In our tucked-in, safe little community, there are food markets, malls, toy stores, playgrounds, theaters, parks, public safety posts, and health clinics on every corner. It is easy to lose sight of the fact that we are truly lucky.
It is easy to lose sight of these truths as we raise our children as well, and there is a small window of time to teach them gratitude and humility. Because birthdays come every year, they’re a great way to introduce giving in a different way.
So when my daughter, Katy, turned 9, a “Gifts of Hope” birthday party seemed like a great idea.
As a staff member at Plan International USA, I’m well aware of the enormous impact a Gift of Hope can provide for a family or a community. At Plan, I have found a place where I can support a valuable mission that serves children, families, and communities in need.
I want my children – Katy, and my oldest daughter, Erin, 10 – to understand how impactful it can be to give back as well.
The idea for a Gift of Hope party was a family decision. We first talked about how fortunate our family is to have a home, our health, food, and people who love and take care of us, not to mention the fact that we have “way too much stuff” in our toy closet.
The conversation became surprisingly deeper when Katy and Erin began asking questions and making assessments on their own. In our society, it is unfortunately embedded into a child’s mind that holidays and gifts always go hand-in-hand. The girls laughed when I told them “In my day, Easter baskets were filled with a small bag of pastel chocolates, a handful of jelly beans, and maybe three or four hardboiled eggs!” The girls remembered last year having requested, in addition to the mounds of chocolate, a motorized toy, a new pink taffeta dress with a set of white patent leather shoes, AND a gift card to Target.
I have tried to be careful through the years not to guilt or shame my daughters when they exhibit a natural excitement when receiving a gift, but as a concerned parent it was necessary to address the epidemic of learned selfishness. We consistently discuss that not all holidays justify gift giving….unless it is the gift of time. Each year when Christmas comes, we have our annual “in order to receive, we must give” talk. This means when Santa Claus brings us three gifts, we must donate three gifts to charity. This act of gift-giving and receiving was introduced to Katy and Erin from an early age, which has helped them adopt the ideology into their young lives. I have high hopes that they carry it with them a lifetime.
It made me proud to see Katy embrace the idea of “giving back” for her birthday party. She was quite the philanthropist! She even allowed Erin to invite three friends to her party, with the mindset that the more guests invited, the better her chances of reaching the projected goal of $500.
The party was a huge success. Katy met her goal and each friend signed a Gifts of Hope poster that I now proudly display on my office wall. Along with traditional fun, Katy and her guests made a banner with words and pictures of hope and peace. The day ended with Katy handing out a Gifts of Hope party bag that included a “Because I Am A Girl” bracelet, stickers, a Frisbee, a magnet, and the best favor (I’ve been told) of a “Fleece, Love, Happiness” Planimal T-shirt.
Katy is still at the age where a handful of change is A LOT of money. In her mind, she was really shooting for the stars when she set the goal at $500. And, although the average cost of a birthday gift ranges between $15-25, I was a little worried Katy’s goal would not be met. Sixteen friends were invited to the party. So when we did the math, using both ends of the cost scale, we had a good chance of bringing in between $240- $400. Clearly, her guests saw the value in giving back, too, however, because their generosity helped Katy reach her star.
I can’t begin to express how proud I was of Katy and Erin before, during, and after the party. As a result of the Gifts of Hope party, my children now better understand where “Mom” goes to work every day. I hope to play a role in influencing them to walk a lifetime path of supporting people in need.
They are well on their way…and even help me lead by example.
“Mom, even grownups need reminders to put others before themselves!” they say.