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Giving Back: Two families tell their stories

In the spirit of the season, ParentMap asked readers to share their stories about how they "give back" to others. Here are two examples of how families reach out to help those in need: The Becker family, Renton Holiday Bags of Cheer While working in the high-tech field, Stacie and Don Becker observed that co-workers had so many material items and financial resources, "yet something was missing in their lives." The Beckers, who had spent several years volunteering to help children in need, decided "to turn on people's light bulbs to think of others, especially in their own backyard," Stacie says.

Four years ago, the couple started a Holiday Bags of Cheer project, soliciting friends, family and business associates to donate "unused small objects," such as fast food toys, travel soaps/shampoos, and cereal bars. These homemade "Holiday Bags of Cheer" have been donated to more than 200 Pacific Northwest children yearly through the Washington Children's Home Society. "Each year, we put the word out via email and provide posters to a list of friends, local business people and contacts, and the results have been overwhelming, "Stacie Becker says. "As a side note of interest, when we started this effort four years ago, we had no children of our own, but felt the deep desire to give to children already on this Earth who were in need of support," she says. "Since then, after years of trying and prayer, we are now blessed with our own little girl, Ana Lynn (who turned 1 on Oct. 15). We have every intention of continuing this effort until she, too, is fully engaged is serving others."

The Niemer family, Seattle Habitat for Humanity Giving Back was the centerpiece of the Niemer family vacation last summer. Instead of jetting off to typical family destinations like Disneyland or Hawaii, the Niemers (Randi and Jim, plus sons Cappy, 10, and Jesse 51/2, and daughter McKenna, 81/2) traveled to Guatemala with Habitat for Humanity. "We went with a group of 20 from Washington, Oregon and Idaho, many of whom we know from a family camp we all go to," Randi Niemer explains. We were gone for two weeks and really saw how people lived and existed day to day.

"We helped build three houses made of cinder blocks," Niemer adds. "It was very hard work for all of us. The kids sifted sand, shoveled sand and dirt, carried many of the blocks, played with the kids from the families we were building for (Habitat requires that the family helps build their house), ran to the market to get popsicles or ice cream for the workers and us, read Spanish kids' books we brought with us, and many other bridge-building activities." The adventure was so positive, the Niemers are planning more family Habitat for Humanity trips in the future. "Overall, it was an extremely gratifying and wonderful experience." Niemer says. The kids saw "how privileged we and our friends are and the stark difference in living styles was very evident.

"Most of these kids have no toys at all," she adds. "Yet, each and every child we saw seemed very happy and smiles came easily. "Our kids experienced hard physical labor to help these families have a 300-square-foot house. I think that the physicality of it really helped put into perspective just what a contribution they helped make. I hope they won't ever forget it -- I know Jim and I won't."

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