A Child's Perspective of Money and Human Dignity

This story was contributed by our Seattle Volunteer Coordinator, Jennifer DeBusk Alviar, MDiv

Fellow second graders, Maya Veitengruber and Madeline Alviar, at McGilvra Elementary School show off their completed artwork.

Fellow second graders, Maya Veitengruber and Madeline Alviar, at McGilvra Elementary School show off their completed artwork.

A recent, kid-friendly art opportunity catalyzed an intriguing conversation with my seven-year-old daughter, Madeline, around money and human dignity. The conversation went something like this:

Me: “Madeline, you have been invited by a fellow classmate at McGilvra Elementary School to participate in an art exhibit designed by kids, for kids. Each art piece will be sold for $20. The money raised will benefit families of Seattle Children’s Hospital. Are you interested in using your art to help others?”
Madeline: “Yes! I love art. And I like helping people. But I don’t get it. Would someone really pay $20 for my art?”
Me: “Well, it’s like this. Money is more than numbers, dollars and cents. It is about human dignity. In a perfect world, everyone would have enough money to pay for basic human needs such as food, clothing, shelter, education and health care. Human needs are human rights. But we don’t live in a perfect world. In the case of Seattle Children’s Hospital, some parents can’t afford to pay for their children’s medical bills. So your artwork allows three important things to happen.
First, you are contributing your Time to design a beautiful piece of art. Second, you are sharing your Talent by using your gifts and skills as an artist. Third, in exchange for your Time and Talent, you are being rewarded by money known as Treasure. So the money raised from this art exhibit will help these parents pay for their children’s medical bills thanks to your Time, Talent and Treasure. Does this help you understand why and how your $20 are being used to make a difference in other people’s lives?"
Madeline Alviar, second grader at McGilvra Elementary School, Seattle, Washington creates an art piece to benefit Seattle Children's Hospital

Madeline Alviar, second grader at McGilvra Elementary School, Seattle, Washington creates an art piece to benefit Seattle Children's Hospital

Madeline: “Wow. I hadn’t thought about money in that way before. So if I invite other McGilvra classmates to participate in this art exhibit, just like I was invited, together we could raise more money to help more people, right?”  
Me: “Right. Let’s say you invite 10 friends to participate. Each child’s art piece will be sold for $20 each. What is 10 x $20?”
Madeline: “$200 dollars!”
Me: “Yes. That would help make an even greater social impact.”
Madeline: “What does ‘social impact’ mean?”
Me: “Social impact means the positive effect that you are making on society by helping others.”
Madeline: “So my friends and I are making a positive social impact by raising money to help families at Seattle Children’s Hospital?”
Me: “Yes. How does that feel?”
Madeline: “Good!”
Me: “It doesn’t take a lot to make a difference. And every act of service contributes toward creating a better world. Service, like money, adds up. Thanks for your artistic contribution, Madeline.”

Postscript: Collectively, children from McGilvra Elementary School and the larger community raised $980 dollars to benefit Seattle Children’s Hospital, along with Microsoft’s generous corporate matching gifts.

Proud artists Madeline and Agatha Holloway, McGilvra Elementary School classmates, pose with Agatha's dog Tuxedo.

Proud artists Madeline and Agatha Holloway, McGilvra Elementary School classmates, pose with Agatha's dog Tuxedo.

The Quinn family siblings worked as artists to help raise money to support families at Seattle Children’s Hospital. These participants include McGilvra Elementary kindergartener Lily; pre-schooler Clarke; and second grader, Alden Quinn.

The Quinn family siblings worked as artists to help raise money to support families at Seattle Children’s Hospital. These participants include McGilvra Elementary kindergartener Lily; pre-schooler Clarke; and second grader, Alden Quinn.

Learning Spanish in a Soup Kitchen in Spain

When I arrived in Spain five years ago with my rusty high school Spanish, nothing quite prepared me for the challenges in communication I’d face on a daily basis. 

I poured myself into learning the language and decided that since the kids were in school all day, I’d try volunteering at a local soup kitchen. Nothing like mingling with the locals to improve my vocabulary! Here I was forced to make small talk with the other volunteers as we chopped vegetables and sorted shelves. 

I went every week and became a part of the Monday posse of Spanish ladies ‘of a certain age’, none of whom spoke a word of English. They kindly put up with my poor grammar and patiently slowed down their chatter so I could stand a chance of following their gossip and stories. 

On Mondays that the kids had no school, I’d take them along with me. The ladies immediately put them to work, unpacking boxes, sorting fruit and even chopping chicken. (It was the first time my 9 year old had ever touched a knife...)

My older son, Max, was 12 and he got to chatting to the ladies (he picked up Spanish much faster than me) and found out that lentils were in short supply. They explained that lentils are far more filling and nutritious than the plain white rice supplied by the national food bank.

Max, a young aspiring DJ, decided that at the next school disco he was playing, he’d get everyone to bring a bag of lentils to gain entry.

It was a huge success and we must have loaded around 100 bags of dried lentils into the back of my SUV which we drove over to the soup kitchen the following Monday. 

This became a tradition at The American School of Madrid and even now, three years later, entry into school activity nights is with a donation to the food bank.

Max became a spokesperson for his school, giving speeches to the Board of Directors, starting initiatives and going on to win the Middle School Leadership Award the following year. 

Last Spring the school nominated him for a national award amongst all of the other American Schools across the Europe and he was a winner, along with a check for $500!

The experience of volunteering has had a profound effect on him. He’s joined the Model United Nations and sees a future for himself in some kind of a position that does good for the world.

Not every kid will embrace this kind of activity with such passion (my younger son didn’t!), but it’s great to give them opportunities to help out and see what that feels like. Who knows where it might take them?

I wish I could say that my Spanish has improved since then, but two years ago I started my own kind of ‘do good’ project - and it’s all in English! I now run a global website that helps busy mothers find a happier balance in life, www.myprojectme.com 

I may have started volunteering as a way to improve myself, but I never dreamed of the positive influence it would have on my son.

- Kelly Pietrangeli

Making Blankets for Project Linus

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This week we worked on a great project we found though the website Doing Good Together: no-sew blankets for the Greater Boston Area Project Linus. People make blankets and quilts, and Project Linus donates them to children in hospitals, shelters, or in need of comfort. I thought this would be a great project for my young children, as we pull out extra blankets this time of year for our own beds. I ordered some large pieces of fleece, and followed the simple directions. I cut fringe (using the lines of the plaid print as guidelines), and used a seam ripper to make slits. Then, my children pulled each piece through the slit, to create a finished look. We packed them in a recycled box and walked it down to the post office. It felt great to send them along! 
- Cady Audette and Emily Bagley, Boston (Follow Our Lead Boston)

If your family would like to participate, learn more at www.ProjectLinus.org


Two-Lunch Tuesday: Feeding the Homeless One Extra School Lunch at a Time

 Our local Las Vegas/Henderson (NV) elementary schools have started a program called Two-Lunch Tuesday. On the second Tuesday of each month, children are asked to bring an extra sack lunch to school. The lunches are gathered & distributed to the homeless in our city within the same day. Our school (Glen Taylor Elementary) usually provides more than 300 individual lunches on this special Tuesday. I believe 8 other area schools also participate, which means there are more than 2,000 homeless adults & children being fed lunch on that day! 

To us, it's a relatively easy way to give. While we're making lunch in the morning, we simply make one (or more) extra to share with someone less fortunate. To make it even easier on the families, our school sends home a reminder note stapled to a brown paper sack/bag that can then be used to hold the donated lunch. 

My kids (ages 9 & 12) are old enough to understand the reason for it. They are amazed to see the "group effort" when so many of their classmates within the school bring an extra lunch all on the same day. Together, it's quite a large display of lunch! It makes them feel like they are helping feed the homeless, even though they only did something rather small & simple by making an extra lunch, yet it has a significant impact on the greater good in our community.

I enjoy this monthly opportunity to share the blessings of extra food with those who do not have enough. We often end up making more than just one lunch to share. This month, we did three to represent the three of us in our family. I felt like we should do a little more in November with it being Thanksgiving. 

Two-Lunch Tuesday usually brings up discussions of what it would be like to be truly hungry, how we have so much extra food, how we shouldn't waste food, what it might be like to not have a home, & how we need to remember to be thankful for the food and shelter we have. I don't try to turn it into a sermon every month but these regular reminders and opportunities to give back are ways to help my kids learn about compassion and serving/volunteering, even at a young age. 

A couple years ago when we lived in Iowa, we volunteered at the local food bank once a month. Even though my kids were younger, we helped sort, stack, and stuff bags of food for needy families and filled Friday after-school backpacks for kids who didn't get enough to eat over the weekend until they came back to school for hot lunch. We often volunteered with a wide range of people...from employees at area companies who held a group volunteer event to some individuals who were serving a community service sentence for committing a crime. It was hard work but we always felt good about our efforts, knowing they were needed and realizing how many were served in our community. We will soon be helping at our local Las Vegas food bank (Three Square) for a weekly shift now that my children are both old enough to volunteer there.

- Brenda K., Henderson, Nevada

Big News: We "Ponied Up" for Locks For Love!

Locks of Love

Hi Friends,

Big news flash from the our Household: Last week, Mia and I "ponied up" and cut our long locks off together! This all came about when I bought the book Doing Good Together: 101 Easy, Meaningful Service Projects for families, School, and Communities by Jenny Friedman many months ago. I asked Mia to read through it and find projects that interested her. She chose Locks for Love (a hair donation program that makes wigs for cancer patients.) In theory, it sounded like a great thing to do. It was something that I'd always admired that people did, but I was not totally disappointed when she said she wanted to put it off until after school was over. I was also not disappointed when a month before school ended she announced that she planned to wait another year. I hadn't cut my hair short in nearly 20 years. I wasn't quite ready for a drastic change - or so I thought!

locks of love2.jpg

As we were driving to the hair salon for a "trim", Mia announced that she was ready to "cut it all off" and was I in? "Could we please do it together?" she asked from the backseat. How could I say no? Now the Boston Coordinator for Doing Good Together™ (the organization), it was my "duty" to make this commitment to family-service real. And I really wanted to do it together and have fun with it. I was relieved that I hadn't been given notice on this big decision because I would have given it far more attention and angst than the decision deserved. Instead, this was far more spontaneous and fun...and it best of all, it was a SECRET! Even Bob (my husband) didn't know. I wondered out loud if I should call him to tell him ahead of time and the girls both shouted "NO!!!! Don't tell him!!!" This was clearly a girl-power thing we were doing. No permission was required - or at least that was what I was told by my wise 8& 9 year old girls. 

And just as surprised as I was by the fact that we were doing this, so was my hair stylist Phil. She is a lovely woman from Ireland who had told me about a similar program by Pantene called PonyUp. They took 8" of hair (instead of 10") and the rumor from the hair salon was that they used more of the hair than other programs. Less hair required, more hair used - sold! She laughed when I told her that we were doing the "big show" that day. She pulled out her brand new ruler that she had JUST BOUGHT the day before. Destiny was dancing with us right there in the salon. 


Because my hair is so thick, she made two pony tails. She measured carefully and cut quickly. Zoie documented the whole thing. Chop chop and we were done! Mia had to patiently wait for her turn but hers went just as smoothly. And after some styling, we both walked out with a very new look and a great sense of pride and connection -  and perhaps, just a little bit more courage. A woman's relationship with her hair is a complex one. I found it refreshing to shake that relationship up. I think I'll be doing this again soon (1/2 inch per month according to Phil...16 months perhaps?) and next time I'll do it with both girls. The tails are in a padded envelope en route to Pantene. We hope they find their way into a few fabulous wigs. 

 xoxo Kira

Delivering Smiles

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Meals on Wheels has been a wonderful hands-on volunteer experience for our family.  Our boys are 3, 5 and 7 so it’s very age-appropriate as well.  Not only do they enjoy delivering the meals but since we deliver in our own neighborhood (most homes are less than a mile from our house) they’ve come to understand that we have neighbors in need.  We drive by a couple homes en route to our 3 year old’s preschool and he’s always quick to point out “There’s Ailene’s house!”   I’ve also explained to the boys that they may be the only kids that these older people get to see so I think that also makes the experience more special for them–and helps them understand the reason for the big smiles on the recipients’ faces when we arrive with their meal.  Another perk for them is the bowl of suckers at the Meals on Wheels site and the warm greeting they always receive from the staff there. 

Twelve Months of Giving

I am a person who dreams of winning the lottery and handing out bags of cash to all my favorite charities. I want to host a fundraiser that raises millions of dollars for those in need. I get overwhelmed because I can’t do this so I do nothing. Until Doing Good Together. The ideas for simple, meaningful, impactful projects have motivated me to do more. We compiled a “12 months of giving” list and posted to our fridge. Each month we commit to doing a project (each found on the DGT website). We are only in February and my 5-yr-old is already asking when we are going to do our second project and she knows what that will be. She’s excited, she’s engaged, and she’s learning. We’ve already had great discussions about what our helping can do, what it means to those receiving and all that we gain from doing it. We aren’t doing the grandest gesture, making the unbelievable gift, but we are changing the world.

Contributing Together


Our family has been struggling to find opportunities for volunteering together and are grateful to have discovered Doing Good Together. We have volunteered as a family at school, helping out with the food drive and at our church, King of Kings Lutheran in Woodbury, MN. They just held the annual Feed My Starving Children event on site. It was unique opportunity for all of us to contribute together, including our 3 year old twins. Everyone had an amazing experience and we look forward to doing more.