Giving your kids a context for giving and making the experience real are behaviors that will help you become a charitable family. Charitable families are highly conscious of opportunities to give, and they make the most of them. Volunteering strengthens family relationships and teaches kids such values as kindness, empathy and respect for others, and, perhaps even more important, it teaches that happiness is not dependent on what we have. During a break in a workshop we were conducting in Atlanta, a mother told us about a recent trip to Mexico where her entire family spent a week helping at an orphanage. Her ten-year-old son, John, subsequently wrote an essay that captures the value of volunteering far better than anything we could say:
It is important to know how fortunate we are. I learned this life lesson last year over spring break when we worked at a Mexican orphanage. The house where we stayed had no air-conditioning and no hot water. At the orphanage I saw that their soccer "field" was made of bricks and had torn-up goals. Two children had to sleep together in each twin bed. They didn't get any snacks and they had to eat all their dinner before playing. Some of the children only had one pair of shoes which were nice school shoes. They took them off while playing soccer because they didn't want to ruin their shoes. The orphanage didn't have an iron and when a boy at the orphanage got his first job he bought the orphanage an iron. The thing I thought was amazing, and what changed me, was that these children were happy even with practically no toys or other possessions. They are happy because they live in a safe environment now with people that take good care of them. My trip to Mexico showed I am really blessed.
A hallmark of charitable families is volunteerism. As a parent, you need to make a consistent effort to involve your entire family in activities that benefit others. This doesn't mean you have to devote every spare moment to good works or that you have to be dictatorial and declare to your family, "Get off your butts and start helping others!" The responsibility of a financially intelligent parent, though, is to provide options for and initiate interest in activities. Here are some possibilities to help you get started:
- Visit seniors in hospitals or nursing homes.
- Help clean up at the local park.
- Become a volunteer tutor in a literacy projectespecially great if your child is bilingual.
- Join a local conservation organization and participate in its activities.
- Get involved in playtime and reading stories at a children's shelter.
- Become a storyteller in a children's reading program at the local library.
- Help maintain a local bike path or hiking trail. If you are looking for volunteer opportunities for your family, there are many resources available to you, especially if you have an Internet connection. VolunteerMatch (www.volunteermatch.org) provides a database of volunteer activities that can be searched by zip code and sorted by activities that are great for kids, teens, seniors or groups. When we input our zip code in Los Angeles and asked for volunteer opportunities within twenty miles of our house, VolunteerMatch came up with 64 hits for kids, 314 volunteer possibilities for teens and 346 hits for groups! Action Without Borders, located in New York, maintains the Idealist.org Web site (www.idealist.org), which offers the ability to match volunteers with as many as thirty-six thousand nonprofits worldwide. The International Association for Volunteer Effort is an international nongovernmental organization that promotes volunteerism worldwide. Its Web site (www.iave.org) contains links to volunteer organizations in more than eighty countries.