Raising children who give back

A lifelong love of volunteering can start at any age

By Heidi Tattrie Rushton

Kids are natural helpers. Even at a young age, they will have a range of life experiences that may inspire them to give back to charitable organizations in a personal way. Unfortunately, many non-profits cannot accept official volunteers until they are teens or young adults. Despite that, there are plenty of ways kids of all ages can make a difference and hopefully kickstart a lifelong love of volunteering.

Katherine Thomas, community and corporate giving coordinator at the IWK Foundation, says her organization gets a lot of support from young volunteers. She adds the best way to get kids started is to help them figure out what inspires them in their community.

“Is it a person? A cause? What kind of lasting impact would they like to make? Then have them really reflect on why they’ve chosen that,” she suggests.

Understanding why a cause needs help, and how people will use the money or goods, is a particularly important motivator for children to follow through on with their fundraising or volunteering efforts. 

Thomas tells a story about a presentation the IWK Foundation did for a Grade 1 class to help them understand some of the work they do. They brought in tiny diapers used in the neonatal intensive care unit that fit babies who are less than a kilogram, plus the babies’ handprints to compare to the students’ hands. The young students were amazed to learn that a NICU baby’s hand was nine times smaller than their own.

“The impact this had on these Grade 1 students was incredible,” says Thomas. “It really helped them understand who they are helping when they fundraise for the IWK.” 

The provincial SPCA is another foundation that often draws the interest of young volunteers. Marni Tuttle, external relations director, says there are plenty of ways for kids to make a difference. It begins by contacting their favourite organizations and asking how they can help.

“At the Nova Scotia SPCA, young people accompanied by a grownup can cuddle the cats and walk the dogs. Older students might be interested in reaching out to offer lawn care during the summer or some help with cleaning,” says Tuttle. “Every year there are interesting opportunities, like joining us for the Pride Parade. Bring your pet and dance along the street with us!”

A few years ago, five-year-old Lily Stewart made and sold bracelets for $2 each for the SPCA and collected donations and goods for the shelter. Over the course of two years, she raised $1,600 for the cause. 

The IWK Foundation tells a story of 12-year-old Canon Beazley who became a patient of the IWK two years ago when he was diagnosed with a rare kidney cancer called Wilms tumor. After undergoing extensive treatment and care he was inspired to give back. For the last two years he has held a haunted house fundraiser for the IWK, raising about $30,000.

Canon Beazley, 12, presents his cheque for $16,000 to the IWK. The proceeds were raised during his second annual House of Doom fundraiser at Halloween. Canon is photographed with his parents Dan and Shelley Beazley, his younger sister Dylan and his older sister (with dog) Marley Drew. Photo: Submitted

Nova Scotia has more than 6,400 registered non-profits and more than 410,000 people who volunteer every year, according to provincial government statistics. Teaching children the value of giving back to their community is an important part of creating future adult volunteers.

“Generosity has a domino effect,” says Thomas. “One small act of kindness goes a long way. Inspiring our youth to get involved is key. They can achieve anything they put their mind to.”

Inspiring ideas for kids who want to make a difference

  • Do a personal walkathon or readathon. Ask friends and family to pledge money to support your challenge.
  • Use a birthday for good. Have a themed party and ask for donations instead of gifts, or host a “fiver birthday party” where children bring two $5 bills (the birthday kid keeps $5 and the other $5 gets donated).
  • Make something to sell and then donate the proceeds to your favourite cause. Some ideas are homemade keychains or bracelets, painted rocks, knitted hats or scarves, baked goods or lemonade.
  • Share your story. Did you have a personal experience with the cause you want to support? Share your story with the organization so they can show others the impact of their work and inspire others to help.
  • Adults and kids can team up to run a special event to raise money, such as a pizza day at school, a trivia game at a local restaurant or an outdoor movie night.
  • Gather items for a basket and sell raffle tickets. You could buy the items or ask local retailers to donate prizes.
  • Do a donation drive. Get a list of the most needed items from an organization and ask your community to donate items on the list.  

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