Wednesday, April 9, 2014

Teaching Charitable Giving to Low-Income Students

In this post, Heather Jung shares her thoughts on charitable giving from the classroom.

Last year, my students were making toys to donate to the toy closet at National Children's Hospital.  One student did not want to donate the toy that he made.  I reminded him that we were making these toys to donate to sick children who needed our help.  His response was, "I'm sorry that they're sick, but I made this toy, I worked hard on it, and I want to keep it."  I was able to convince him to donate the toy, but he was not happy about it.  Then, a month later we received a donation of a Tablet from  As I was explaining to the students where the donation had come from the same student said, "So someone gave us something that we needed just like we gave those dolls we made to the sick kids."  I was so excited! He had seen and understood the reciprocal nature of a responsible community.  This valuable social skill will help him throughout his life. 

It is often hard for many students that come from backgrounds where they are often on the receiving end of philanthropy to understand that they have both the ability and the responsibility to give back to their community.  But, when we can develop this understanding in students we can change the narrative of helplessness that is found in institutional poverty, showing students that their charitable giving has the power to affect change and positively impact their lives and the lives of those around them.

It can be tricky to find philanthropic projects that are both meaningful and accessible to low-income students. You cannot ask students who are receiving food and clothing from local charities to turn around and donate what they receive. 

Here are a few things that I have done with low-income students that I work with:
·         Grow Sweet Potatoes to donate to a Local Food Bank - Sweet potatoes are inexpensive and virtually maintenance free.  I have one group of students plant them in the spring and different students harvest in the fall.  We taste test them before we donating.  The food bank appreciates having something fresh to offer their clients.  Students that frequent the food bank have something to look forward to sharing with their families.
·         Make Stuffed Toys for a Children's Hospital - This one is a little more difficult because you need to solicit donations of fabric, stuffing, needles and thread, but if you can do it there is a powerful sense of significance that the students feel when they can help a sick child.  It also allows students at multiple grade levels to work together.  Older students do the sewing and younger students do the stuffing.
·         Make Dog Toys for a Local Animal Shelter - Students find an old t-shirt or old sock that can be made into a dog toy.  Students enjoy searching for old, unwashed, stinky ones, which are the best ones for dogs!  Homeless students feel a particularly strong connection with this philanthropic activity.

These are just a few activities that have worked for me.  I'm sure you can come up with many more ways to help your students understand that they have both the ability and the responsibility to give back to their community.

Image by Jonathan McIntosh via Creative Commons.

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