During our engagement, my husband and I read an article about a family that encouraged generosity and global awareness in their children by involving them in decisions about charitable giving. We knew we wanted to adapt their method for our own kids, but 9 years – and 4 children – later, we were still talking about our plan to do that someday.
Well, for Lent this year, we decided to stop waiting until we had time to really come up with a perfected system for our family and just dive in now. I feel a little weird writing about this, but I’m sharing what we are doing for 2 reasons: (1) we benefit so much when others share their ideas and (2) we know we could be doing it a lot better and are open to suggestions.
Here are the basics:
(1) We told the kids that every Sunday during Lent this year, they are going to learn about one problem in the world and one organization that is trying to help address that problem.
(2) Each week, we are going to pray for the people affected by the problem and the organization trying to help them.
(3) At the end of Lent, we’ll review the different organizations (and problems they address) and the kids can decide which organization will receive some money from our family.
So far, we’ve focused on organizations that have short video clips on their websites, but we’re hoping to expand to other mediums this week. So far, with the videos, we have been very careful about what we show and we talk to the kids about what they’re going to see in advance. Only one of our kids can read, so we read the captions for them during the video. And I talk over parts of the videos as I offer explanations for what the kids are seeing. (The explanations are important as these videos aren’t made for the purpose of easy understanding by young kids, but they are powerful if shown in conjunction with explanation.)
Here are the videos we’ve shown so far.
(1) From “Project Night Night” (http://projectnightnight.org)…We summarized their efforts (detailed on the homepage) for our kids, then showed them the video. The organization basically makes sure that kids in shelters receive a bag that contains a security blanket, a stuffed animal and a book. A $20 donation buys a bag. The video is a simple photo montage of kids who give, and receive, bags. We also suggested to them that one of the places that currently needs bags is located in their Nana’s hometown, and we could actually buy the objects to put in the bag and send it with Nana if they chose that organization (and if Nana was willing to do the delivery…what do you say, Nana?!). Here’s the video…
(2) From “Charity: Water” (http://www.charitywater.org/)… I was initially nervous about showing this video due to the soundtrack and some hard images (our oldest is 6), but I’m so glad we did. Our kids’ reaction was amazing. As they were watching, we emphasized that some people had to drink that dirty water and that helping build a well would mean clean water for everyone in a village. Almost 2 weeks later, S pointed at a ditch full of dirty rainwater beside the road and said, “There are people in the world that have to drink water like that, but I’m sending pennies to help them.” Another powerful thing about this video is that is says the average lifespan in this part of the world is 39. We told our kids that dad and mom would both be 39 this year and aren’t we lucky that we live in a place with peace and clean water so that moms and dads live so much longer. That really made an impression on them (but was a risk, as we don’t want them thinking about the possibility of us dying!) Anyway, this video really made our kids think – in a good way.
(3) From the Make a Wish foundation (www.wish.org). We chose a video about a girl who wished to meet a real ballerina (1) because our girls totally related to that and (2) because the girl in the video gets better. To introduce this, we emphasized that some kids are very sick and that Make a Wish offers them something fun to think about instead of thinking about being in the hospital. (Like being able to focus on the sucker, instead of the shot sort of thing.) Our kids still talk about the girl in this video too.
After this video, we also emphasized to the kids that giving money is not the only way to help. If the girl had wished for a chance to play at our house, would we have let her? Of course. The dancers in the video gave their time, etc. My husband works for UNC and we talked about how if someone’s wish was to do something there, would they help dad arrange it? In short, making the point that giving time, energy, etc. is very important.
Here’s the video:
(4) Not sure what we’re showing the kids tomorrow, but may read them part of a letter about a family in our town who just lost their home to a fire and ask if they would like to contribute to a community effort to assist them.
What has amazed me so far about this:
(1) I needed to be reminded that the blessing comes back 10-fold. Since watching these videos, my own perspective has received a wonderful adjustment. Instead of feeling like money is tight, I am overwhelmed by how rich I feel simply having a bed, clean water, healthy kids… I need that perspective and so do my kids.
(2) The kids’ generosity. At random points, they say “I want you to send our family money to that one when it’s time, mom”, but in the meantime, they have each individually come up to us and said “please send some of my pennies to all of them”. One night, S disappeared after the video and we thought she was playing her Dora tamborine in her room. Turns out she was shaking pennies out of her piggie bank so we could send them for her. And she was very thoughtful about it. 6 pennies to this place, 6 pennies to that place, and 13 to the other…
(3) The kids’ attention. Several times this week, they have asked me if we’ll see another video on Sunday and if there’ any way they could watch it early. And they are totally focused when the videos are on. We’ll see how they do if tomorrow is me reading part of a letter.
What we still need to work on :
(1) I need ideas for organizations and materials to introduce those organizations to our kids. This is my real Lenten sacrifice…the time to search to find the right images and words to talk to our kids about this.
(2) Our kids don’t get allowances and we haven’t talked to them much about money. I would love to use some kind of system (they get 10 dimes, one goes to charity, one to savings, etc.) but we haven’t figured that out yet. This would be a better project if they had some an understanding of money and some of their own money to give.
(3) As kids get older, there are deeper conversations to have about all of this. The point for our crew now is: (1) There are problems and good people working to fix them. (2) Our family helps. You can help, and we’re so proud when you do. (3) We are blessed. Appreciate what we have.
(4) The prayer part. I think the prayer for the people should be a bigger part of what we’re doing, and I don’t want to lose sight of that.
Again, I feel a little weird writing this. I don’t want to make it seem like we’re giving a lot. And I don’t want to come across as anything other than someone who has procrastinated too long on an idea we learned about 9 years ago. But I did want to share in case anyone else has ideas about how this can work, what resources we could use, or if anyone has been looking for an idea for their own kids. So far, this has sparked some good conversations in our house and given me a reminder about the perspective I need to keep.