December 16, 2010

Teach Your Children to Do Well by Doing Good, They Might Surprise You

Kristen A. Beall, Ed.D.

Olivia showing what it takes to be a good fundraiser

Parenting a 5 and 6 year old is a lot of work. On most days, Stephanie and I joke that we've "won" as parents if we've managed to succeed in keeping the kids alive and out of the principal's office. On better days, we pat ourselves on the back when we get out the door on time, finish homework, share a meal together and get to bed at a reasonable hour.  The best days, however, come when we catch one of our children carrying out an act of kindness -- not because we've told them to or someone's asked them to -- but because they've chosen to do something meaningful for someone else on their own.

Last month, I had the privilege of joining local attorney and Kern Community Foundation Board member, Stephen Boyle, for the Salvation Army's annual Kettle Kickoff luncheon in Bakersfield. That night during dinner with my family I shared the testimonials I heard at the luncheon from people whose lives had benefitted from the Salvation Army's mission and programs. In the week that followed, I noticed that both my son and daughter were particularly curious about what it means to be "poor" and how people in those situations find help. 

Now, remember I am the father of a 5 and 6 year old, neither of which spends much time waxing philosophic about anything other than topics that ought to remain in the general vicinity of the "potty". Questions like, "Where do 'homeless' people sleep?" or "What does it mean to be 'addicted'?" don't get asked in the confines of our home, but rather while in line at Starbucks or in carpool in between tracks on the latest Justin Bieber record. Stephanie and I have done our best to create an environment where our children are permitted to be curious, and we tend to give them straight answers to their questions about real life matters. We also try to do what we can to show them what it means to be generous and get involved or give to causes we care about.  But like most of us who have busy lives, something else eventually comes up -- Thanksgiving, a surfing trip to San Diego, or Mommy's birthday party -- and we change our focus.

Last night, I came home after a late meeting, and was surprised to see that my daughter was still awake. It was past her bedtime, and she was sitting in front of our Christmas tree wearing a Santa hat and holding a cardboard sign. Upon closer inspection I saw that the sign read "Please give money to help the poor." "It bothers me that people are poor," she said. "Daddy, I just want to do my part."  "Me too Liv," I said. "Me too."

This holiday season, there are many ways we can all do our part to help our neighbors in need. Consider a gift to the United Way of Kern County, the Community Action Partnership of Kern or to the KernHealth Now! Fund which supports the health of low-income residents of rural Kern County. Better yet, empty your spare change into any one of the Salvation Army's kettles you see around town or give to their online kettle. You'll be surprised how good it will make you feel!

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