We really are all products of our environment. As a youngster, often sick at home, my mother would read to me and taught me to appreciate books. So it was natural for me – as part of my involvement with the Boys & Girls Club of the West Valley – to start a program where Valley business leaders would contribute so that Club members, most of them from disadvantaged circumstances, could each have $25 to buy books for themselves. Last year, more than 150 Club children were able to select $25 worth of books each at Barnes & Noble for themselves or a family member, all funded through community donations. Even before the establishment of the State of Israel in 1948, when I’d spend the weekend at my grandparents, they would urge me to put a bit of my allowance money in a blue tin box emblazoned with an outline of then-palestine and the words “For Israel” on it. So it was natural for me to become chairman of an organization that raised money for Israel’s equivalent of the Red Cross, for the purchase of ambulances and support of first aid stations. It was natural for me to become involved in volunteerism, because my parents taught me that doing so was everyone’s responsibility. At first, I donated to and volunteered on behalf of numerous social agencies and philanthropies. Many were large national or international organizations such as the U.S. Committee for UNICEF, American Cancer Society or Public Broadcasting Service. Eventually I realized that, as with all such large charitable organizations, one person’s time, money and effort was but a small cog in a large wheel. So I devolved into an approach to volunteerism that is based on three pillars: To support San Fernando Valley-based organizations, since that is where I live and make my living. I decided to follow the dictum that “charity begins at home.” Now I focus my philanthropic and volunteer activities North of Mulholland. That was the title of my last book, the profits of which I donated to New Horizons in North Hills and the Boys & Girls Club in Canoga Park. To become involved with social agencies and philanthropies that truly helped people, not only business organizations where business networking was as important as the mission of the organization. I don’t consider serving as an officer of a chamber of commerce (although I have served on the board of two chambers) as well as the boards of VICA and the Economic Alliance as volunteerism. … In my book, that is community involvement, it’s not volunteerism. To find non-profit organizations where I could do more than just write checks by contributing my own time, abilities and expertise. So our firm has provided pro bono or at-cost marketing and public relations services to more than 20 Valley-based social agencies and charitable organizations. For me, the Boys & Girls Club of the West Valley, New Horizons and the Los Angeles Jewish Home fit my personal parameters for volunteerism. Of course, that brings up the question “Should people be rewarded with plaques and awards from various organizations and legislative bodies”? Or should the good feeling someone gets from supporting his or her community and helping improve the lives of those in need be sufficient reward? Like many of you, I have a box in my home office closet filled with proclamations from the City of Los Angeles, the State Assembly, the State Senate, the Mayor, County Supervisors and others. And like many of you, I don’t give one penny more or donate one additional hour of my time in expectation of receiving such recognitions. I don’t do any more than hundreds of other Valley businesspeople: Bert Boeckmann, David Fleming, Jean Fleming, Rickey Gelb, David Honda, Kathleen Sterling and Gary Thomas, just to name a few. There is no doubt that there are more non-profit organizations in the Valley than in any other part of Los Angeles. And that means there are more opportunities for members of our area’s business community to roll up their collective sleeves and help improve the quality of life for all of us. Two thousand years ago, a famous Jewish rabbi, Hillel, said two things that can guide people’s approach to volunteerism: “If I am not for myself, who will be for me? And when I am only for myself, what am I? And if not now, when?” and “Whosoever saves a life, it is considered as if he saved an entire world.” Not bad words to live by in 2013 in the San Fernando Valley. Martin Cooper is principal of Cooper Communications Inc. in Encino and was a finalist this year for a Fernando Award which recognizes leading charitable volunteers in the San Fernando Valley.