Do you want your kids or grandkids to get the most out of the holidays — and life?
Consider nudging them toward creative giving, especially the kind that helps the less fortunate.
I’ve been struck by the number of successful young people I’ve met who told me their parents’ emphasis on giving back jump-started their individual involvement in charities and, in some cases, influenced their career paths.
Dartmouth college student and Ebola fighter Sydney Kamen and Yale college student and anti-bullying advocate Christopher Rim are just two of many young adults who speak proudly of how community outreach by their parents inspired their own pursuits.
Clearly not everyone who volunteers or contributes to charity goes on to find academic or professional success, but generosity feels good, especially in these uncertain times.
Yes, you and the kids are busy, and it’s a challenge to change holiday traditions, but don’t wait to start.
Set the groundwork this year -– even in a small way. That will give you and your child or grandchild ideas on how to refine and expand your creative giving for next year.
Not sure how to start? Consider some of these ideas to launch your family’s holiday good works projects.
- Get busy: Parents magazine spotlighted kids as young as 3 years old volunteering — with their parents, of course — to collect books, visit nursing homes and plant flowers. Decide if you want to start with a one-time or ongoing project. Begin to explore available opportunities at Points of Light Foundation and Volunteer Match.
- Encourage creativity: Zakary Smith, a boy I met on another assignment, was only 4 when he visited his seriously ill sister in the hospital. He discovered most of the toys for young patients were broken, dirty or missing parts. Zakary decided to donate most of his birthday presents to the hospital so kids could play. That act of kindness launched the growing nonprofit Smith Smiles. Five years later, the whole family now collects and donates toys to hospitalized children in several states. Clearly you don’t have to start a charity to give back. Still, encourage your child to look for hospitals, nursing homes, recreation centers, after-school centers and other places that would welcome a toy or other gift to help them better serve the community.
- Write a letter: Many kids’ lives are all about video screens, but good old-fashioned letters sent by mail are terrific morale boosters for members of the military. Shauna Fleming was 15 when she founded A Million Thanks in 2004. The group started as a way to send mail to active-duty military. Letters are still sought. There are also opportunities to “grant a wish” and otherwise donate to and support members of the military. Remember, though, you don’t have to go all-out, especially at first. Grab a pen and paper. Then ask your child to write, address and mail a letter to a service member.
- Donate: Kids quickly outgrow ice skates, skis and other sports equipment. Many times they end up at the bottom of closets, in attics or in basements. Rather than have them gather dust, consider other kids who would love to use them. Kids can gather gently used sports equipment and donate it so less fortunate children can afford to participate in a sport. One charity that accepts such donations — and sees that they go where needed around the world — is Sportsgift.
- Play: Animal shelters and rescue organizations are always looking for volunteers, and many accept kids. Check your local shelters and animal rescues to find out if you and your child or grandchild can volunteer to play with kittens or otherwise help out.
One of the best ways to spread holiday cheer during the season is to contribute just a bit to those in need. And doing so with a child sets a habit that may continue for life.
What ways have you and your family found to contribute to your community or others in need? Share with us in comments below or on our Facebook page.