I grew up with very little service involvement as a youth. I was taught to be kind and give when opportunity presented itself, but that was pretty much it. When my second child, Charlotte, arrived later in life, I wanted her to have opportunity to “give back” and come to understand the larger community family of which she was a part; that having all of her needs met was not the case for everyone.
When Charlotte was five, we took her to visit our local hygiene cabinet, explaining that people who needed these items could get them there. She loved meeting the staff and on the way home we talked about why people might need to go there and what else we could do to help. She was eager to learn and engage with adults in the community. She wanted to do more. Part of her weekly allowance became earmarked for hygiene items, and then we taught her matching funds – matching the amount she contributed to community needs each month.
As adults in the community came to know of her involvement they offered to give. Since she was giving regularly, she naturally expected they would do the same – maybe even matching funds to her contribution. Staff of other community based organizations asked to be included in her project, Charlotte’s Circle. The purity of the young child seemed irresistible to adults and she met their interest with her desire to take on more. Between the ages of five and seventeen, she raised and managed over $70,000 for needs in her community.
As I watched Charlotte grow with the project in her life, the idea of replication – what would happen if more children and families were doing this – became a recurring thought. One day, the director of our United Way commented to me that she “wished we could do something about the food problem in our community.” This was a turning point for me. Replicating projects for a variety of community needs became important. My professional interests turned to service learning. I began to create a database of service projects organized by topic.
The mother in me had shifted from Charlotte to all of our children – from my community to all communities. I think there is a certain idealism that grabs hold of us when we raise young children; what the world could be seems a point of conscience.
The final piece that kicked in was the imperative to start young – to create a foundation of service in the education of our children. So I worked with elementary grade teachers to create a sequence that could start in kindergarten and build up through each grade – a leadership role for each grade, tied to the topic areas that had formed in the database.
In a world that adults have not been able to manage, perhaps creating such a foundation for the next generation can head us toward sustainable solutions to the challenges we face.