The coming of this year’s holiday season was heralded with record sales in stores and online. As much as we believe that it is our patriotic duty to pump up our failing economy, this year we cannot help but stop and survey the need around us.
Victims of Hurricane Sandy have joined the ranks of the homeless as they figure out how to move on with their lives. The election is behind us, but the unemployment rate is still high, and there are still too many children who do not receive adequate nutrition.
It is deeply rooted in our culture that children expect to receive gifts at this time of year. But how do we also teach our children the important value of giving? How do we impart values, like compassion and charity? How do we teach kids such practical lessons as the value of money and saving?
There are simple ways that schools try to teach these lessons. They may sponsor a holiday service project. Some schools ask parents to refrain from giving teachers gifts and instead suggest they honor their teachers with a contribution to any number of worthwhile causes. In this way, families can contribute what they are able to afford – or not at all if they are strapped – and the gift is from the entire class. Here are some ideas for a class or family project:
- A gift card to a supermarket or department store for a needy family
- A class collection of non-perishable food items for a local food pantry
- Purchasing holiday gifts for a homeless family
- Providing a holiday dinner for a needy family
- A donation to a charity
There are several humanitarian organizations, many of which would be appropriate for youngsters to help support. #GivingTuesday, a national project started by the 92d Street Y in New York City to remind people about the need to give back particularly at holiday time, was a huge success when it kicked off the week after Thanksgiving. But #GivingTuesday is continuing the rest of the month as well.
Donations to CARE can provide school uniforms; contributions to Heifer International provide gifts of livestock and training to help families improve their nutrition and generate income, and Helen Keller International’s ChildSight program screens children for vision problems and provides eyeglasses. Don’t forget your local charities; it’s meaningful for kids to know they are helping those close to home.
One hands-on program was started by Mark Wasserman of Boca Raton, Florida.
Houses for Change is a national campaign to raise awareness of homelessness and to raise funds to help homeless families. Since its launch at the end of 2010, more than 17,000 kids in over 150 cities have created their own unique Houses for Change collection boxes.
The project was conceived as a result of Wasserman’s volunteering with Family Promise of South Palm Beach County, an interfaith organization that helps homeless families with children become independent again.
“The values kids learn from this project,” said Wasserman, “will stay with them for the rest of their lives.”
Using art supplies and their imagination, children decorate pre-ordered boxes to look like a house. Participants take their boxes home and in the following weeks fill them with loose change. On a selected date, kids bring their filled boxes back to the local sponsoring group for a communal donation to any homeless organization, food bank or related organization.
According to Wasserman, Houses for Change has universal appeal. He noted that it has been adopted as a service learning project by schools and congregations. The decorated boxes have been used at community service days and birthday parties as piggy banks; at churches as Advent, Lenten and collection boxes; and at synagogues as tzedakah (charity) boxes.
Houses for Change is more than an arts and crafts project, Wasserman notes. “It is an opportunity to teach about charity, homelessness, hunger and social action. It enables kids to realize that if they regularly save their loose change, it will accumulate to a large sum; and if they combine their savings with those of others, it can become a significant charitable donation that will help those in need.”
Houses for Change is sponsored by Family Promise, a non-profit organization that mobilizes communities to help homeless and low-income families. At www.familypromise.org/housesforchange there are details about how to organize this project.
Engaging parents, children, and schools in choosing the cause and bringing it to fruition will infuse both kids and adults with the true meaning of giving.
Hurricane Sandy’s aftermath continues to wreak havoc on families impacted by its wrath. As the emotional and physical recovery continues into the foreseeable future, a venerable vacation tradition may become yet another casualty of the super storm – the weeklong February vacation.
As reported by NEWSDAY, most Long Island districts are expected to cancel three to five days of the February vacation, which begins on Presidents’ Day and continues throughout the week. This year it takes place from February 18 to 22. The goal of the cancellation is to try to make up lost time due to Sandy and the nor’easter that closed some schools for up to two weeks. New York City schools have already cut the vacation back to two days; students will attend school from February 20 to 22.
According to the NEWSDAY story, 66 of Long Island’s 124 school districts have already announced that they are cancelling or are considering calling off all or some of the midwinter vacation. While some district officials say they may restore the vacations if the state grants waivers from the mandated 180-day school year, the February vacation is the logical place to restore lost learning time.
Districts are in danger of losing state aid if they do not comply, although the state education commissioner can grant districts waivers of up to five days to cover “extraordinary” circumstances. But Commissioner John B. King Jr. has already emphasized that districts must use up vacation days before they are eligible for exemptions. There is also legislation pending that gives districts an additional five days of waivers, but the state legislature does not reconvene until January 1.
With news of the impending cancellations, there are complaints from students, parents, faculty and staff, many of whom have made vacation plans well in advance and stand to lose thousands of dollars – and priceless memories. It’s likely that a sizeable number of families will go ahead with their vacation plans anyway and attendance will be down – and that’s an individual family decision.
But that’s not a good enough reason to keep schools closed for everyone. Every district has already used up its store of emergency days and it’s only November! Those days are usually set aside for snowstorms.
Off the record, educators have long questioned the February vacation for its timing and value. Coming approximately seven weeks after the Christmas break, it interrupts the flow of learning in the middle of the school year – the prime time for education. Many regions in the country do not close school for the entire Presidents’ Day Week; perhaps this is the appropriate time to question the wisdom of this weeklong break. What do you think?