By Renee Williams
Current poverty statistics indicate that 45.3 million (14.5 percent) people in the United States live in poverty. An additional 97.3 million (33 percent) are low-income, defined as income that falls below twice the federal poverty line. Taken together, this means that 48 percent of our population is poor or low income, with millions of families in need.
It is easy to become overwhelmed by these statistics and feel discouraged, but as parents we have a collective duty to instill values of benevolence and charity in our children. Raising social awareness of the realities of poverty, contributing to those in need and getting involved helps our children with social skills, raising self-esteem and fostering an introduction to the greater humanity in the world. Children are never too young to learn the value and joy of helping others and there is no waiting list or prep work needed, just look where there is a need and be among the hands and feet of the helpers.
In an effort to encourage charitable giving and philanthropy in our children, here are some tips on age-appropriate community service and charitable work.
Be Hands-On, Ages 2 to 4
The act of caring for others and community service is an important part of parenting young children. Around the ages of 2 to 4, the development of empathy, social responsibility and interpersonal relationships begin to take form. Making friends is an important life skill that starts with building relationships and being able to relate well with others. As we know, children learn by watching their parents so we are their greatest teacher. Young children may have trouble understanding such an abstract concept as donating money to a worthy cause so we can begin by encouraging relationship building and making volunteering a regular part of our family routine. Whether it is delivering meals to the homebound, making a holiday gift box for a needy family or spending time with the elderly, here is what we can do to help:
Modeling. Age 2 to 4 is too young to start working at a food bank, but you may be able to volunteer for a Meals on Wheels delivery service and bring your toddler along and talk about the activity.
Hands On. “Adopt” a family during the holidays and have your children help you pick out presents, wrap them and decorate the packaging. This will provide a good opportunity to explain about families and kids who are less fortunate.
Building relationships. Find out if your local nursing homes have “Toddler Days” and spend one morning a week visiting the elderly. You can help your children make birthday cards for senior citizens, exchange hugs, sing songs, play games and spend time talking and connecting with the elderly residents.
Practicing Good Citizenship, Ages 4 to 8
School-aged children have more opportunities to practice kindness, respect, fairness and how to connect to others. Positive human experiences foster responsible children who grow up to donate to food drives, recycle their trash or help during a crisis. An allowance can be a handy tool for donating to charity while teaching other aspects of money management. Advocate starting an allowance system as soon as your child starts school and each week divide the money into three parts: spending, saving and sharing.
Lisa Gurwitch, CEO and president of K.I.D.S. Fashion Delivers and mother of 2, gives the following ideas to help teach your family about giving:
1. Spend. “Instead of giving gifts during the holidays, some families designate that they collect new clothing or contributions to gift to a family in need,” Gurwitch says. “
2. Save. “When an allowance is started…encourage your kids to give to charity. There are even piggy banks made for this purpose,” Gurwitch says. “This engages kids in caring about others and learning to be financially responsible.”
3. Share. “Support brands and businesses committed to social and community causes that align with your values and explain this choice to your kids,” Gurwitch says. “Donating new merchandise provides these companies with a simple and effective way to help people in need.”
Founded over 30 years ago, K.I.D.S. Fashion Delivers is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization that unites retailers, manufacturers, foundations and individuals to support people affected by poverty and tragedy.” Over 97 percent of revenue dedicated to K.I.D.S. Fashion Delivers goes to distributing apparel, accessories, shoes, home furnishings, toys, books and other useful items to families in need. For more information, please visit www.DonateProduct.com.
Identity and Peer Relations, Ages 8 to 12
During ages 8 to 12, children are advancing toward adolescence and great physical, social and cognitive growth begins to occur. Peer relationships become very important, social lives get busy and children have a growing sense of independence. Because of this shift, a child’s self-esteem and confidence tends to be more susceptible to how others view them. The ability to accomplish what they set out to do by way of a volunteer activity can help our children realize their own potential and can greatly improve self-esteem. Becoming involved in activities with peers who share a common interests, setting a goal and achieving that goal can be hugely successful in reinforcing charitable giving.
Common interests. Many local animal shelters are non-profit or government organizations and therefore welcome volunteers. Most children 8 to 12 love animals and it is an excellent way to find peers with similar passions. Have your child find others who share their interests, organize and set a goal to collect and donate a certain number of towels, pet toys and other items for the local animal shelter.
Random acts of kindness. With the rise of popularity of younger personality figures such as Kid President, our children are being encouraged to get involved and make the world a better place by sharing their ideas, hearts, creativity and compassion with others. Suggest to your child to arrange a team of friends to begin a free lawn service, car detailing service or other service that helps people who need it the most like the elderly, disabled or a single parent. As Kid President says, “Love changes everything so fill the world with it.”
Social movements. Younger generations spend much of their time online and while parental controls and supervision are necessary, online giving can be a positive experience. GoFundMe is a crowd-funding platform that your children can search to help raise money for people who are experiencing challenging circumstances like accidents and illnesses. GoFundMe.com allows you to create your campaign, set your goal and tell your story. Categories range from volunteer, memorials, charities, emergencies and sports. Other sites such as Watsi.org allow you to browse profiles of medical patients in developing countries that are in need of medical procedures they cannot afford.
Identity and Connection, Ages 12+
As our children approach the teen years, they become more actively involved in the community. Teens are more informed, have a greater awareness of the world and are able to think critically about philanthropy, making them effective donors. By getting involved with community activities, teenagers come into contact with others, encouraging them to see the world in a wider context. Volunteer work and community activities are also great opportunities for teens to show patriotism, initiative and develop skills to get a job.
Patriotism. Send a care package to deployed troops, veterans or wounded soldiers. Write a thank-you letter and include some food to Operation Gratitude or Give2TheTroops. Your teen can choose the cause they are passionate about, select the type of service in which to participate and help in their free time.
Taking initiative. Literacy volunteers who act as tutors can help children and adults learn the important skill of reading as a first or second language. Your teen can also find a literacy program in the area and donate children’s books, novels and other reading materials to shelters and schools.
Job skills. If your teen is interested in medicine or enjoys helping people, then volunteering at a local hospital might be just the thing. Just call a hospital in your area and ask to speak to the volunteer coordinator or the director of volunteers. Trinity Hospital has a youth program volunteer opportunities available.
Practice What You Preach
As with everything else in life, kids learn best by example so charity begins at home. Involve your children in everyday acts of kindness and talk about it. If you give money to an organization you believe in then explain why doing so is important to you. The more easily our kids can put themselves in other people’s shoes and understand what they feel and experience, the more generous they will become and help enrich the lives of future generations. Encourage everyone in your household to participate in volunteer activities and praise your children when they show generosity and empathy to others.
Augusta has numerous charities, many of which rely on the support of volunteers such as The United Way of the CSRA’s 211 hotline. United We Serve is also a nationwide service initiative that helps meet growing social needs and there are tools to create your own volunteer project as well as find existing projects.
Diana Renee Williams is an accomplished freelancer, Huffington Post contributor and mother of two. She is a music lover, travel enthusiast and super soul spirit junkie. Prior to freelancing, she worked as a court appointed special advocate and domestic relations mediator focusing on her passion of service to the community.
This article appears in the November 2016 issue of Augusta Family Magazine.
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