“Mommy, every time I see a homeless person I just want to raise enough money to buy them a house.”
These were the words my then 9-year-old daughter spoke to me after seeing a panhandler under the overpass. It was the same man we saw every day as we left school. And it was in that very moment that I realized I had a very critical decision to make. I had to decide how I was going to nurture the giving and compassionate spirit in my child.
This was a big step for me as a parent and as a person. I’m the black or white calculating type. Olivia had asked me before why I don’t “give people (on the side of the road) money when they need it.” I justified that it wasn’t safe (which it isn’t) and that I give to other organizations from which those people can get help (which I do). Recently, a Baltimore resident, Jacquelyn Smith, 52 was stabbed to death by doing this same deed, giving to a homeless woman. Yet in the moment, a moment where a 9-year-old girl was expressing to me a vision and passion far bigger than she could comprehend, and far greater than I ever imagined, I knew I had to make a choice.
Often as parents we make choices that are convenient and helpful for us, despite how they may impact our children. In most cases, these decisions will not negatively impact our children – physically or emotionally (e.g. all the children will attend the same school or same sex children will share a room). But I felt in this moment, that the decisions I made would impact the way Olivia viewed her ability and capacity to do what her heart was telling her to do.
So, I responded, “A house costs a lot of money. What else do you think you could do that’s more feasible?” And from there she did a toy drive, followed that with a food drive, and ultimately started a free girls conference to teach confidence, self-love and self-expression to tween girls. And all those thing led to the creation of her non-profit Girls Giving For Good (www.girlsgiving4good.org), where we teach girls how to give back to their communities with the ultimate goal of creating Presidential Volunteer Service Award winners.
The essence of giving and teaching your children to give lies within three simple principles and practices:
Listen to your children. I know that seems like a no brainer. But you must listen not only to the things they say, but also the things they don’t say. As parents we must learn to hear the things our children are unable to articulate. If you listen closely, your children will tell you how, when, and where they feel comfortable to give back.
Keep it simple. Even if Olivia could have raised the money to build that house, organizing the effort is far more of an undertaking. There are simple ways you and your family can begin giving back. Connect with your local United Way and find out which organizations allow youth to volunteer. Call a local charity and ask them what they need. If they tell you they need it, that’s what they need. Get that.
Don’t recreate the wheel. Take part in what’s already happening. Join local drives and events that are organized and run by other groups. Volunteers are always welcome, and resources, supplies and donations are always needed. Don’t forget to ask what’s needed.
If you and your daughter would like to learn more about how to give back to your community join the Girls Giving For Good community. Sign up for the newsletter, follow on Instagram (@GirlsGiving4Good) or on Facebook (Girls Giving For Good).