Long before the president called on Americans to give to the people devastated by the underwater earthquake and resulting tsunami, my husband, Michael, called on us.
He wanted and needed to do something to help. So, late on the first night of the disaster, Michael started his research online to find what he felt were safe places to donate our money. He found a number of reputable disaster relief agencies known for minimal fundraising and maximum funds making it to relief efforts. We sent our money to these charities.
But Michael did more. He also sent an e-mail to our family and friends urging them to forego after-Christmas sales and join us in donating to relief efforts.
At dinner, I told our daughters Amanda and Allison, about what their dad had done. I was proud of him and wanted him to know that I was grateful for what he had done.
But what happened next floored me.
After hearing what their father had done and what he had asked of our family and friends, both Allison and Amanda said, in unison, “We want to give.” I did not expect this from the girls. Not that my kids don’t donate; they do. Each allowance, they set aside the amount they want to give to the church.
But this was different. They wanted “in” on their dad’s plan because the tsunami had touched them.
My girls are old enough to watch national news with us each night and they saw the faces of the children who have been injured—both physically and emotionally—and have lost their parents. My kids really understood that other kids were in trouble and my children wanted to help.
Yet, instead of saying, “Of course, that’s great!” My first question was, “Do you have any money to give?”
My youngest, Amanda, was pretty tapped out, but she said she would use some of her savings. My oldest, Allison, said she had money. So I asked how much she wanted to give. Again, you could have knocked me over with a feather.
“Would $50 be enough?” Allison asked. This is big money to a 13-year-old and I was impressed. By re-telling the story of their dad’s giving, I experienced a life lesson: Children are natural born givers, you just have to help them find a way to do so.
This disaster is playing out in real-time for our kids. It will continue to be part of the news and part of our lives for quite some time as the world recovers. While that is happening, it offers an important opportunity to help children understand that they can make a difference even as one person or one child.
On the Save the Children Web site (www.savethechildren.org), Charles MacCormack, president and chief executive officer of the nonprofit child-assistance organization, writes that it is important to encourage “children to help support local (or national) charities that assist children in need” because it “gives children a sense of control, security and empathy.”
He offers 10 tips to parents for helping children cope. Among them: Turn off the television to spare younger children; model good coping strategies; listen carefully to determine how well your child is coping with the news of the disaster and encourage your children to do volunteer work to give them a sense of control.
The organization also promises to send out a fundraising kit to your school within 48 hours.
Helping the rebuilding efforts will be memorable and important for my children. Not only are they learning that they can respond when other children of the world are in need, I’m also using it as an opportunity to introduce to them other, less visible yet as important ongoing needs of children in our world. This international disaster can provide the same lessons for your children.
Start with these tips:
n Check it out. The American Institute of Philanthropy Web site, www.charitywatch.org, is a nationally prominent watchdog service with the purpose of helping donors make informed giving decisions.
n Make a list. Create a short list of charities and convene a family meeting to choose a “family” charity to support.
n Keep track of your donation. Read, watch and talk about the crisis and periodically check back with the charity you choose to see the progress that has been made as a result of the donations.
Talk about it tonight over dinner if you have not already done so. Help your children decide what they can do. There will be more conversations as you see the impact of the donations your child and many others have made following the rebuilding through the media, both on and off line.
Children need to learn they have a choice with their money and this is a real opportunity to make the choice of donation come alive for our kids. Maybe this is a small silver lining in one of the worst natural disasters in recent history—an opportunity that will allow our children to participate in the world and begin to develop their own identity as stewards of our global challenges.
Susan Beacham is the founder and CEO of Money Savvy Generation, a financial education company that provides innovative products and services to help parents and educators teach children the skills of basic personal finance, www.MoneySavvyGeneration.com. E-mail her at Susan@MSGen.com.