By Stephanie Ila Silver-Silberstein
I’m not sure when exactly I learned the word philanthropy. Perhaps it was in the midst of an elementary school bake sale or while I was selling Brownie cookies around my neighborhood. Maybe it was the first time I had heard the song, “We Are the World” or pledged a donation to PBS so I could see if my phone call made it on television. When I got to college, the world definitely got larger than the quaint suburban town in which I grew up. Thanks to my Liberal Arts professors, sorority-organized philanthropy and most significantly, the introduction of the Internet, I became more aware of the world around me and the potential contributions I could make to it. And now, as a mother of two, I am even more motivated to inspire my children to be philanthropic while simultaneously cultivating that side of myself as well. But how exactly do I go about doing that? Here are five ways to get started:
It’s easy enough to click a few buttons on your computer before you go to sleep one night and make a donation to the organization your friend is supporting by running a marathon. But more often than not, this charitable act goes unrecognized by your children. So, why not encourage your children to participate in such events themselves? Both you and your kids can complete a walk-a-thon or a 5K at your own pace. You’ll all get some exercise, quality time spent together as a family and the satisfaction of raising money and/or awareness for an important cause. Visit http://www.rmh-newyork.org/kids-run.
Every Sunday night, my son and husband break down the many cardboard boxes and plastic bottles we’ve accumulated each week and wheelbarrow it down the driveway to be picked up for recycling. The ritual has become more than just an opportunity for father-son bonding. It’s become a life lesson about protecting our environment. Virtually every trash chute in the city contains the familiar blue garbage can filled to the brim with soda bottles and newspapers. And many of us won’t enter a Whole Foods without our canvas totes in hand. Use these examples as opportunities to talk to your children about the importance of protecting the Earth. Visit http://www.urbanfarming.org/garden-locations.html and http://cleantheworld.org/serveandlearn.asp.
My children are currently attending preschool at the synagogue to which we belong. Not only do they learn about and give Tzedakah (charitable giving) each week during their Shabbat celebration but they are consistently and literally surrounded by philanthropic projects which inspire questions like, “Why is there a huge pile of toys in the lobby?” “Why are there boxes of canned food lining the hallways?” These questions inspire meaningful discussions about what it means to be charitable as well as the impetus to take action. Now, my children voluntarily donate their own toys, clothes, food, etc. to our synagogue’s numerous fundraisers. Most, if not all, religious organizations are involved in similar acts of charity. Contact your local place of worship and get yourself and your children involved in one of its many philanthropies.
The same way every penny counts, a lending hand is a lending hand, however small. My 4-year-old might be too little to serve hot soup at a homeless shelter on Thanksgiving Day, but he’s not too little to help unpack and sort items for a local shelter’s food pantry. And children are never too young to help put smiles on the faces of those living in a nursing home. Use your own talent, whether you sing, crochet, paint or bake cookies and offer that talent in a charitable way. Your child will be both proud and inspired by your generosity. Showing children that your time is just as valuable as your money is an important lesson that can be learned at any age. Check out http://www.MonkeezAndFriends.com, http://www.glamourgals.org, and http://www.AlexsLemonade.org.
The next time you’re buying a gift for someone (yourself included), opt to purchase it from a company affiliated with a particular charity. Throughout the month of October, and often throughout the whole year, many companies donate a portion of their proceeds to a charitable organization. Organizations like http://www.cmcfund.org and products like these adorable 4 slotted piggy banks from http://www.MoneyScholar.org can help teach a child about money management and being charitable.
As individuals and certainly as parents, we have an obligation to foster a philanthropic spirit in our community, our children and ourselves. By starting this crusade when our children are young, we will be raising the next generation to be generous, philanthropic men and women who aren’t being charitable just to pad their college applications, but rather to make significant contributions to the world we live in and to better the lives of those who inhabit it. Children as young as 8-years-old have founded charitable organizations and companies dedicated to causes close to their hearts. It’s never too early (or too late) to raise the next big mover and shaker.