The Giving (Family) Tree

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Some of my earliest and fondest memories of my parents are the ones where we gave back to our community. You see, my mom and dad were always charitable people, long before they had the means to make significant financial donations. I remember once, my dad’s close friend suffered a debilitating stroke and my dad immediately took up the cause, dedicating his time and energy to further grow the Rehabilitation Institute of Chicago (now the Shirley Ryan AbilityLab). I remember my mom sitting at our dining room table, addressing donation envelopes by hand. The point is, philanthropy has always been a core part of our family and when I had kids, I began to think, how can I make sure my kids understand the value of giving back?

I figured you might be asking the same thing. So here, I’ve assembled my top four tips for raising kind and generous kids.

One In, One Out: For me, the key was to start instilling generosity when my kids were, well, still kids. Our house had a very firm “get a toy, give a toy” policy around Christmas and birthdays: If my kids received a new toy, then they had to choose one of theirs to give to kids that didn’t have many toys. Admittedly, it’s not a flawless system: A 10-piece toy would come in and a beloved stuffed animal would go out, but still, it planted the initial seed of giving. Admittedly, it also helped me keep down the clutter that comes with parenthood.

About Allowance: When my kids were old enough to start doing chores and earn allowances, we stressed “Save Some,” “Give Some” and “Spend Some.” A friend of mine even divided her kid’s allowance into three labeled envelopes to engrain this…sort of self-explanatory system, but the whole goal was to build a solid foundation of saving money and cultivate the value of giving back.

Holiday Spirit: No season better embodies the spirit of giving quite like the holidays. Every year at Christmas, we would adopt several families in need and, together, my kids and I would shop for and wrap gifts for the families. My kids would contribute some of their allowance to help buy the presents. I wanted my kids to understand that it’s not about the size of the check, but rather about giving of yourself to something you believe in.

Beyond Your Family: I realize I keep writing “my kids”. But they haven’t been kids for a long time. Now they’re grown and married, have kids of their own, and still adopt families at the holidays. I’ve been proud to watch them create their own paths in philanthropy. So now I’m left wondering, What’s next? For me, the answer was to look outside of my own family and make an impact on the community at large. I decided to put my 40-years of corporate experience to work and create a charity called Enchanted Backpack to deliver resources to underserved schools. Starting your own charity or becoming deeply involved in one you truly believe in is the best way to encourage others to be charitable. People follow by example. Whether it’s your kids or your best pals, when they see you being passionate about philanthropy, they’re likely to follow suit—or at least join you for an afternoon.

Giving back doesn’t just make an impact on your community, it makes an impact on your soul. Nothing warms my heart more than seeing the impact Enchanted Backpack has made in Chicagoland or watching my children become involved in their own charitable endeavors. And I know that, wherever they are, my parents would be proud, too.