By Mary-Jo McLaughlin
Do you recall as a child viewing commercials of famine-stricken children in Africa while watching Saturday morning cartoons? Seeing those pictures, how many of us were compelled to break open the piggy bank and send money to charities hoping to ease the guilt of having more than those hungry children?
I remember trick-or-treating with the orange UNICEF box, asking for donations for those same starving children. I guess it eased some guilt I was experiencing by overindulging in candy while children around the world were suffering. One Halloween, I added pennies from my own piggy bank to the carton, not because I felt an overwhelming desire to share and give, but because I didn’t want to feel guilty or embarrassed the next day when my teacher shook the box and deemed it wasn’t ‘heavy’ enough.
What many of these childhood instances taught me was to give out of a sense of guilt, not for the joy of giving. I gave because it was expected of me, not because it was a gift from my heart.
Giving from the heart was something I saw during my 13 years of teaching at Sacred Heart School in Taftville, where the school motto is, “Love Serves.” As early as pre-kindergarten, students are encouraged to be good stewards of the gifts they have received by using their time and talents to help others in need. Each month, students have opportunities to share not only monetarily, but by volunteering their gifts and talents for others. Whether it is collecting canned goods or a “coin war” between classes to raise money for a particular charity, or helping to clean the Parish Life Center after lunches or school events, students learn that love must compel us to serve others joyfully and not out of a sense of guilt.
Students have many ideas for fundraisers and volunteer activities. Having a say in how they serve others gives greater meaning to their giving. Often, recipients of their generosity respond to the students with gratitude. When the students understand the need and see the benefits their giving has on others, they are genuinely moved to give even more from their hearts and not from their parents’ pockets. These lessons in joyful giving being taught at Sacred Heart School are just some of many in our diocesan Catholic schools and parish religious formation programs.
Research shows that if an adult or parent makes a donation or does volunteer work and talks with their child about why they do so, children are more apt to follow their example. This encourages an attitude of generous giving rather than giving out of a sense of guilt or manipulation. It teaches children empathy, compassion and care for others while instilling in them greater gratitude for what they have.
As the holiday season nears, have a conversation with the children in your life about generous giving. Talk to them about charities you support and why. As a family, volunteer at a church or non-profit agency and discuss how those actions influence you and the people you support.
St. Mother Teresa wrote, “I alone cannot change the world, but I can cast a stone across the waters to create many ripples.” Maybe one of those ripples will be giving a child an understanding of an important lifelong value: that it is in giving that we truly receive.