While coming face-to-face with money problems can be a challenging experience, being able to do something about it is a saving grace. Especially for children, a sense of empowerment is a key factor to viewing the global situation of “have and have-not” with compassion instead of fear.
The power to create solutions, even in small ways, is both a learning opportunity, and a healing act that serves both giver and receiver. Generosity is a balm that soothes the soul.
With our nation in the grasp of some hard financial times, many of us are holding back on the consumptive aspect of our former lifestyles.
What better way than giving, to remind us what we’ve got?
1. Cull/weed household belongings and take them to the local shelter, women’s center, or philanthropic thrift store.
An easy starting point to cultivating generosity in your family is to cull or weed your belongings. While you get rid of household items, suggest that your kids do the same with their things. Have them decide what they’re willing to part with to help a kid in need.
Call your local shelter and see what they need, and what they’re willing to take. If you’re flush you can throw in some new items like toiletries and such. The shelter will be grateful.
If your kids are ready for the experience, they may want to participate in the delivery of items, too. When my older daughter was 11, she asked me to bring her with me on a drop off.
We took our piles of clothes and toys to a local “free store” for struggling and homeless families. She still talks about how rewarding it felt to participate in the gifting. I’m sure it will be a memory she holds for life.
2. Host a Potlatch and take all leftover items to the charity or service of your choice.
The potlatch ceremony is also called a give-away. Potlatch comes from the indigenous people of the Pacific Northwest coastline. In a potlatch, you give away your belongings as a celebration of your abundance.
In north-western native culture, the potlatch consisted of every home in the village putting belongings outside for the taking. The one who GAVE the most, as opposed to the family who had the most, gained the highest status in the community.
In native culture, this ceremony was undertaken for many reasons. All of them had to do with the redistribution of wealth. Wealth was not only measured in belongings, though. Not everyone in the community had material possessions to offer, and some offered dances or songs instead. These offerings were just as valued.
Invite your friends to bring belongings to offer, and to take what they need from what others are giving away.
In addition to being an achingly beautiful traditional ceremony, this is a great way to reduce your carbon footprint. A give-away is a way to reduce waste, clean out storage and closets, and it saves each participant the money, time, and by-product of a shopping trip, by way of new-to-them belongings.
At the end of the potlatch, invite your friends to leave all extra items, and take them to your local shelter or favorite charity.
3. Help your kid come up with ways to help humanity.
Food drives, clothing drives, penny drives, quilt drives, coat drives, and more. There are so many ways to help. What are some creative ways your child can come up with to gather resources together and offer them to those less fortunate?
For maximum impact on your kids’ sense of service, allow them to offer ideas, and do your best to support them. The more empowered your kid is to participate in grateful giving, the more organic and integrated the experience becomes.
One year my older daughter decided to bring her change jar – a huge pickle jar with a good start on coins – to her classroom for a change drive. Start to finish, it was completely her idea.
She wasn’t sure where the coins would go once the jar was full. With a little encouragement from me, she decided that her classmates will all bring suggestions of different local charities or services, and the class as a whole will decide together where the money will go.
I suggested that she choose the parameters; local, national, international? And other guidelines; a charity, a service, a fund? Buy items with the money and give them directly to the shelter? There are so many options.
The by-product of this course of action was that my daughter and her classmates researched the local charities and services, and learned about the network of support that they could plug into to offer service.
4. Offer service at your local soup kitchen.
Our local soup kitchen offers a family lunch service before the general lunch. While the general service might be a little risky to take kids to, the family meal is a great way for kids to put a face on those they’re helping.
Ask the kitchen if you can bring a dish, or home made cookies or something easy. Your child’s sense of accomplishment and generosity will be even larger if they’ve had a hand in creating the food they’re offering out.
5. Want to make it international, yet very personal? Microfinancing is a great option!
Microfinancing is a great way to involve your family in the international picture of wealth distribution, resources, and generosity. Getting into microfinancing is a great opportunity to talk to your kids about currencies, and how an American dollar goes a lot farther in a third-world country.
It’s also a great opportunity to illustrate the dire financial conditions in other countries, while still illustrating the fact that we are not powerless to create change.
Your family is unlikely to be able to fund an ecologically sound start-up for a poverty stricken American family. But, for example, $150 goes a long way in the Philippines. The listing below is from Kiva.org:
“Vicenta Duron is 52 years old … She tills a small parcel of land, which she inherited from her father. Her life is in farming and she loves growing crops, especially rice. …Vicenta needs a loan of $125 to purchase sacks of certified seed and fertilizers. She also plans to open a store where she can sell her farm produce, and increase her profits to support her family.”
-Kiva.org loan request
Kiva.org is designed so you can choose the project you most want to fund. And, you can make a loan of any amount and contribute to a larger fund, or choose a smaller one and make the whole loan yourselves.
For information on other microfinancing options, check out www.microfinancegateway.org.