The Santa Ynez Valley is a wonderful place to live, work and play. And a high percentage of the people who live in the valley are involved in a wide variety of charitable activities, ranging from the churches they attend to one of the many service clubs, such as Rotary, Lions, Optimists, Kiwanis, senior groups and/or veterans organizations, as well as the many nonprofits that are located here, such as Santa Ynez Valley Cottage Hospital, the Atterdag Village, the YMCA and People Helping People, to name just a few.

From the vantage point of my own background, which includes about 15 years of active involvement with nonprofits, my perception is that very few communities have the extent of participation in charitable activities as our valley. Coming from Los Angeles via Santa Barbara, where my wife and I lived for seven years, I have never seen a community where so many of its residents are involved in some type of charitable work.

Given the level of the need in Santa Barbara County, however, I often wonder why various people and organizations feel it necessary to go outside the local area to help others. For example, members of the Santa Ynez Valley Rotary Club often travel to places like Mexico, India, Haiti and the Philippines to help the people in those areas.

Not that the people in other countries don’t need or deserve help, but if valley residents want to go outside Santa Barbara County to help others, why not choose some other community in this country? How about somewhere in the Appalachian Mountains, or the inner cities of Los Angeles, Detroit, Chicago or elsewhere in the United States?

The famous quotation “Charity begins at home” occurs to me.

The proverb “Be generous to your family before helping others” is interpreted to mean that family members are more important than anyone else, and should be the focus of a person’s efforts. For example: “She spends hours and hours on volunteer work and neglects the children, forgetting that charity begins at home.” This proverb was first recorded in English, in a slightly different form, in John Wycliffe’s Of Prelates (c. 1380): “Charity should begin at himself.”

The idea of the proverb can also be found in the Bible, dating back to the time of the Romans (about 190-159 BC). In 1383, Wycliffe wrote: “Charity should begin at himself.” Five hundred years later, Dickens said, “Charity begins at home, and justice begins next door.”

Another reference cites the Muslim Sunnah (c. 800): “A man’s first charity should be to his own family, if poor.”

In the foregoing context, “Charity begins at home” can certainly be interpreted to mean the United States. We are the most generous people on Earth and have done more for others around the world than any other society in history — ever. Yet we seem to be frequently castigated, both at home and abroad, for our failure to cure the world of all of its ills or for not preventing the starvation and privation that exist almost everywhere on Earth.

We have even been criticized by our own President Barack Obama for not measuring up to his standards of good citizenship in world affairs.

Is it because we can or should solve the problems of others around the world? Or is it just because we are considered “rich” by everyone else? How about the possibility that it’s just plain, unvarnished envy?

We see this aspect of human nature — that is, jealousy — at home as well where, all too often, the “haves” are frequently pitted against the “have-nots” by the media.

Americans are noted for their generosity and sympathy in responding to tragedies around the world: earthquakes, floods, tsunamis, famine, literally every type of disaster. Our aircraft carriers, hospital ships and teams of volunteers are usually among the first on the scene, along with various private organizations, such as the Red Cross and Direct Relief, and specialized rescue teams from other nations, which is not the focus of this commentary.

My question is really related to those individuals who raise money in our local community and travel outside the United States to use it to help others.

Whatever your favorite charity or cause, whether at home or abroad, through your church or local service club, you are to be commended for your interest in and willingness to help others, local or otherwise.

— Harris Sherline is a retired CPA and former chairman and CEO of Santa Ynez Valley Hospital. Click here to read previous columns. The opinions expressed are his own.