When my husband and I bought a cute Tonka pottery bank for our 6-year-old grandson, Yehudah, we thought it would be a great for him to learn how to save money. But when we gave it to him, he exclaimed, “Oh, it’s a charity bank for me!” Since his parents had a bank that looked like an ambulance which they filled with money for charity, our grandson felt that we bought the Tonka bank for him to put money in for the same purpose. He asked me to donate money for his charity bank, which I gladly did. I was so proud of him for doing this.
Putting money in a special bank for charity is something he has seen his parents do. As Orthodox Jews, we do so before the start of every Sabbath and before the start of the Jewish New Year and before other holidays and at other times as well. Our grandchildren are raised in a home where their parents, as part of their religious beliefs, voluntarily give ten percent of their net earnings a year to various charities.
Orthodox Jews are not the only religious people who give to charity — many religious Americans do the same. Many people give to collections in their churches, or to the various charities which call on them for donations. Even many Americans who may not be formally religious contribute to charities. Americans are generally very generous to those in need.
Children who are raised in homes where charity, volunteerism, and helping neighbors and the less fortunate are a part of their parents’ lives are given one of the greatest gifts that their parents can give them: a wonderful sense of purpose and self-esteem and a feeling of being an important part of our society. These kids, on the whole, are not the ones who find themselves in trouble as teenagers, young adults, or adults.
Here are some ways to help to instill the ideals of giving in your children.
1. Have them choose one or more charities that they would like to help.
Charities that help children are good ones to chose as your children can learn to empathize with others who may not be as fortunate as they are. The internet is a great way to look for these charities. A few include St. Judes, a famous hospital for children; Newborns In Need, an organization which provides clothing and blankets for babies; Kaboom, a charity which builds playgrounds that are handicapped accessible; and SOS Villages, which provides warm group homes for abandoned and orphaned children in 131 countries, including the United States.
Get some literature or pictures from these charities, or go to their websites and print them out. Help your children make charity boxes out of cardboard with a hole cut at the top to put money in and paste the pictures of the charities on the boxes. Many will have pictures of children whom the charity is helping, which will personalize the charity for your children. Don’t have them take on more than five or six charities or it might become overwhelming. You might even want to display the charity boxes prominently in your living room so that your children can show them off to visitors, which will give the children an additional sense of pride in their charity undertakings.
You can give your children monetary rewards for helping around the house so that they will have money to put in their boxes. They can also put in some of their birthday money, if they get any.
2. Contributing their possessions.
We all get calls, e-mails, or cards asking for donations of clothing and other goods. You and your children can go through their clothes that may be too small, and also toys that they would like to donate. They should pack these themselves in a bag for pick-up, or you can take them to a Goodwill collection site. They can also donate their books to a library as part of their general donation package, or to a charity like Books for Kids, an organization which asks for gently used books to be given to kids in doctors’ offices for their annual physical check-ups. Sometimes schools have book drives to collect books for underprivileged children.
3. Contributing their time and efforts.
Parents who volunteer can often take older children along with them in their volunteer work, such as helping older people in their yards, working in food pantries, or visiting residents of nursing homes or hospitals who may be all alone in the world. Others can help tutor children who may be struggling with their school work. In the Milwaukee, Wisconsin suburb of Shorewood, there’s a wonderful volunteering program for high school seniors. Every spring and fall, many of these teens bring rakes to the yards of Shorewood’s seniors and others who may need help, and rake their yards of leaves in the fall, and help them clean their yards in the spring.
For kids who are a bit older, you can encourage your children and their friends to hold a rummage sale of some of the things they no longer use, and give the proceeds to a favorite charity. This is a great way for pre-teens to raise money for charity. At seventeen, teens can volunteer for the Red Cross in a variety of ways. Ronald McDonald House, food banks, Special Olympics, after school homework and reading help, libraries, and homeless shelters are also always in need of volunteers.
A special boon for these teen volunteers is that they can put it on their resumes when applying to their colleges of choice. Applicants who show that they have volunteered show that they are good candidates for colleges.
There are so many ways you can help your children contribute to society, and by this become well-integrated and happy members of that society as well. It’s up to you to foster this giving attitude, and it’s up to you to decide when your child is mature enough to comprehend giving. You and your children will certainly be the richer for it.