Wednesday, April 13, 2011

How Do You Teach Your Kids About Charity?

I've noticed lately that my children are really in the "I want" stage and seem to be under the impression that things are always coming their way.  I know this is completely normal for young children but quite frankly, I really don't like it.  So when I heard about "Mitzva Day" this past Sunday as part of the YLC Outreach to help families who don't have enough for Passover, I thought what a great way to start teaching my kids the art of giving.  Not to mention something about their Jewish heritage!

I think what your parents do and the examples they set definitely impact how you are as an adult with respect to your involvement in the community and charitable organizations.  Growing up, my dad did volunteer work and was actually president of the Kidney Foundation of Canada, but that was when I was much younger.  This was pretty much the extent of my exposure and I never really got involved personally.  I have always made donations to certain causes, but never volunteered my time.  My husband's family is quite active and my father-in-law is currently the President of the YM-YWHA in Montreal.  One of my co-workers (the one who told me about Mitzva Day) is extremely active and involved, and devotes a significant amount of her time to charity, as does her family.  I find that very impressive and it motivates me to get more involved and to teach my children what charity is all about.  I have to say, I was truly surprised by how many young people were volunteering at the event this past weekend.  It was a really nice sight to see.

With my son starting kindergarten, we've already had several fundraising activities from the school.  I of course have spear-headed each campaign and raised the money on his behalf, figuring that he's too young to do it himself.  I think I made a mistake... although I discussed it with him and he knew about the fundraising event, I probably should have made him do the asking and had him more involved.  I'm definitely going to do so next time. 

So when is the appropriate time to start teaching your kids about charity?  And how do you do it?

I always talk to my kids about others who are less fortunate than us - for example, donating clothes that no longer fit or toys they no longer play with, or even when they don't care to eat their meal.  Yes, I swore I would never do the "starving kids in Africa" thing, but I do.  That said, I'm really not sure it worked for me as a kid, so I'm not convinced it will work for them either.  It just becomes another thing mom says.  I know conversations are important to help them understand about world affairs, whether it's the natural disasters like the Tsunami in Japan, global warming, clean drinking water, etc., but I think to really make an impact on what these things really mean and how they can affect them personally, I need to do more.

It goes without question that the first place I looked to figure out where to start was on the web.  I found several suggestions on how to help teach your kids to be more charitable.  Here are some tips from eHow:

  • Require that your child donate an old toy for every new toy he or she is given. Make a trip to a local charity that accepts toys part of your child's birthday activities.

  • Organize a clothing drive in your neighborhood and have your child donate clothes he or she has outgrown.

  • Take your child to the local library with an armload of books to donate. Later, you can visit the library to find these books on the shelf and, if you can, check inside the cover to see how many times the books have been borrowed.

  • Allow your child to choose a canned or boxed food item to donate to the food bank when you go to the grocery store. If there's a donation box at the store, let your child place the donation in the box. Or you can let your child bring the items into the food bank using his or her wagon.

  • Help your child and his or her friends perform a play or sing at a local nursing home.

  • Buy a large bag of dog or cat food and go with your child to the animal shelter to donate it. If the shelter allows, let your child place a dog biscuit or cat treat in each cage for the animals to enjoy.

  • Take your child along as you check in on elderly or sick neighbors and let him or her help you do errands for them such as raking leaves, cooking a meal or delivering flowers.

  • Encourage your child to set aside part of his or her allowance to give to charity. Help him or her choose the charity that will receive the money.

  • I think these tips are very helpful as a starting point and easy to incorporate into one's lifestyle.  However, what if we want to take things one step further and volunteer our time for a specific cause?  A bit daunting if you have never done this.  I know it's important to choose something that is going to be a fun learning experience while helping in some way.  I don't want it to be something I have to force them to do, I want them to WANT to help others.  My other concern is that given they are still very young, I'm not quite prepared to expose them to certain hard truths - I feel I need to still protect them from some of the harsher realities life has to offer.  For example... they love animals, so I thought about volunteering at a local shelter, but I'm not sure I want to explain that these animals have no homes and that if nobody adopts them, they may be put to sleep.  How would that affect them?  I see it already, they will want to take all the animals home! So choosing the right opportunity may not be as easy as it would first seem.

    I started looking on the web and found several websites listing local volunteer opportunities... there is even a Volunteer Bureau of Montreal that lists all of the current requests for volunteers by category.  I'm sure there is something similar in every major city.  When I just checked their site, there were 904 volunteer opportunities in Montreal.  There is also a very helpful section to give tips to those volunteering for the first time (like me) to help you get started.  Here is what they suggested to help you narrow down what type of volunteering you would like to do:
    • If you had all the human and financial resources in the world, what problem would you solve, what would you change or what would you create? Your answer will tell you what matters the most to you.
    • What kind of time commitment are you willing to make? Are you looking for regular, weekly volunteer work, or for a short-term or one-time commitment?
    • Would you prefer to volunteer with other people or by yourself?
    • Would you like to work from your own home, or would you prefer to volunteer at an organization?
    • If you would like to volunteer away from home, where is the best location for you? Near home? Close to work? Near your child's day-care centre?
    • Do you have specific skills or talents you would like to share with an organization?
    • Would you like to develop a specific skill?
    • What are your personal goals? Are you re-entering the workforce?
    • Do you want to meet new people?
    So far so good... then I started to search through the different categories and found one for those under 18 years - unfortunately, it appeared that there were no opportunities for children under 12.  Hmm... so then I started searching opportunities to volunteer as a family in the Montreal area - not as easy as it sounds.  I actually tried calling the Volunteer Bureau of Montreal but I was put on hold for way too long and hung up.  So now I'm at a bit of a loss as to what we can do.  I'm sure there is something out there for us to do, but I'm not quite sure how to find it! 

    So I'm turning this blog around... if any of you out there have volunteered with your kids and know how to proceed or of some actual opportunities, please do tell!  Please feel free to comment below, or since I have heard that some people have had a hard time adding comments to my blog, reach out to me on facebook or on twitter!  I really want to do this!

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