One day last spring, as I picked my daughter up after school, she rushed to the car in breathless distress.
Swinging open a rear door in a flurry of backpack straps, folders and loose homework, she pushed a slip of paper into my hands.
“We have to help the animals!”
I remember looking around, expecting to see some lost puppies or baby birds that had fallen from a nest.
Then I read the small piece of paper.
My daughter, in third grade at the time, had joined an after-school program called Girls on the Run. Aside from soccer, this was her first real extra-curricular activity and she embraced it. Girls on the Run is a great program for pre-teen girls that focuses on physical fitness, self-esteem and camaraderie.
Her Girls on the Run chapter was raising money and collecting supplies for a local animal shelter. The enthusiasm for her little volunteer effort put a smile on my face.
The spirit of giving is in the spotlight during the holiday season. We exchange gifts with our friends and family members. It’s also a time where communities focus on helping those in need.
In today’s world, it’s easy to donate to good causes. With a few keystrokes or swipes on a smartphone, you can send money to help hurricane victims in Texas or earthquake victims in Japan. You can even give money locally online to help a family recover from a fire or an illness without ever leaving your house.
These are all admirable efforts. But is there something missing when you hit that ‘donate’ button?
Nonprofitsource.com maintains an online database of statistics on charitable giving. Here are some of their numbers:
- 30 percent of annual giving occurs in December.
- Overall revenue from online fundraising grew by 14 percent in 2016
- The volunteer rate declined by 0.4 percent to 24.9 percent in 2016.
- People aged 35 to 44 and 45 to 54 are most likely to volunteer (28.9 percent and 28 percent respectively, while 20 to 24 year olds have the lowest rates (18.4 percent).
- 77 percent believe everyone can make a difference by supporting causes.
- 4.5 is the average number of charities each person supports.
- Revenue from online fundraising grew by 14 percent in 2016
- 69 percent of the population gives.
It’s easy for us to feel like we are contributing when we donate online, and those donations do provide much needed help for people in your neighborhood and on the other side of the world. But some of the most rewarding charitable efforts might just be those which involve more than moving pixels around on a screen.
For my daughter’s Girls on the Run chapter, the girls’ effort to help the animals was almost like a treasure hunt. There were specific items that were needed: towels, blankets, cleaning supplies, dog and cat food, pet treats and pet toys. And these were also animals they could go and see in person.
A lot of fundraising that kids do isn’t exactly of the charitable kind. It’s done to help pay for trips, special events and club activities. And that’s great.
But the enthusiasm which my daughter showed for the Girls on the Run effort was much more intense than the usual fundraisers she’s done. I think the difference was the sweat equity. She had skin in the game, and she knew she would be able to see the results of the effort. And just think about all those cute animals who needed forever homes.
At some of the school districts where I have worked, I have seen other volunteer efforts pay similar dividends for young citizens.
Earlier this month, a Cooperstown High School senior helped brighten the holidays for families in need – one personal hygiene product at a time.
As part of National Honor Society-inspired community service, Sara Fountain coordinated an effort that led to the collection of a carload of “Kindness Kits” for local food pantry.
“I feel that it is very important that we help others especially during the holidays,” Fountain said.
When Fountain reached out to the food pantry to inquire about what was needed, the response she received was that personal hygiene items like soap and toothpaste were in demand.
“She took total initiative. She came to me for some guidance, but she called the food pantry herself, talked to the teachers herself and coordinated all the donations herself,” Cooperstown NHS Advisor Monica Wolfe said.
At nearby Unadilla Valley Central School District in rural New York, there is a high poverty rate. But that didn’t stop a district-wide effort known as Project Santa earlier this month. Students in the younger grades collected specific food items for “holiday boxes. Students in older grades decorated the boxes and helped deliver them to families within the community. It’s a very hands-on, direct way to give, and there is no doubt that there were students who assisted with the effort whose family got a box.
Schools aren’t the only places our young citizens can learn about charitable giving and volunteering. Local religious organizations, community groups and clubs often ramp up their efforts this time of year. Families can even start their own campaign or volunteer together at a local food pantry or soup kitchen. There are a lot of ways to give that don’t involve a swipe of the screen.
The numbers from Nonprofitsource.com suggest that as online donation grows in this country, volunteerism might be declining. But during this holiday season we have much for which to be thankful, and encouraging our children to be thoughtful citizens in their communities is truly a gift that keeps on giving.
Jake Palmateer is a public information specialist for Capital Region BOCES. He is the father of a 7-year-old son and a 9-year-old daughter. Their adventures include camping, hiking, metal detecting, painting, stargazing, reading, fishing, soccer, mowing the lawn and baking cupcakes.