Lessons on giving - no matter what age

Sold-out crowd expected at event to teach children charity

September 24, 2006|By Karen Nitkin | Karen Nitkin,special to the sun

Beth Harbinson keeps a change jar in the kitchen, and every three months the family decides how to spend the money. Her daughter, Sarah, 9, wants some of the money to go to charity next time, maybe to a domestic violence center. She had dinner with some families at a local center, so she knows how important the center is.

Harbinson, who lives in Ellicott City and works as a development consultant for nonprofits, believes that children can be philanthropists even when they are young. They don't have to give a lot of money, she says. They can give their time.

"We have conversations where we talk about some of the problems in our society and how we can help," Harbinson said.

Harbinson is one of 180 people who will be attending a sold-out event in Baltimore on Wednesday called "Teaching Children to Give."

The featured speaker will be Susan Crites Price, author of The Giving Family: Raising our Children to Help Others. She is also managing director of the Family Foundation Services Department at the Council on Foundations.

The event was organized by the Association of Baltimore Area Grantmakers (ABAG) and sponsored by Brown Advisory and the Baltimore Community Foundation. Fifteen giving circles and other philanthropic organizations in the Baltimore-Washington area also are partners, including the Women's Giving Circle in Howard County.

Buffy Beaudoin-Schwartz, communication director for ABAG, also is active in the Women's Giving Circle and is excited about the event because, she said, it will provide answers to a question she hears all the time: How can I teach my children to be generous with their time and money?

She has been trying to teach her children that kids can make a difference. For example, her son, Alec Schwartz, 10, gives part of his allowance to the Judah B. Pushkin Memorial Cancer Research Endowment Fund, which he learned about because his father serves on the board. "I just felt like that was the right thing to do," Alec said.

Price said teaching children to give is an important job for parents.

"We know that a lot of families have concerns about raising children to be givers in a culture that says it's wonderful to get things," she said by phone from Boston. "We're trying to help people with ideas and tools to provide guidance to their children so they learn it's really very rewarding to give. It sounds kind of trite, but it's really a fundamental value that we need to impart."

Colleen Taggart-D'Agrosa, who lives in Columbia, will attend the event because she hopes to gather ideas about getting her children interested in giving. She has two sons, ages 10 and 12, and she is looking for creative ideas, she said, about guiding them toward charity as they think about spending their allowance and the money they earn around the house.

"We talk a great deal about my charitable and philanthropic choices, but I would like to increase their participation and hopefully establish patterns that will last throughout their lives," she wrote in an e-mail.

One idea she has been trying, she said by phone, is making family donations in ways that kids can understand. So instead of just writing a check, she'll find an organization that gives milk or clothes, she said. "I guess I'm really looking for ways to make that more organized and find ways that maybe they could even take some ownership of it, rather than it being my leadership."

She should find no shortage of ideas at Wednesday's event. Price encourages parents to find out what interests kids and build on that. A nature-lover can clean up a park, a cat-lover might want to donate time to an animal shelter, she said.

"I also try to encourage families to make it real for kids when they are doing acts of giving," she said. Collecting canned goods is great, she said, but actually going to a homeless shelter and distributing food is even better.

The power of the Internet makes doing good easier than ever, Price said, telling the story of a teen who collected prom dresses for residents of New Orleans who had lost everything during Hurricane Katrina. The Internet can also help kids research problems and solutions, she said. "They're exposed to more of the world's needs and have more of an ability to address them than ever before," she said.

Price said that kids with no money can be philanthropists, but she also noted that most teens do have some money to spare. "I do think we sometimes have this wrong notion that mostly kids don't have money," she said.

Children can start learning about giving when they are very young. "The earlier they start, the better," she said, noting that her book covers children in kindergarten through 12th grade.

Still, many ideas for turning children into young philanthropists don't cost a penny.

About a year ago, Kim Flyr of Columbia started going to senior centers with her son, Matthew, 12, and their dog as part of a Pets on Wheels program. "It's hard," she said. "Everybody's busy. We don't get there all the time, but we go when we can."

Flyr said she grew up in a household where giving was considered the norm. Her mother, Arlene Sheff, is one of the Giving Circle founders. "I think with kids, they watch you," Flyr said. "They see what you do."

To learn more about philanthropy in Howard County, contact the Women's Giving Circle at 410-730-7840, or visit the Web site at http:--www.womensgivingcircle.org/index.asp. The circle is a fund at the Columbia Foundation, a philanthropic organization that can be reached at www.columbiafoundation.org.

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