By: Sheila Gaudet
I have always strongly believed in the transformative power of giving. When we give of ourselves, we not only benefit those who receive our gifts, but ourselves as well. At this time of year, there are many ways to give and many requests out there. It has always been my goal and desire that my children learn to give as well as receive and so I look for ways to include them in our efforts.
Giving falls into three basic categories: Treasure, Time, and Talent.
Treasure is what we often think about first – the very important financial support that we give to individuals and organizations that we feel deserve and need our assistance. I’ve been the person at a local not-for-profit who has examined the numbers, made tough choices, and made “the ask” for funds. Without those crucial dollars, there is no way to pay the insurance, light bill, payroll, copy paper, and the important supplies every organization needs to keep their doors open. Unrestricted dollars are in short supply these days, so I urge everyone to find an organization that your family believes in and to donate to them when possible.
How can you involve your kids in this type of giving? Involve them (if they are old enough) in selecting your families “charity of choice.” Talk about why this group is important to your family and what you think your money will do. Encourage your children to donate their money. For a long time, my children saved a percentage of money they received through work or gifts, and would choose a place to donate it to on a regular basis. Other families might hold a yard sale and donate the proceeds or collect items they have outgrown or don’t use and donate those to their selected charity. One of our favorite activities is to select a child from the Salvation Army Angel Tree that is the same age as each of my children. My kids help select the gifts for the child based on their own interests (as well as Angel Child’s requests) and take great care in finding “cool” things. Children love to feel that they can contribute. I know other families have a “one toy in, one toy out” rule that has a child donate one of their existing toys for each new toy they receive.
Time is another way we often contribute to our causes. Volunteering on a committee, working an aid station at a 5K, manning the booth at a fundraiser, or spending an hour as a mentor all count. Some people prefer to volunteer on a regular basis. These volunteers are a huge part of what makes organizations run in many cases. For families, it may be difficult to make a regular commitment and a more “ad hoc” approach might work best. This is one of the easiest ways to involve your children. Children of almost any age can help pick up a park, assist you in bringing a meal to a neighbor, or help at an animal shelter.
My kids have also always accompanied me on a food delivery program that supplied families in need with groceries and other basic needs. Putting a face to the people that need help is important for children to feel connected. My son still talks about the experience we once had at a food delivery, when the boy who was about his age just gave him a big hug. The boys were probably around 8 years old, and the family was going through a very difficult time. If you volunteer without your family, make sure your children know why you do it and why it is important to you. I try to always make sure that my children understand that the people who coach their teams and lead their clubs are usually volunteers who put in many hours of their own free time to support and help them. A lot of children think every adult is doing things as part of a “job.”
Talent is the last of the three major categories. In this case, I’m not talking about singing and dancing (usually- though if you can – that’s great!). Donating talent is a way that many people contribute to their community. This might mean teaching a class at your house of worship or some life skills, like cooking, to a group of adults living in a group home. It might mean taking on fundraising responsibilities for an organization, or writing a newsletter.
I’ve seen many people donate accounting, legal, medical, or other professional services to organizations. A wonderful woman I worked with once came in to teach a bunch of girls knitting and another taught dance. Everyone has a talent! If your child is musical, many groups would love to have them perform. A group of women at my former church made beautiful gowns for babies that were born very prematurely. If you are handy with some basic tools, many seniors and people with disabilities could use a few hours of handyman (or woman) services. Don’t sell yourself short and think that you have nothing important to offer. Teens especially can be great mentors to younger children as well, or help coach a team of energetic youngsters.
November is the month of both Veteran’s Day and Thanksgiving in the United States. While you are counting your own blessings, try and think of a way that your family can pass them on to others. Talk about the role volunteers play in your community and if nothing else, say thank you to those who volunteer around you. That’s the greatest reward a volunteer can receive!
Interested in volunteering but don’t know where to start? Here are a few suggestions:
- www.volunteermatch.org has listings you can search by interest or locality.
- www.volunteer.gov/gov has listing for volunteer opportunities on public lands like parks
- www.dosomething.org specializes in volunteer opportunities for teenagers
Finally, if you have a cause or organization that you are interested in, contact them directly or even your local United Way for ideas. Many do have age restrictions for certain types of activities for safety and liability reasons. However, talk to them and find out ways that you may be able to contribute. For instance, your 8-year-old might not be able to walk dogs at an animal shelter, but they could collect supplies and donate them to help the animals. Many organizations will require a background check and that takes a little time. It is harder for organizations to take on a short-term volunteer with little to no notice than it is to plan ahead with activities.