Sunday, December 19, 2010

The Gift of Giving

Sometimes I dream about doing something bigger than who I am: affecting change in some small, permanent way.  I have done things in the past that I am very proud of.  Lately however, my focus has been on what is happening inside my own four walls, with the four members of my family, that it seems I have lost my way with something I love -- philanthropy.
When Grace was just a baby I organized a book drive.  I was teaching and I knew how fortunate my daughter was to have a room full of books waiting for her when she was born.  The children I taught came from one of the wealthiest districts in our state.  Books for them were like water, something just taken for granted.  But in my town and the neighboring towns, this was not always the case.  With the help of friends and family members we collected books at our places of employment.  We collected over 1,000 books.  They were given away to local children’s charities such as Birthright and The Center for Women and Families.  It felt good.  It felt very, very good.  Our book drive, called Pennies for Paperbacks lasted several years.  Then with the demands of two children barely two years apart, the drive (both literally and figuratively) dissolved.  
Should I resurrect it?
When the girls were a bit older I volunteered at a local homeless shelter.  Again, I loved it although it also  brought me much sadness.  I realized that most of the residents were there due to poor choices they had made with personal habits and finances.  But some were not.  One elderly woman was there because she lost all she had to a fire.  The waiting list for elderly subsidized housing was long and she could not get in.  She lived at the shelter.  She was not employable due to her age and health.  So she waited her days watching life pass her by.  What broke my heart was that she had a son who did not take her in due to her relationship with his wife.  So so sad.  Finally, a spot opened up in New Haven in a large housing complex.  Reluctantly, she took it.  She was sad to leave her hometown, but glad to have her own home again.  Greg and I moved her in.  We borrowed a truck, loaded it with the few belongings she had plus many that were donated to furnish her home, and drove it to New Haven.  I think of her often since we are in New Haven frequently.  Is she still alive?  Did she mend her relationship with her son?  Is she happy?
Could I find or make time to volunteer again?
Way before both of these experiences, I mentored a child with the I Have A Dream Foundation in Stamford.  This was before I was married and had children of my own.  This program promised to provide children a college education in a state college provided they stay with the program through graduation.  I looked at the resources in our community.  I realized then that my children would someday have more opportunities simply because of their birth, than this child was afforded.    

My goal was to give her as many experiences as possible.  We went to the Statue of Liberty.  We visited museums, ate at restaurants, rode the train, swam at the beach, attended Sunday dinner at my Mother’s house, went to plays and took tours of colleges, like Yale, Fairfield University and Sacred Heart.  I adored this child and her family.  I spent several years as her mentor until her family moved and she left the program.  Ultimately,  it was she who was the catalyst for my decision to become an educator.
I have thought often about becoming involved in foster care or pursuing adoption.  As a family, we are not in agreement on this, but I hope to someday fulfill this dream.  Sometimes I struggle with parenting my own children effectively, but I know in my heart that I am doing the best I can do for my girls.  I like to think that for a child with no family this could be a blessing.  
Will this dream come true?
I need to reflect on this in the upcoming year.  The past year has changed me in so many positive ways, I feel it is time to return to what I love doing most - providing goodwill for others, even in just a small way.  This is why I offered to paint the youth room at church (even though I have little time for a project of this size and scope).  It is one way I can give back to something greater than me.  
What does your family do to give back?  I would love to hear your stories of hope and inspiration.  It is time for my children to take part in organizing, planning and participating in something of their own creation that has the goal of making them realize there the gift of giving is far superior to the gifts we receive.  


Karen said...

We try to do volunteering as much as we can. Although we could always do more. Salvation Army is always needing volunteers, local nursing homes love kids. Call them and see if you can just bring your girls to visit. Local charities always need help especially at this time of the year. We ring the bell for Salvation Army, volunteer at a neighborhood Christian center, volunteer at the Dream Center in our town, and anything else we can do.

A lot of places will let you and your kids come and volunteer. Just call around. Our church is VERY big on doing things for the community so we have a lot of opportunities there also.
Giving is such a rewarding thing. Also kids are hugely more likely to volunteer when they are older if they did so as a child.

I love the Paperback idea.

Stephanie said...

Hi Jessica! It's clear that you have a heart of compassion and generosity.

I strive to LOVE my husband & my children well first. On top of that, I aspire to do little things to help others - tiny gestures to show kindness and goodwill to neighbors, strangers, & friends.

P.S. We keep talking about adopting too! Maybe someday.

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