The Holidays Are for Giving

Ann McDermitt - Atlanta
December 17, 2011

In many ways, children are natural givers. As parents we can nurture that natural instinct by participating in opportunities in our community. How do you teach a child to give? Even toddlers can begin to participate in various ways. There are long-term payoffs when you make service a priority in your family. Empathy and understanding are two gifts you can model for children, and hands-on learning is the best way to teach these traits. Once you begin looking for chances to serve, you will become aware of so many needs in our community.  

Atlanta is a city with a big heart and a history of helping others. We've highlighted some ideas for you to investigate for your family.

Opportunities galore

Many organizations file their needs on a central site called Hands On Network. You can search by zip code and sift thorough opportunities to help others. All the contact information can be found in one place. By contacting the agency in need you can also investigate additional jobs which might be age appropriate for your children. Some specific information on youth volunteer registration is offered, along with search suggestions. Another listing service called Volunteer Match offers additional ideas for projects and links to volunteer education and recruiting tips for managers of volunteer projects.  

Letters to encourage

You can leave words of encouragement for patients of the Children's Healthcare of Atlanta (CHOA) who are not able to enjoy holiday celebrations because of illness. On CHOA's Share With Children's website quick notes of encouragement and hope. These notes of love are shown over the closed circuit television channel in the hospital so multiple patients can benefit from your words. With each note, Verizon had promised to donate one dollar to a fund for CHOA. If your child has ever been a patient at Children's they can participate in the design of the popular CHOA Holiday Cards. Not only can you purchase these cards, but you can encourage your young artist to create designs to be used for the 2012 CHOA Holiday Card contest. Your artwork application should be submitted by March 9, 2012. There is also a complete listing of needs and requested assistance to help patients and their families year round by donating specific items along with a listing of individual event fundraising available. Simply by riding The Pink Pig or purchasing an Aflac Holiday Duck you support this nonprofit gem. 

Curing Kids Cancer

In 2003, Clay and Grainne Owen lost their nine-year-old son Killian to cancer. A year later found Grainne appearing on WSB's Care-a-thon to raise money for Children's Healthcare of Atlanta by encouraging sports teams to buy a tribute to their coaches which would go directly towards cancer research for children. The effort, called "Coaches Curing Kids Cancer" was taken to heart and now the Curing Kid's Cancer organization funds much of the ground-breaking research for pediatric cancer in Atlanta and elsewhere. The idea asks sports teams to donate money to honor their coach instead of buying a gift. Coaches don't go without a gift however. In return for a donation, the coaches are sent a t-shirt and personalized certificate which the team could frame. The Owens have expanded the effort to include "Teachers Curing Kid's Cancer" and accept other memorial donations.
Your family can encourage the use of these donations throughout your community—for coaches, teachers, and others who love kids - to aid in this effort. Your own healthy child may have had a friend or loved one with cancer and this would be a wonderful opportunity to help others with this illness.

Animal friends and beyond
Service to others can come in many forms. If your family has a love of animals then contributing to the ongoing effort will certainly have meaning to your children. Local animal shelters are always in need of extra sheets and towels, pet food coupons, and simple lawn care. Things like this allow their budget to stretch further into the community. Perhaps holding your own mini-fundraiser such as a dog wash or lemonade stand would be a tangible work your children could be proud of donating. We heard of one family who creatively made homemade dog treats for a local shelter. Your ideas will be readily welcomed for facilities which are often overwhelmed with need.
Meals on Wheels service can be found servicing those who are housebound in most communities. Normally organizations can be found through the Meals on Wheels website which ties together services benefitting senior citizens and their well-being. The idea is to keep these individuals healthier for a better quality of life, both physically and emotionally. Of course the primary volunteer effort involves preparing and delivering the trays of food for those in need, but there are other ways to serve and support the effort as a family. Something as simple as having your child make seasonal placemats for the trays could brighten the day of hundreds of seniors in the community who lead a quiet and lonely existence. Project Open Hand Atlanta is tied to the national Meals on Wheels organization and has a helpful volunteer page on their website which will give you and idea of what the needs may be within the area they serve. 
Habitat for Humanity was founded in 1976 just outside of Americus, Georgia by Millard and Linda Fuller. It was based upon the concept of "partnership housing" which was developed on Konoinia Farm by Clarence Jordan in the late sixties. Former President Jimmy Carter began working with this organization in 198X and has led the call to service necessary for the seemingly endless need. The organization relies on both community support and family ownership responsibilities to create decent and safe housing for those who are low-income, hard-working families. Participating in these projects is often an uplifting community effort where the future homeowner works side by side with volunteers. Habitat has created a resource page for children who want to participate in this process. The suggestions are divided by age levels and give you and idea of what is possible on individual projects. Your local project manager will be able to coordinate your family's service. 
Your community needs the service of young families to create positive change year-round. Teaching your children to serve will be a powerful memory as they grow into adults. Giving children the opportunity to observe the needs of others will create a strong sense of empathy in a world where gratefulness is often overlooked. By allowing young ones to serve alongside, you will form memories that extend long past the holidays.


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