Earlier this month I attended a funeral service for someone I hadn't seen in quite a few years. He was the pastor of the church I attended as a child and teen. But he was more than that. For many years he was that caring adult in my life outside of my family. What made the relationship so special was it was based on kindness. If I ever needed an ear, a hug, a laugh, or a piece of chocolate I could count on him. What truly made him unique was he was the caring adult to so many. Young and old, new relationships and long lasting, he had the special ability to let you know you were special, you were loved, you were valued.
In my years of youth services, I have always found that if I can do one thing to make a child or youth's day better it is to be kind. To be that one caring adult that the Search Institute refers to in their 40 Developmental Assets. I may not be able to solve all the problems but I can offer a kind word, tie a shoe, give a high five, tell a joke, and sometimes share a piece of chocolate.
So my challenge to you today is to be the one. Be the one who watches an episode of Dr. Who so you can have a conversation with the self-labelled Whovian, listen to an a recording artist you may never have thought to before to have a discussion with their fan, find someone who needs a high five, and if you feel so inclined share a chocolate bar with someone to make them feel special.
For breakfast I chugged a mug of coffee because I was in a hurry and then snacked on handful of pretzels and almonds.
Over the past five years I've had the pleasure of talking to many adults that mentor youth through their programs. Audiences come from a variety of youth-serving organizations including school and afterschool programs, foundations supporting youth leadership, and even children's choirs and museums! Most of these adults have something in common; they learned philanthropic behaviors (giving and serving) by seeing the actions of an adult in their own lives. Many times that person is a parent or grandparent, a teacher that helped them develop a talent, or a youth pastor that provided constructive service opportunities.
This illustration (A Path to Growing Lifelong Philanthropists) highlights some of the entry points when philanthropic concepts and opportunities can be introduced within a young person's life. They are based on child development concepts, the psychological and emotional changes that occur as a young person progresses from dependency to increasing independence.
Let's take a moment to think about who introduced philanthropic behaviors in your life. Who inspired you to GIVE your time and help others? When did you begin to SERVE those around you? Why are you still ENGAGED in helping youth succeed? Who lit the SPARK in your life and what did they teach you? Mentors open the world up to young people, exposing them ideas and nurturing the unique talents they possess. It's also important for us to help youth explore their values and concerns. One of my favorite activities is writing a "Personal Mission Statement", a summary of the aims and values of an individual. If you are working with younger youth, ask them to think of two items they'd "put in their boat" or rescue if their home was about to be destroyed by flood waters.
To continue this journey of Nurturing Lifelong Philanthropists, here are some ways to empower lifelong serving habits in others and to fuel impactful programming and experiences for young people.
Start Early and Stay Sticky with examples of caring and sharing.
Develop philanthropic behaviors and attitudes through giving of time, talent, and treasure.
Expand opportunities for youth service, leadership, and engagement. Conduct a community needs assessment with the youth in your programs.
For more ideas and activities check out the Youth as Philanthropist resource for hands-on activities that help youth explore the time, talent, and treasure they have to share with others. Visit these Helpful Links to learn about programs and resources that will help you integrate concepts of giving and serving (youth philanthropy) into your programs through service-learning and philanthropic education.
Most importantly, remember the spark your mentors lit inside of you and pass that along to the youth in your lives.
For first breakfast, two eggs, a piece of toast with honey, and two cups of coffee. Second breakfast (a meeting) two oat bites (Cherry Almond and Pistachio), a fancy Americano drink that had apple juice and lemon in it, and herbal mint tea!