Last month, I wrote about the season of giving and encouraged families to get involved with local charities. As a longtime nonprofit fundraiser, I know that once the holidays pass, for many people, the focus on charities goes away. But, the need for your involvement doesn’t. After the “season of giving” and what seems like an endless round of appeals for money and time that show up in my inbox and mailbox (not to mention the ones I’ve written for work), I can get a little jaded and tired of thinking about ways to “give back.” Maybe you do, too. But, if a cause can really touch your heart, it’ll remind you why it’s important – and even fun! – to keep the spirit of giving going all year long, not just during the “season of giving” around the holidays.
For me and likely most parents, teaching my kids to be kind and help others is one of my top parenting priorities. So, I make a point when I can to get my kids involved in projects that give them a chance to “give back.” I want to show them in a concrete way that they can make a difference. It doesn’t have to be hard or a big time commitment. And, it doesn’t have to require you to spend a lot of money either. Some of the best projects are really simple, like the one my family is doing right now: Family to Family’s “One Book at a Time” program. When I first heard about it last fall, something special struck me and I knew I wanted my kids and I to get involved.
Family to Family’s One Book at a Time program matches you up with a “book buddy.” Each book buddy is a child from an extremely low-income family. You send them a book or two every month for a year so they can build their home libraries. Family to Family teams up with youth services agencies across the country to find kids to be part of the program. Their materials said, “We believe hungry minds ache just like hungry bellies.” When I read that, I thought about a child being “book hungry” and it was something I could totally relate to. My whole life I have loved to read. I was the kid who would check out a stack of 15 books at a time from the library and get excited about trips to the bookstore like most kids do about toy stores. When I don’t have something new to read, having a hungry mind or being book hungry is the exact way to describe it.
As a mom, reading is one of my favorite ways to spend time with my kids. Story time right before bed can be the best part of my day. Every night, you can find us giggling together over silly children’s books or having talks about more serious stuff we’ve just read. Our playroom and the kids’ rooms house an enormous home library of children’s books. (I find children’s books irresistible and can’t seem to stop buying them!) The thought of a child with a mind aching with hunger for books and having none at home to read killed me. So, I signed us up right away and asked them to match my family with someone who was close in age to my older kids so that my kids and I could work together to choose the best books for our new friend.
Our book buddy is a 2nd grader who lives in Illinois. He’s a little behind in reading, so he’s in a special program at his school and his Boys & Girls Club (a charity super close to my heart!) to help him catch up to grade level. We heard that he liked Batman, so the first thing we sent was a set of Batman phonics books and we wrote a letter introducing our family to go with the books. He wrote us a letter back right away and it was adorable. He was so excited about getting his books. He ended his letter with, “P.S. Today, I am feeling like the color blue. That means I am having a really, really great day!” If I wasn’t sold already on how awesome this program is, I would have been after reading that letter and seeing how excited our new friend was.
After hearing back from him, the kids and I have had fun each month choosing a favorite book or two that we’ve been reading together to send to our buddy. When we first started talking about choosing books, I asked the kids to imagine what it would be like to have no books or hardly any books at home. They are so used to having a ton of books that my oldest asked me, “Is that real? Are there really any kids who don’t have books at home?” When I explained that a lot of families don’t have enough money to buy books since all their money has to go to things like food and rent, the kids really wanted to help and share.
So, not only are we getting to help a little kid who is learning to read, which totally makes my heart happy, it’s a great way to encourage my kids to do something good for other people all year long. And that makes my heart really happy, too. Every month, my kids have a simple way to be thoughtful, kind and charitable as we work together to find books for our buddy. By doing this one little thing, the kids are learning some big lessons:
- It’s important to help others when you can.
- It can be fun to share and it can make you feel good to do something nice for a total stranger.
- They personally can make a difference to somebody else.
To me, those are some of the best lessons anyone can learn, at any age.
Maybe you thought about getting involved with a charity over the holidays, but didn’t quite have the time to fit into your busy schedule. Don’t feel like you’ve missed your chance now that the holidays are over! Most nonprofits could use your help all year long. And, as I think most volunteers find, you get out of it at least as much as you give. If you want to get involved in a charity project, but you aren’t sure where to start, check out volunteermatch.com to find local charities that might need your help. Or, you can check out my post from December about getting your family into the season of giving. Many on the list need help year-round.
Is there a charity project that touches your heart? If so, tell us about it in the comments and spread the word. Thank you!