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Where Charity Begins

This week, The Washington Post launched a package called Worlds United about 11 teenage girls who are spending part of their summer in South Africa teaching girls in a poor town how to play soccer. The girls also will take HIV/AIDs classes with the girls in the town, Port Elizabeth. Along the way, two of the girls are writing about their fears, their experiences and what they learn. There's little doubt that the girls will come back changed by the trip.

Teen trips such as these are becoming more common as a way to pull teens out of their wealthier comfort zones and open their eyes to the larger community around them. It's one way to encourage altruism in our kids. Others include smaller charitable deeds such as giving to Toys for Tots around Christmas or serving food to the homeless at Thanksgiving. A classmate of one of our sons recently held a birthday party where all the kids were asked to bring canned goods to give to people who need them.

Schools got into the act of encouraging altruism years ago, requiring teens to fulfill a certain amount of community service in order to graduate. Many religious organizations put an emphasis on charity as well. As part of some Bar and Bat Mitzvahs, teens must perform community service. In others, families choose to donate some of their monetary gifts.

What do you do to encourage altruism in your children?

By Stacey Garfinkle |  June 28, 2007; 7:00 AM ET  | Category:  Elementary Schoolers , Teens , Tweens
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Comments


We collect cans from neighbors to donate to the local SPCA.
We have parties where we ask people to bring canned food for the local food bank, and pet food for the SPCA.
We help out at the local food bank.
We help deliver food to elderly people in an assisted living home.
We volunteer to help out neighbors during times of stress (new baby, husband deployed, etc.)
We donate items to the local thrift stores that raise money for a women's shelter and for a children's hospital.
We donate money to charities.
We raised money for displaced Katrina victims.
We adopt rescused animals.

My son is 11, and his first instinct--upoin hearing of a tragedy--is to ask, "What can we do?"

Posted by: Eve | June 28, 2007 7:15 AM | Report abuse

We set the example and expect them to follow it.

All of our kids have been altar servers at church; they've volunteered for a variety of worthy causes, such as working at the inner-city Baltimore parish and school that our church supports. They've attended work camps. They contribute money - from their own earnings - to charity.

When my sister spent two months with us because her house was destroyed by Hurricane Katrina, they learned about the impacts of nature and what could be done.

In short, they've learned that by a combination of hard work and the grace of God, they're members of a very fortunate family and that means they have a responsibility to help out those less fortunate.

Posted by: Army Brat | June 28, 2007 7:54 AM | Report abuse

We do pretty much all of the above.

I required my kids to volunteer the month of August every year when they were ages 13-18 at our church-affiliated old folks home.

This experience had the greatest impact on them. Almost 20 years later, they still volunteer at the old folks home, as well as other places.

I run the "Pets on Wheels" local program for seniors. Kids love to work for this program.

Posted by: Anonymous | June 28, 2007 8:13 AM | Report abuse

We are actively trying to encourage charitable giving in our family. We did a big family project last year to collect toys for a local hospital and regularly donate clothes and toys we no longer need. Every Friday night, before our shabbat dinner, the kids put money in our "tzedekah" (hebrew word for charity) box. When it fills up we decide as a family where to donate the money. My kids also bring home various flyers about charitable drives from their schools and we participate in those too.

Posted by: PT Fed Mof2 | June 28, 2007 8:39 AM | Report abuse

How can you distinguish such charitable acts as 'smaller' than another? Don't look down on Toys for Tots or meals for the homeless just because some rich spoiled girls go to Africa and teach kids how to play soccer. Good grief. Learning to play soccer is trivial compared to what meals mean to a homeless person. Then there was the filthy rich Kennedy who took photos of Appalacia showing the dire poverty in that area. Hope she didn't get her shoes dirty.

What about donating used eyeglasses to the Lions Clubs? They have boxes all over collecting for poorer countries. Those eyeglasses are cleaned, repaired and classified by prescription. THen they are given out FREE at eye clinics in Central America, Asia, Africa, India.

Take your kids' outgrown clothes to Catholic Charities or Goodwill. Make sure they're clean first. Our local Catholic Charities organizer said you'd be amazed at the dirty clothes people dump on them. Maybe they think CC is a laundry. Shameless.

Have them work at a homeless shelter preparing and serving meals so they can get up close one to one with someone less fortunate than they are. It will be as if they landed on another planet.

Nothing makes me madder than rich people thinking charity is a 'small' thing to do.

Posted by: Steamed | June 28, 2007 9:23 AM | Report abuse

I bring the kids to help out at the Food Pantry whenever possible. We've done food collections and food drives. At church, they made crafts to sell and donate the profits to a food pantry.

We started sorting and recycling, and they help out with that. We have an annual clean-up of the "woods" behind our townhouse.

We donate toys and clothes to charity thrift stores.

I think it's important to start this at an early age. My kids are now 9 and 10, and we started doing some of this stuff when they were around 4 or 5.

Posted by: kgotthardt | June 28, 2007 9:31 AM | Report abuse

I bring the kids to help out at the Food Pantry whenever possible. We've done food collections and food drives. At church, they made crafts to sell and donate the profits to a food pantry.

We started sorting and recycling, and they help out with that. We have an annual clean-up of the "woods" behind our townhouse.

We donate toys and clothes to charity thrift stores.

I think it's important to start this at an early age. My kids are now 9 and 10, and we started doing some of this stuff when they were around 4 or 5.

Posted by: kgotthardt | June 28, 2007 9:31 AM | Report abuse

I am deeply suspicious of international trips with a service component. This seems to have little to do with contributing to the community and much to do with resume padding -- in the hopes that it will look good in the eyes of college admissions officers. And such activities are only available to affluent kids who can afford the airfare and who are not obliged to work for pay during the summer.

Posted by: Ordinary mom | June 28, 2007 9:31 AM | Report abuse

Steamed: I agree I could have used a better choice of words. All acts of charity are worthwhile. I was trying to distinguish between a 2-week, $60,000 trip versus simpler, less extravagant (and easier to incorporate in daily life) types of charity.

Posted by: Stacey Garfinkle | June 28, 2007 9:36 AM | Report abuse

Sorry. Didn't mean to post twice!

BTW, we aren't rich and can't afford to go to Africa, either. Charity begins at home.

Posted by: kgotthardt | June 28, 2007 9:40 AM | Report abuse

When my daughter was 4 she took on the responsibility of choosing our toys for the Toys for Tots donation -- and they had to be toys that she would want, not just puzzles. When she turned 5 part of her allowance had to go into a charity jar...she gets to choose where the money goes (this time was to the local animal shelter). We also donate to the Salvation Army outgrown clothes and toys. The recurring lesson is she is a fortunate little girl, others are not, and she has a responsibility to help others.

Posted by: Mom to a Hobbit | June 28, 2007 9:46 AM | Report abuse

Yeah, I have to agree that it's not right to call Toys for Tots a "smaller" act of charity. WHo on earth has enough money to send their kids to a foreign country for a charity program? I see that as purely a resume-builder.

Posted by: m | June 28, 2007 9:48 AM | Report abuse

I was lucky enough to have the opportunity to take my teenage grandson on a work mission trip to Honduras two summers ago. We painted classrooms at El Hogar, a residential agricultural school for middle school age boys suffering from poverty. My grandson interacted with the boys during their freetime and saw their desire, ambition, and visions of possibilities first hand. One day we visited several of the boys' homes. I looked at my grandson's face as he exited the one tiny room, dirt floor shack; he was stricken with the realization of the luck of his birth. The grandson I took to Honduras was not the same one I brought home. Hopefully, that week in time will remain in his mind as he deals with his life here in America as a teenager and an adult.

Posted by: M. Jones | June 28, 2007 9:51 AM | Report abuse

I was lucky enough to have the opportunity to take my teenage grandson on a work mission trip to Honduras two summers ago. We painted classrooms at El Hogar, a residential agricultural school for middle school age boys suffering from poverty. My grandson interacted with the boys during their freetime and saw their desire, ambition, and visions of possibilities first hand. One day we visited several of the boys' homes. I looked at my grandson's face as he exited the one tiny room, dirt floor shack; he was stricken with the realization of the luck of his birth. The grandson I took to Honduras was not the same one I brought home. Hopefully, that week in time will remain in his mind as he deals with his life here in America as a teenager and an adult.

Posted by: M. Jones | June 28, 2007 9:51 AM | Report abuse

Yeah, me too, Ordinary Mom. Those international charity trips will get them into Hahvahd or Yale but what good does it do for the hungry homeless man picking through trash cans right down the street. I work for a big law firm and it's funny how many of the resumes include overseas charity projects but when they get hired they treat the support staff as if they were dogsh*t on their shoes.

We come into this world with two hands. One hand is to help yourself, the other hand is to help someone else. If everybody did that we'd all be better off.

Another idea: If you can knit, make knitted caps for chemo patients when they lose their hair. Donate them to the American Cancer Society. Or make them for the homeless who need warm hats for winter.

Posted by: Steamed | June 28, 2007 9:52 AM | Report abuse

Church Mission Trips
Donate blood

Posted by: Starlight | June 28, 2007 9:57 AM | Report abuse

some of you guys are coming down pretty hard on these girls....did you guys read the article? They raised the $60K through donations and fundraisers. And that amount not only covered their costs, but they are actually leaving $10K behind in S. Africa.

Posted by: give the girls a break | June 28, 2007 10:01 AM | Report abuse

My family selected an ornament off our churches Jesse Tree a few years ago. The person was asking for a movie dbd. Wow, I didn't even have a dbd player at tthat time.

Donating toys to an organization is nice, but what recipiants of charity want most is money.

Legal tender, the best gift!

Posted by: Lil Husky | June 28, 2007 10:18 AM | Report abuse

My daughter went on a church mission trip to Honduras 12 years ago. She saw a side of life she had only heard about...abandoned children, dirt floors, schools with no books. It changed her life. Some of the ways were small--electing Spanish as her foreighn language so she could talk with immigrants about their experiences. Now she is a lawyer and represents low-income Spanish-speaking clients.

We are not wealthy and could never have paid for this experience if the kids hadn't had to raise their own funds through car-washes and other activities to make the trip happen.

Posted by: Balti | June 28, 2007 10:46 AM | Report abuse

Thank you Steamed! While I won't belittle anyone's actions I do believe Charity begins at home. We started with small things for our kids:
-part of their allowance going in the collection plate at church (very exciting to put that dollar in there!)
-collecting non-perishables for the local food bank
-being kind to our neighbors in need, welcoming new neighbors (most kids are naturally friendly - let them know what a good thing they are doing by just being neighborly!!!)
-Toys for Tots and County Toy drive through our Police department
-Taking cookies to the local fire station NOT on holidays, the don't need cookies at Christmas.
-Participation in Scouting - service projects through boy/girl scouts are great.

Last Xmas I asked my relatives to make a donation to any charity (my preference was military) instead of buying me a gift. No one would listen to me, my MIL sent in a donation under my name but proceeded to buy me a ton of stuff that I don't need - which completely defeated my request. I was trying to show my kids that Christmas is not about toys and gifts. We try to model the behavior that we (throughout our lives) need to help those less fortunate through everyday life, it is the little things that matter!

Posted by: cmac | June 28, 2007 10:53 AM | Report abuse

Starlight - Thank you so much for mentioning Donating Blood!!! I can't because I take medication and am usually anemic (sigh) but my husband donates every 6 weeks - they love him at INOVA Blood bank.

I have to agree with Lil Husky - money is the lifeblood of most charities.

Posted by: CMAC | June 28, 2007 11:03 AM | Report abuse

We regularly donate used clean clothing, toys, books, and household items. My church does send kids on mission trips. Usually the money earned to go on these trips are through fund raising. It doesn't mean that the kids who go are rich. I also think we donate our time to mission trips. Like collect school supplies, bedding etc... Every little bit helps. I can't believe people are looking down at toys for tots and other small charitites. Everyone giving a little makes a difference in people's lives.

Posted by: foamgnome | June 28, 2007 1:01 PM | Report abuse

foamgnome

"Usually the money earned to go on these trips are through fund raising. It doesn't mean that the kids who go are rich."

It is a valid point that some of the kids CAN volunteer their time for these trips because they don't need to work. That is usually linked to family income.

Posted by: Anonymous | June 28, 2007 1:14 PM | Report abuse

We buy "Street Sheet" and "Street Spirit" whenever we get the chance. (Local homeless newspapers, sold as an alternative to panhandling) We actually read the papers and talk with the kids about what it means to be homeless - both my husband and I had periods of our lives when we didn't have a roof over our heads.

We donate out-grown clothes and toys to Goodwill. We work/volunteer at our schools' fundraisers. We spend four days every year as unpaid staff at a religious conference.

We expect the kids to help with these volunteer activities, and it's amazing to see an autistic teen-ager (our older son) setting up and testing a sound system before a school talent show, or a band performance.

The younger one is more likely to ask us for a dollar for a homeless person than for himself, and he's more likely to get that dollar.

Posted by: Sue | June 28, 2007 1:50 PM | Report abuse

I wanted to comment on the post that had pulled an ornament off a Christmas tree, to buy a gift for a needy child, and the child asked for a DVD player. As I was once in the kid's shoes (mother with mental illness and chronically unemployed) I thought I'd try to shed a little light on it.
1. Preteens often don't realize how dire the financial situation is, they just know they don't have what their friends have. When my mom was unemployed and about to lose the house, I was asking relatives for a CD player ($$$ in 1990). I didn't realize the direness of the situation - what I knew was that I didn't have what all my friends had, and felt left out. That doesn't mean I should have received the CD player, but does explain why I asked for it.

2. At least in my case, my mother had poor financial management and often splurged on wants before needs. This had probably taught me at the time that I was more likely to get a want fulfilled than a need fulfilled ( I was more likely to get the CD player than a new pair of shoes). So it makes sense to ask for the CD player and get something, then ask for the shoes and get nothing.

All this means is - don't judge the kids too harshly for expensive requests. If the kids are eligible for Jesse tree, they probably are truly in need. Just get them something reasonable, useful and within your budget (such programs usually place a dollar limit on gifts anyway).

Posted by: To Lil Husky | June 28, 2007 2:31 PM | Report abuse

I'll pipe up and say as one of the first classes in my area to be under the "mandatory community service" requirements for graduation, it's not altruistic and I was and remain totally against it.

Posted by: Liz D | June 28, 2007 2:39 PM | Report abuse

I'll pipe up and say as one of the first classes in my area to be under the "mandatory community service" requirements for graduation, it's not altruistic and I was and remain totally against it.

Posted by: Liz D | June 28, 2007 02:39 PM

Why?? Not snarky -- just curious. Are there strings attached? My kids are young and I dont know about mandatory community service. Thanks

Posted by: Anonymous | June 28, 2007 3:57 PM | Report abuse

We have regularly donated toys and clothing, but recently, when I volunteer for Heifer Intl, my kids come with me. They love selling the idea to passers by. Buy a chicken, or a cow, or a water buffalo. Also, we recently investigated the Kiva website, when you use your money as seed money to small businesses in Africa, much like microloans, except you do not receive interest. You are making a loan. The ste offers interaction with the small business owner and when the money is returned my children find their next investment. They see how a small amount of money impacts a person and their entire community. If you have not seen the site, take a look. There are so many lessons to learn from this. I think it is www.kiva.org. And as corny as it is, my children donated their own money on the "idol Gives Back" night. They felt compelled while watching the show. They are the generation of Idol and Red and the daily things we do and use having a charitable component.

Posted by: Former NoVa Mom | June 28, 2007 4:37 PM | Report abuse

Hey 3:57,

Because it's a forced requirement I think it negates the whole purpose of doing service. Specially when you see community service given as punishment to criminals.

As well, community service was very broadly interpreted- X number of dollars raised for a school related fundraiser could be accounted for Y hours of service.

We were required to do 35 hours over 4 years. I accumulated over 200 hours of service and would have no matter what the requirements were.

I think community service is great and should be incorporated into the school environment and curricula- but I don't think it should be mandated. Teach it as something good people do, not just another pill to swallow.

Posted by: Liz D | June 28, 2007 5:19 PM | Report abuse

I had my 4 yr old daughter pick out a toy for the Toys for Tots on a day when two young Marines were collecting in person. (I never thought she'd be able to give up the princess dress-up dress to the Marines, but she did and talked for days about the child she imagined would get it.) Toys for Tots is a great choice. And, you can remember the Marines, Sailors, Airmen, and Soldiers in other ways throughout the year.

Posted by: Jenn | June 28, 2007 5:32 PM | Report abuse

Why would anyone who loves a child try to raise him to think he's a slave to the needy, or to the community? Community service requirements in the schools are nothing more than forced labor. I'd call it a draft, except draftees did much more important work and got paid for it.

Posted by: Alexander | June 28, 2007 5:50 PM | Report abuse

We buy food for the food bank, shop at an Alternative Gift Market for gifts for family and friends, and regularly donate gently used items to second hand stores. I am very careful to make sure that what we donate is clean and usable. We have friends who have gotten to know a homeless man in their neighborhood, and they give him food or water when they see him. But more important, they call him by his name and ask him how he is doing.

And although my kids are too young to help out at worksites (usually they must be 14), I sometimes leave them with my parents and volunteer.

Posted by: Anonymous | June 29, 2007 9:31 AM | Report abuse

Has anyone seen this site: http://charitybegins.org/default.aspx

It's a neat way to incorporate your family vacation with charitable giving...

Posted by: jl | June 29, 2007 3:04 PM | Report abuse

We look for ways to help whenever God presents a need. You just take whatever opportunities come along - some are big, some are small.

We "adopted" two teenage girls several years ago when their mom died, both to help them and to help our own 3 young children to understand the reality of life and experience sharing their life and resources with others.

Our oldest daughter has been to Honduras for mission trips 2 years in a row now, and it has helped change her life and widen her understanding of the world and others. She has to help earn the cost of the trip. Each year, she has to contribute a higher percentage of the cost to make her think about her own values and priorities. Her younger sister cannot wait to begin her trips to Honduras next year.

We involve the younger children in buying gifts for families at Christmas, and they've befriended homeless people on the street and bought them gift cards to the grocery store.

Our church also has regular service projects to help a variety of needs - from block parties and clothing distribution in downtown Baltimore, to renovation or cleanup projects at the homes of single moms. The older kids have a great time helping others and being with friends at the same time.

Our older kids also volunteer with our church's ministry to "special needs" kids.

I think the variety has been so helpful to them - and our goal is to help them all understand how much need and suffering there is in the world - both here at home and overseas - and what joy and fulfillment comes from helping others, in both big and small ways. Our goal for them has nothing to do with resumes or college admisstions, but everything to do with producing adults who are filled with compassion and understanding for others, and have a desire to serve and make a difference in their world - because that is where the greatest joy and personal fulfillment comes from.

Posted by: Anonymous | July 6, 2007 8:14 AM | Report abuse

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