A Colorful Story by Aylin Tashman Kim
As a first-generation American born and raised in Arizona, I always longed for my extended family and waited for summer when I would travel to Istanbul to see my grandparents, aunts, uncles, and cousins. I envied my school friends who grew up close to their relatives and shared weekends and vacations with them. In my late teens, our small family of four slowly started to transform into a more dynamic and bigger one than I could have ever wished for. Through my parent’s involvement with philanthropy we found ourselves in a loving community that has continued to grow over the past 15 years.
My grandmother, Zehra Tashman, whose name I proudly carry as my middle name, was the pioneer in our family. She wasn’t allowed to go to school after 5th grade. Her older brother who was the head of their house believed that it was inappropriate for girls to go to school. Even though she was forced to spend her days at home and help with cooking and cleaning, she never let go of her passion to learn. She would read anything she could get her hands on, and she was the main reason why all novels and magazines in their house wore off. She would try to learn a new skill in every opportunity she got. Today, she is celebrating her 99th birthday and still our source of inspiration with her determination and endless energy.
When my father, Haldun Tashman and his brother were born, my grandparents were struggling financially. They owned a small shop on the main street of Bolu yet they couldn’t even afford to have any employees. My Babaanne had the foresight to believe that education was going to be her children’s path to financial freedom and success—a vision she was willing to sacrifice her own lifestyle for. My father was only five years old when he started to help my grandfather at his shop. After school, he would take his place at the back of the counter and work as a cashier. That’s where he learned the key elements of business, the value of money and fundamentals of entrepreneurship at a very young age. It was out of question for my father and his brother to quit school and help their father full-time because of my grandmother. She insisted that education should always be their priority. Through her tremendous influence, the importance of education was imprinted on my father, and he worked very hard to excel at school.
His efforts were recognized and rewarded with scholarships. He graduated from Tarsus American College and then Robert College with top marks in almost every subject. Upon his graduation from Boğaziçi University, Dad got the most amazing news – he was awarded a Fulbright Scholarship to study at Columbia Business School in New York City. Wide-eyed, he packed his luggage and came to the United States. It wasn’t easy for his family to see him leave but they knew it was the gateway that could change his life forever.
That’s when the new chapter of his life began. Beyond grateful for this opportunity, my father really focused on making the most of it. Upon graduation from Columbia, he dived straight into the corporate world and joined Deloitte in New York City. Ten years later, combining his experiences from the small town- small shop as a child with those from the big city-big corporation, he developed a clearer vision for his career and saw great potential for growth at a small plastics manufacturing company in Phoenix, Arizona. Within a few years, he was made partner and the CFO. Life in Phoenix also brought him the most important person in his life, my mother, Nihal, who came to Phoenix to visit her sister.
As a young child, I remember my father often working late and even spending his time at home behind books finishing a work project. However, he always managed to find time to spend with us. No matter how we shared our time, his conversations with us always focused on strong family values, hard work ethic and the importance of education–the very same drivers behind his journey from Turkey to the US!
My father has always been immensely grateful for the opportunity to study business administration at Columbia University as it changed his life. If he stayed in Turkey, he would probably take over my grandfather’s shop and make sure that it was sustainable. But today, he is in a completely different place because of the chances he was offered in the U.S. Thankful for every moment of this journey, he was determined to create that very same opportunity for others. Looking for a vehicle to realize this dream, my mother and father decided to use their local community foundation and established a donor advised fund at Arizona Community Foundation (ACF) to provide scholarships at his alma matter for MBA students from Turkey. With each promising student they supported, our family started to grow. It has become a tradition to host a dinner at our home with these scholarship recipients not only to welcome them into our family, but also so that my parents could engage, support, and inspire these talented young men and women. My parents took the time to get to know each Tashman Family Scholar, discovering their passions and strengths and guiding them just as they did their own children.
However, providing equal opportunities in education didn’t fully satisfy my mother and father. Once they saw the impact of their philanthropy and the fulfillment it brought to them, my parents wanted to do more. As their involvement grew deeper at ACF, they began to understand how the unique structure of a community foundation could benefit Turkey. As a result, they decided to establish the first community foundation in the U.S. with a focus on Turkey. Encouraged and motivated by my mother, my father rolled up his sleeves, conducted a feasibility study and began to reach out to other Turkish Americans who might be interested giving back to their home country. Eagerly, four others joined them and in 2007, Turkish Philanthropy Funds was launched, appropriately headquartered in NYC.
Within months, my parents found themselves surrounded by hundreds of like-minded inspirational philanthropists. And, my sister and I found ourselves in a family greater than any we dreamed of as kids. Nothing makes us happier as a family than to meet with others who share our passion for giving back to Turkey. It has been a journey full of wonder to start out as a handful of people and now be surrounded by a teeming network of exceptionally kind and generous young professionals, students, business leaders, entrepreneurs, and community leaders. Determined to do our best to contribute to our growing family, my husband Louis and I joined the Founders Society as one of the first members, established a donor advised fund at TPF through which we have supported various educational initiatives, and continue to support TPF’s endowment so the foundation can be self-sustainable. Our journey in philanthropy is just the beginning, but we are indebted to Haldun and Nihal Tashman for leading the way. Here is to our forever growing family!