let people know that this place does exist, and that Christian City is a worthy organization to support.