Raising Kids Who Care

It's easy--if you lead by example. Five families show you how to get started, stay committed, and make a real difference.

By Martha Fay from Reader's Digest | December 2008


Jeffrey and Linda Church
Nina, 15; Josh, 14; Rachel, 11; Jacob, 10
San Diego, California

“Ever since our kids were little,” says Jeff Church, a San Diego businessman, “they’ve been dropping their extra coins into an aluminum tzedakah box [tzedakah is Hebrew for “charity”] that my wife keeps in the kitchen. Once a year, they empty it out and decide what organizations they want to donate to that year.”

The tzedakah tradition mirrors in miniature the focused approach to philanthropy that the Churches have practiced for years, combining giving with discussion and reflection. “They’re all wonderful kids,” says their father, “but as they were getting older, I wanted them to understand that there is more to charity than writing checks. I wanted them to develop a passion of their own.”

Jeff’s own passion is alleviating poverty in Africa, a cause he and his wife have long supported through the nonprofit organizations Millennium Promise (millenniumpromise.org) and Free the Children (freethechildren.com). This year, the Churches decided their kids should see some of the projects up close. It was no trip to Disneyland. First stop was southern Ethiopia, where they visited a microdam project designed to capture the runoff of seasonal rains in order to irrigate crops and provide drinking water.

The second stop was a village in rural Kenya, where the Churches accompanied local girls on their daily rounds to collect water for their families, a task that was preventing them from attending school. “Imagine a three-mile, two-hour walk carrying something as big and heavy as a piece of luggage on your back,” says Jeff. Free the Children is building a series of one-room schoolhouses with tin roofs that capture rainwater and allow the girls to study—at least while it rains.

“For my kids to see how micro-development works up close was a beautiful thing,” says Jeff. “I’d never seen smiles as large and deep on my children’s faces as I saw that week. To see them experiencing that satisfaction was like nothing else.”

How to Reach Out

Do parents make a difference when it comes to their kids’ volunteering? According to the Corporation for National & Community Service, a public-private partnership, nearly nine out of ten young people who give their time have parents and siblings who volunteer. On the other hand, six out of ten whose parents do not volunteer end up not volunteering either.

Almost any kid can help. Young children can collect for charity. Preteens might participate in fund-raising walks or put in time at an animal shelter. Teenagers can volunteer in a local Habitat for Humanity project. Below are a few websites to get your family started.

  • 1-800-volunteer.org – Enter your zip code and the number of miles you’re willing to travel. Narrow your search based on programs that interest you.
  • Volunteerabroad.com – Choose a country and limit your search based on the type of work and length of job. Some projects require registration fees that can range from $200 to over $2,000.
  • Seniorcorps.gov – Grandparents set examples too. Seniorcorps.gov offers volunteer opportunities for people 55 and over.
  • Americorps.org – This organization will connect you to long-term service projects, from disaster relief to homelessness. Create a user profile and apply for opportunities that interest you.

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