“Mom, we’ve got to have a family meeting. We need to vote. We have to give our charity money to the children. We have to send it right away. "
Those excited words were uttered by eight-year-old Madison Willow, who was moved to action by viewing the tragic outcomes resulting from the recent Asian tsunami. Madison, like millions of people from around the world, had been touched by the suffering, loss, and grief of the survivors she saw on TV. But unlike many of the people who extended heartfelt charity during this special time of extreme need, Madison has experienced a regular pattern of charity in her young life that has helped her view the process of giving as more than a crisis-oriented activity.
A family meeting was indeed called by Madison’s parents following her emotional outburst. It was convened to discuss the family charity jar that sits tucked away in the kitchen, hidden at the rear of the canned vegetable shelf.
“I know it’s not time to decide who gets our charity money, but this is an emergency, " Madison explained to her parents and two younger brothers. No one in the Willow family needed convincing. They had all seen the dramatic television images of leveled homes, overturned cars, and the search for missing persons. They had watched as mothers cried for their dead children, fathers sat in stunned silence, and children wandered aimlessly, looking for evidence of anything familiar. It took less than ten minutes for the Willows to vote to send the forty-seven dollars and fifty-eight cents they had accumulated to the Red Cross to help the survivors of the tsunami.
Robert and Tammy Willow believe that giving is important. They also believe that teaching their children about giving is equally important. That’s why they began the charity jar in the first place. That’s why it occupies an important place in their Sunday night ritual.
Each Sunday night during their family meeting, the Willows distribute allowances to their children. The youngsters are invited to contribute some of their allowance to the charity jar. If or how much they contribute is up to each individual. Robert and Tammy model the importance of giving by adding a portion of their own money each week.
When the contents of the jar exceed one hundred dollars, the family decides together on a charity to receive the money. One winter the Willow family bought gloves and donated them to the Salvation Army. On another occasion, they adopted a whale. In the past three years, they’ve purchased a winter coat as part of the “coats for kids" program, obtained and wore Lance Armstrong cancer bracelets, and made a donation to a local retirement ranch for abused horses.
At this hastily called family summit, the Willows easily reached consensus on what to do with the charity money. But the unanimous decision to send the contents of the charity jar to the Red Cross did not end the learning experience for Madison and her brothers. They helped count the money. They watched as their mother wrote the check. Madison addressed the envelope. One of the boys added the stamp. The other licked the envelope. All went to the post office to place their contribution in the drop box. All prayed together as Mr. Willow asked that the money be used for the greater good of all concerned.
This time the Willows’ charity would be sent halfway around the world to people they would never see. It would be used in places they would never visit. It would affect lives in ways they would never know.
Yet giving has many dimensions, some obvious, some not. The Willow family gave the money for the benefit of others, but in the process they gave themselves a deep sense of satisfaction. They gave other people’s children hope while simultaneously giving their own children lessons in the importance of generosity and charity. They gave others an invitation to open their hearts while giving their children lessons on how to open their own. They helped their children experience first-hand the important concept that giving and receiving are one.
Charity, as demonstrated by the Willows, clearly begins at home.
Thomas Haller and Chick Moorman are the authors of The 10 Commitments: Parenting with Purpose. They also publish a FREE e-mail newsletter for parents and another for educators. Subscribe to them when you visit http://www.thomashaller.com or http://www.chickmoorman.com
Haller and Chick Moorman are two of the world’s foremost authorities on raising responsible, caring, confident children. For more information about how they can help you or your group meet your parenting needs, visit their websites today.