Elizabeth Grumer traces her inspiration back to a gifted teacher she had for elementary school art. Now a 16-year-old student at Tacoma School of the Arts, Elizabeth says it feels only natural to pass this gift along to younger kids. "For most of us, art played a big role in our elementary experience, and a lot of schools are cutting the arts and music," she says.
That's why Elizabeth, along with a group of her peers, has helped establish Learning to Give, a group dedicated to finding the money to fund elementary art programs. The project started as a school assignment but has evolved into a much more gratifying experience. "I think it is helping us interact with our community in a much more mature way, and helping us learn a lot of skills so we can keep doing it when we're adults," says Rey Lyon, 17.
Melissa Moffett, community developer at Tacoma School of the Arts, says teaching this group of students about how non-profits work to find funding has forced the students to figure out what issues concern them the most. The students each brought with them very personal ideas of who the grant money should serve -- from students to the homeless, artists to the hungry. Coming together and finally choosing elementary arts programming ultimately reflected the two passions they all shared -- arts and children.
More and more, schools throughout the Puget Sound region are requiring philanthropy as part of the curriculum -- in some cases, as a graduation requirement. While many educators suggest that community service will certainly make students more marketable when applying for college, the overall consensus is that philanthropy breeds citizenship -- something all children should learn.
Cascade Christian Schools in Puyallup have imbedded community service in curriculum at every grade level. Teacher Paige Wescott says, "Cascade Christian Schools are dedicated to developing discerning leaders who are academically, spiritually and personally prepared to impact their world."
Students are asked to select community service projects ranging from visiting nursing homes, community beautification, student mentoring, working with the poor and providing support for military families. "Our students long to live out their purpose by meaningful helping, building-up, serving, loving, fixing, consoling, supporting, encouraging, giving and edifying the people who surround them in their community," Wescott says. "The enthusiasm for these service projects has been huge."
So huge, in fact, that students volunteer to serve on mission trips to help rebuild communities in New Orleans battered by Hurricane Katrina, and to serve the homeless at the Dream Center in Los Angeles. Wescott says the key to fostering philanthropy is offering a variety of opportunities so students can serve in an area they feel strongly about. Grayce Mitchell, service learning coordinator at Ballard High School, agrees. She gives incoming students a questionnaire to help gauge their interest in a variety of service areas. She spends the next four years helping her students meet Seattle School District's mandated 60 community service hours by identifying organizations and efforts compatible with individual student interests. "There are a lot of good things that come from community service," she says. "It helps students build self esteem, learn to take positive risks and to succeed."
Students often carry on with philanthropy long after they have completed their 60 required hours. Nearly one-third of the senior class at Ballard High was recognized last spring for doubling their commitment with 120 hours of community service. This year's seniors are looking to outdo the class of 2006 by tripling the required hours. Woodinville mom Christi Dudzik believes in leading by example. She found her calling caring for others through service with her dog. Through the Delta Society in Bellevue, she became trained and registered to provide animal therapy with her dog. Her son Robert, 12, saw her passion for volunteerism and has followed in her footsteps, training with his own dog to provide animal therapy. "I became involved in volunteering with my dog because I wanted to help people in hospitals to feel better and I felt that it would be a good deed to give people a little happiness," he says.
For Dudzik, this particular organization filled the needs of her family, but she encourages parents to explore philanthropy with their children regardless of what entity provides the opportunity. "Children go through an ego-centric period in the developmental process. Some people never seem to grow out of this sense that the world revolves around them. My husband and I want Robert to know there is more to life than just him and his needs -- he is a part of the greater whole." Sarah Kahne is assistant editor at the Business Examiner in Tacoma and mother of a six-year-old boy.
Tips for involving 'tweens and teens:
your child about his or her concerns about the greater community. Does she worry about the homeless man you pass on your way to school? Is he concerned that grandpa is dying of cancer and there isn't a cure yet? Research charitable organizations in the region to find an agency that ties in to your child's interests.
this age aren't always the most responsive, so take a look at your child's passions. If it's video games, talk to the volunteer coordinator at Children's Hospital to see if your kid can bring in his X-box and play with a sick patient. For the girl who loves fashion, try organizing a back-to-school clothing drive for needy children. For the athlete, see if she'll sign up to help coach a peewee soccer or baseball team. The key is to engage your child and give him a life-long love of giving.
Good places to start
include your local United Way, your place of worship or your child's school. Remember: The first opportunity that presents itself may not end up being the right fit. Try a couple of different programs and let your child choose which one she likes best.