By Alicia Wanek
A decade ago psychologists at the Hebrew University in Jerusalem determined that an inclination toward generosity was likely a genetic trait. Through an online task involving making a choice whether or not to give away money, the researchers found that those who chose to give away some or all of their money differed genetically from those involved in the exercise who chose not to give their money away.
As a parent, does that mean you can’t teach your kids to be generous, charitable, benevolent adults? There are too many studies pointing to the influence parents have on the values their children develop to believe it’s a lost cause. If you show your kids that giving back to their community and those in need is important to you, it’s very likely it will become important to them, too. Encouraging them to give of themselves is valuable, but outreach with them is even better.
These days, there are so many opportunities for our kids to participate in philanthropic endeavors. At school, at your place of worship and in outside organizations your child is encouraged to see the value of giving to others. You may be working to acquire all the hours your child needs for National Charity League, Young Men’s Service League or National Honor Society. Though it may seem like an onerous task to make time for service in the midst of a grueling academic schedule and sports practices or dance rehearsals, students appreciate their service to others and what they learn from it.
High school students are accomplishing amazing things. The students of Richland Collegiate High School Key Club, a leadership and community service organization affiliated with the Kiwanis organization, participate in outreach all year making blankets, building wheelchair ramps and through food drives for the local food bank. However, this last year, they joined ranks with other student clubs and organizations to host a “Shoe Cutting Party” for Sole Hope, a group providing jobs and shoes to the people of Uganda. The shoes are made of denim. The students had to collect used/donated jeans to make the shoes and collected more than 900 pairs of jeans. The Shoe Cutting Party had a goal of 600 pairs of shoes, but they ended up producing 800 pairs of shoes that were shipped to Uganda. Sponsor Lisa Graef says, “I could go on and on about these students and their energy and attitude of giving. They are great students and citizens. I couldn’t be more proud of them.”
Many students continue to demonstrate a commitment to volunteerism long after graduation. Most colleges and universities today have personnel dedicated to community outreach at some level. At Vanderbilt University, it’s the Office of Active Citizenship or at George Washington University, the Center for Civic Engagement and Public Service. The Office of Community-Engaged Learning at Southwestern University says they exist to encourage students “to develop and act upon a heightened sense of responsibility to their communities. Through civic engagement, individuals—as citizens of their communities, their nations and the world—are empowered as agents of positive social change…” For many universities, encouraging students to volunteer is part of student culture. The admissions office at Rice University in Houston reports over 80% of their students participate in some sort of community service.
Southern Methodist University even has an entire residence hall called SMU Service House, in which students are committed to service projects over the course of the year. This unique residential learning experience considers the input of all members and is jointly sponsored by the Office of Residence Life & Student Housing and the Community Engagement and Leadership Center. They are truly living a life of service.
When your kids go out into the world, you hope they can make it a better place. And you don’t need research to know that making a difference, no matter how small, usually makes a bigger difference in those who are giving of themselves.