Thursday, January 1, 2015

Service Project: Giving Families

While driving home from the grocery store a couple weeks ago, I happened to catch part of a radio interview with Beth Nowak, the founder of Giving Families"Giving Families is an educational resource providing parents and teachers with online opportunities and offline experiences designed to educate, engage, and empower children through shared moments of giving."  Their vision and mission is to help children realize they can make the world a better place.

For those of us who are involved with Girl Scouts, this sounds familiar.  In addition to earning badges and selling cookies, Girl Scouts are expected to complete service projects throughout the year.  Researchers have found that adults who volunteer 100 hours annually (one or two hours per week) experience positive physical, mental, and emotional health benefits.  The Corporation for National and Community Service found "a youth from a family where at least one parent volunteers is almost twice as likely to volunteer as a youth with no family members who volunteer – and nearly three times as likely to volunteer on a regular basis."

Before I go on, I must mention that I do not know Beth Nowak, nor do I have any affiliation with Giving Families.  I am not receiving compensation for my thoughts I am sharing here.  After hearing Beth's radio interview, I continued to think about the organization and how I wanted to share the Giving Families story on this blog.  

While bumping around the Giving Families website, I came across a link to Beth's TEDx talk titled "Helping Our Littlest Helpers."  If there is a special child in your life, it is worth your time to listen to her seventeen minute message.  I think it is also worth mentioning that Beth received the Girl Scouts Alumnae of Excellence Award as a Leader of Promise in November of 2013!  Here are some of the key points I heard during her TEDx talk:
  • Research shows that people who donate time or money regularly reported lower levels of stress, anxiety, and depression.  These individuals also reported higher levels of self-esteem and self-worth.  
  • Allan Luks introduced the term "Helper's High," referring to the feeling we get when we do something good. 
  • Children are natural helpers.  Consider that many children say they wish to be helpers when they grow up ("I want to be a fireman, police officer, doctor, or teacher," for example).  When influential adults (like parents, teachers, coaches...and I would like to add Girl Scout troop leaders to this list) provide instant gratification and constant recognition for every behavior, we are teaching the child that the reward is more important than the behavior they did to receive it.
Beth shared this story during her TEDx talk.
As a teacher and parent, Beth recognized her students' desire to be helpers.  She wanted to help them help others, and Giving Families was created.  The website offers a free newsletter.  There are also monthly and annual subscriptions available for purchase.  Subscribers receive Good Mail Challenges via Snail Mail.  For each subscription purchased, Giving Families helps children in foster care receive the challenges as well.  During her radio interview and TEDx talk, Beth described a couple of these challenges.  One was to decorate Valentines and distribute them to residents at a local nursing home.  The other suggested children visit a park and clean up before playing.  The challenges can be completed anytime, anywhere.  This is enticing, especially for families running back and forth from Scout meetings, church activities, band practice, and sporting events.

Sports have always been a big part of my life--as a youth, in the years I worked as a Certified Athletic Trainer, and now as a parent of young athletes.  Somewhere along the line I heard the poem "Little Eyes Upon You" (Author Unknown).  I love the end of the poem,
"There's a wide-eyed little fellow
who believes you're always right;
and his eyes are always opened,
and he watches day and night.

You are setting an example
every day in all you do;

For the little boy who's waiting
to grow up to be just like you."
Coach John Wooden said, "The true test of a man's character is what he does when no one is watching."  As we begin a new year, many of us will adopt a healthier diet and set fitness goals.  We know there are little eyes upon us.  I encourage you to exercise your giving heart in 2015.  Your actions may inspire others to do good when no one is watching.  We'll be on our way to making the world a better place.  Thanks for reading!

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