Erika Stone: WWII Refugee Establishes CGAs With the IRC

Erika Stone

Erika Stone

As a refugee from Nazi Germany, I care deeply about the plight of refugees and support the International Rescue Committee's life-saving work. So, when a close friend of mine established a charitable gift annuity with one of her favorite charities 10 years ago and encouraged me to do the same, I immediately thought of the IRC. In fact, my father told me that the IRC aided our family when we arrived in the United States.

Since you are an important supporter of the IRC, I wanted to share my story with you in the hope that you too will consider this wonderful way to help refugees while providing yourself with a high secure return and substantial tax savings.

I have been so pleased with IRC's charitable gift annuity program that I have already established 10 annuity gifts.

Charitable gift annuities can be funded with cash or appreciated securities. In return for my gifts, I am now receiving annuity payments ranging from 7.8% - 8.5%. (The annuity rate depends on your age when you make your gift). For example, my most recent gift of $10,000 provides me with an 8.5% annuity-$850/year. Two-thirds of this amount ($568/year) is now completely tax-free. Plus, I got an immediate income tax deduction of $5,285 for my gift.

I had a lovely childhood in Germany before Hitler. But, everything changed when Hitler came into power. My parents planned our escape in fear and total secrecy, not even telling my sister and me of our impending departure.

I was 12 years old when my family arrived in the United States. We faced serious financial hardship while starting our new lives. As a teenager, I earned some extra money for my family by taking pictures of neighborhood children with my father's camera and selling them to their parents.

This marked the beginning of my career as a photographer. People have always been my favorite subjects, and I continue to marvel at the diversity and uniqueness of each individual. They, to me, give life its fullness, its richness. Their sorrows fill me with compassion, and their joys move me deeply.

For many years, I worked as a photojournalist, traveling around the world. My passion has always been photographing people, and especially children. After my two sons were born, children became the primary focus of my work.

Remembering how my sense of security was shaken by my refugee experience, it pains me deeply to read of the children and families that IRC serves today in Sudan, Afghanistan and other troubled areas around the world. I feel strongly that we must do something to be sure that all children have secure childhoods.

I was fortunate to have escaped Germany together with my sister and parents. When we arrived here, I was lucky to have the support of my family. So my heart cries for children who have been separated from their families in the chaos of war, leaving them at great risk.

Some years ago, I attended an IRC event where some of the Lost Boys of Sudan spoke. In the late 1980s, war in their native Sudan forced them as young children from their homes and away from their families. An estimated 26,000 young boys, most just 6 or 7 years old, walked more than 1,000 miles without their mothers or fathers toward the promise of safety. Many died en route of hunger, disease and animal attacks. The survivors grew up in refugee camps in Ethiopia and then in Kenya.

The IRC provided vital services in those refugee camps, and also advocated for the U.S. to open its doors to some of these individuals, helping them resettle here, obtain jobs, and pursue their education. Many have now graduated from college and one, James Yai Atem, was accepted by the medical school at the University of Massachusetts, hoping to return and improve life in Sudan in the future.

IRC's current work with children spans 42 countries around the world. They are providing immediate life-saving assistance when crises erupt, reuniting separated children with their families, helping former child soldiers move back into their communities, and educating and training students in skills that will help them rebuild their lives.

Whether I look at IRC's remarkable programs around the world with a wide angle lens, or zoom in on the dedicated and courageous field staff or the high level of program efficiency—the picture is clear.

The IRC must continue its vital work and expand in future years. The world needs them.

Erika Stone