Children find the gift in giving
By THERESA WILLINGHAM
Published March 30, 2007
If it's true that charity begins at home, the Walls and Manfrey families have taken giving to a whole new level.
Inspired by an Oprah Winfrey talk show episode called "Pay It Forward," 8-year-old Austin Walls collected more than 300 toys for the Hope Children's Home in Carrollwood.
Longtime givers at the ages of 6 and 8, respectively, Sam Manfrey and his big sister, Michelle, have been celebrating their birthdays as opportunities for charity for the past three years.
All three children give with open and eager hearts.
What's their motivation in an age knee-deep in materialism?
The sincerity of youth, Austin's mother, Robin, might say.
Austin was home sick from school the day he and his mother watched the Oprah show. Guests on the show had been given $1,000 and a videocamera to document their acts of charity.
Inspired by the great stories on the show, Austin turned to his mother and asked, "How can we help people?"
Moved by his compassion, Austin's mother helped him consider various things he might be able to do, and the two of them settled on helping the Hope Children's Home, an organization to which they had donated in the past. Austin then enlisted the help of classmates at Carrollwood Elementary School, who enthusiastically supported his toy drive.
When Austin and his mother delivered the donation to Hope, he was able to meet the director, tour the facility and meet some of the children he was helping. The home was impressed with his kindness, and so was his mother.
"He's made me accountable," she said.
Austin's reason for giving is quite basic.
"It made me feel happy," he said.
Carol Weisman, author of Raising Charitable Children, has written that charity helps children feel empowered in a sometimes frightening world.
"Children get enormous peace of mind when they're able to do something (to help)," Weisman writes. "Teaching your child to be charitable means he will grow up thinking of others."
Weisman says children can usually understand charity at around the age of 3. She makes several recommendations for engaging them in the spirit of giving.
- Include children in whatever volunteer or philanthropic interests or activities you may participate in.
- Give children a say in how they'd like to give or where they'd like to volunteer.
- Engage children at whatever level they're able to help. Very young children can help bake cookies for a charity; older children can help sort clothes or stock food pantry shelves. Almost everyone can help with environmental cleanups or charity walks.
- Start a family birthday tradition of giving in lieu of receiving.
That's what the Manfrey family of Odessa did three years ago, for rather practical reasons.
"For me, the whole gift thing got out of control," Kathy Manfrey said. "I explained that they were so lucky to have what they have. I explained that 'your gift is having friends and relatives who love you.' "
Rich with those gifts, the Manfrey family turned birthdays into charity events. The children, who celebrate their birthdays together each year, agree on a charity they want to support. This year they selected the Humane Society and asked for toys for the animal shelter.
Getting compliance from well-meaning friends and relatives has been challenging, Manfrey admitted. "But more people listened this year."
Michelle and Sam seem happy to use their birthdays to give to others. Like Austin, their reasons for giving are simple.
"I just like to help animals," Sam said.
"I like helping animals because we don't want animals to get hurt," Michelle said. "We give them toys."
Neither they nor Austin show any signs of slowing their giving.
As a matter of fact, Austin felt so good about his first effort that he's starting another one, this time with the help of the Publix at N Dale Mabry and S Village Drive.
"Austin's Food Drive" began this week and continues through March. During that time, Publix will sell prepackaged dry and canned goods to donate to Hope Children's Home.
"It starts now," Kathy Manfrey said. "And hopefully it'll stay with them forever."
Hope Children's Home is at 11415 Hope International Drive, off Mushinski Road.
Go to www.hopechildrenshome.org for a map and a regularly updated list of needs.
For more resources about youth giving, visit:
- Compassionate Kids at www.compassionatekids.com .
- Hold a Child's Birthday Party for Charity at effort.info then click on Hold a Childs Birthday Party for Charity.
- Artists Helping Children brightens hospital-bound children's lives with artwork. Go to www.artistshelpingchildren.org .
[Last modified March 29, 2007, 08:11:02]
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