Community, Contribution, Camaraderie

I’ve heard the call to service in the recent inaugural address and by the First Lady. And Bill Gates, in “these brutal economic times,” is appealing for the United States to do more on behalf of health and development in the poorest nations, his twin passions. If you’re thinking that it’s easy for the President or his wife or for one of the richest men to be a leading advocate, I can cite a grassroots effort.

“I’m in” is Starbucks’ campaign: “Let’s get to work. Together.” I have to say, I am accustomed to their causes, and, as a regular coffee aficionada (or habitual devotee), I usually think to myself, “That’s nice – a tip of the hat to this or that.” But this time, the franchise’s initiative stopped me dead in my tracks. “What if you gave 5 hours to help your community?” they ask. “Your small commitment could add up to something big.”

The Starbucks brand will reward you with a tall brewed coffee, they explain! Here’s what I’m thinking, however. What an opening to teach our children that they can make a difference in the world. I don’t think they need an incentive beyond your affirmation of their choice to help. Hey, they could be the next Bill Gates. Talk about instilling positive values.

I was just reading about opportunities for summer activities that showcase contribution, which goes a long way on a college application, according to the sage advisors. But I don’t think we need a motive, other than wanting to give back with all our heart, hence my favorite expression, “habits of the heart.” I truly believe that kids who grow up wanting to serve others less fortunate will be embraced by the college of their choice, not because of their service but because of who they are as a byproduct of their pledge.

That desire, though, has to be modeled. I’d like to share a personal story, one that really resonates, I believe. Last year, I learned about a camp in South Africa for children who are affected by HIV/AIDs, and I felt an immediate rush to volunteer there. What I didn’t factor in was the reality that I was dealing not only with my advancing age but with a knee that needed to be replaced. Before I could second-guess my pronouncement to help, my son Ross called me the next day to say, “Don’t worry, Mom: I’ve got you covered.”

Ross just spent three weeks with these campers, and I know it was a life-altering experience – for him as well as for his campers. And it didn’t end there. He now is an advocate for these children and their counselors. He has made a difference, and in so doing, he also has been enriched.

You can tell that same story by reading “Wanda’s Roses” by Pat Brisson, a tale that celebrates camaraderie and community and contribution. Wanda’s thorny bush grows into a flowering rosebush, thanks to the nurturing of neighbors who both water the plant and feed Wanda’s soul. Wanda becomes a heroine, a girl who works hard in the face of big odds and who helps us think that we, too, can be heroes, so long as we sustain an optimistic view of the world. Her dreams become a reality.

Best Buddies is one of many national organizations that children can join to become mentors; Habitat for Humanity is one of many state-wide projects in which our kids can participate to benefit others; and The Volunteer Family is one of many U.S. associations that counts on outside support for the elderly.

Here’s how staggering the results can be: Nicholas Kristof of The New York Times reports that “…if Mr. Gates manages to accomplish as much in the world of vaccines, health, and food production as he thinks he can, then the consequences will be staggering. Squared. In that case, the first few paragraphs of Mr. Gates’s obituary will be all about overcoming diseases and poverty, barely mentioning his earlier career in the software industry.”

As for the rest of us, let’s look at it as micro-philanthropy – and let’s show our kids how it works.

Tuck-in Tips

  • If you could achieve one great thing in your life, what would it be?
  • What can you do right now to make the world better in the future?
  • 50 years from now, you discover a new holiday has been named in your honor. What would people be celebrating?
  • Name three things that made you smile today.

[I will be at the American Camp Association National Conference, which I am confident will inspire future blog posts – “talk to you” soon!]