Harrison Davis learned something new in school last summer: how to give away money.
In a class called Philanthropy 101 at Atlanta's private Westminster School, Davis spent four weeks absorbing the history of philanthropy and visiting nonprofit groups to understand the needs within his community. In addition, each student was given a $1,200 stipend, of which at least $500 had to be given away to charity.
The 18-year-old senior was no stranger to volunteering, but "the course showed me how blessed I am, and being so blessed, how important it is to help others," Davis said.
Similar courses are cropping up across the country for children as young as 4. The reason?
In a time of unprecedented prosperity, parents are searching for ways to instill the value of giving in their children. When Christmas catalogs feature $900 girl's party dresses and a child-sized Mercedes 500 SL for $8,995, experts say there is a strong desire to show children how important it is to care about people who are less fortunate.
"Kids really are growing up today with a lot of material advantages and no real concept of hardship," said Susan Crites Price, author of a new book, "The Giving Family: Raising Our Children to Help Others."
Price recalls listening to her grandfather describe the grim poverty of the Depression and her father tell stories about severe shortages during World War II. Today's youth, she said, haven't lived through such experiences.
"Parents have become more affluent, and they worry that because they have a big house and fancy car that their kids only know that level of living," Price said. "They worry that their children don't have a sense of what others are going through and don't know how to share their wealth."
Price's book, which will be published next month by the Washington-based Council on Foundations, guides parents on how to talk to children about philanthropy. The book is filled with real-life examples and activities to engage children in giving.
Among her key recommendations is for parents to talk openly with their children about money and reasons why they give to a certain charity or cause.
When children have an opportunity to give, they do so with more gusto than most adults would think, Price's research found.
One high school student in Washington, D.C., spearheaded a campaign that raised $16,700 for Kosovo refugees. In San Francisco, the families of a group of seventh-graders pooled money that they had planned to spend on bar mitzvah and bat mitzvah celebrations to create a fund for helping others. They were able to leverage their donations into $500,000 from matching grants and other foundations.
"Volunteering and giving back to others is one of the best ways to build a child's character and self-esteem," said Price.
Teaching children about money and giving it away is something that parents should include on their list of "things I need to teach my child," Price said.
Counselors who help people cope with wealth say that money is still a very difficult thing for families to talk about.
For generations, families have avoided discussing the three taboos--- sex, death and money. While the barriers around sex and death have slowly eroded since the 1960s, families are just starting to tear down the barriers around money.
"Money has always been associated with dirt or some sort of unhealthy attitude or type of person," said Dennis Pearne, a Massachusetts-based psychologist who specializes in wealth counseling.
To instill the value of giving in children, Pearne recommends that parents encourage children to give away a certain percentage of their allowance to a charity of their choice.
"You present the child with age-appropriate simplicity, such as your 10 cents can go to the food pantry where the homeless get their food," Pearne said. "Children are very generous, they love the idea of helping others."
When a family makes decisions about giving away money together, it brings a greater sense of connectedness, added Stephen Goldbart, co-founder of the California-based Money, Meaning and Choices Institute.
Goldbart works with a number of people who have struck it rich in the high-tech economy in Silicon Valley.
"In the lives of people who have been dominated by work, there is a hunger inside to connect," Goldbart said. "We say to them: you have all these talents, what would it take to move you over to this world of giving?"
And once the parents are involved in giving to charity and volunteering, the children tend to imitate their behavior, he said.
Despite all the concern over materialism undermining the values of children, researchers say that they are seeing anecdotal evidence that more youths are active in volunteering and giving.
"I think there's more philanthropy among kids than there has been in the past," said Dwight Burlingame, associate executive director of Indiana University's Center on Philanthropy.
Burlingame attributes the uptick in youth volunteers to schools requiring community service.
Frustrated by the lack of curriculum to inspire youths to volunteer, the Council of Michigan Foundations teamed up with about 45 teachers there to develop lessons that would teach children about philanthropy.
Now in its third year, the Learning to Give Project is being field-tested in some 400 to 500 schools throughout the country. The group offers more than 120 lessons on its Web site (www.k12edphil.org) for teachers to use.
"What we are trying to do is re-instill the value of giving in our young people," said Tom Webb, who teaches the course to seventh-graders at the Fulton Middle School in Middleton, Mich.
The course has helped students see that there are people in need, Webb said. The students research nonprofit groups and conduct a needs assessment for international and local organizations.
Taking the course two years ago spurred Lauren Mungall, 14, of Middleton, and Kiriam Mulder, 14, of Perrinton, to get more Involved in their community.
Mulder volunteered in a teen suicide prevention program called the Yellow Ribbon Program. She raised money for the nonprofit by selling yellow ribbons to teens who wanted to help other teens in crisis.
She found the work extremely gratifying.
"I hope to carry this on," Mulder said. Down the road, she would like to help children in Africa who are dying from AIDS.
Mungall got more active in a foundation that helps gorillas. She had always volunteered at a senior home, but now she intends to volunteer the rest of her life.
"There are people who are less fortunate and I want to help them," Mungell said.
By Rebecca Carr - Cox Washington Bureau; published in Atlanta Journal-Constitution, December 26, 2000
RESOURCES TO HELP FAMILIES GET STARTED
Council on Foundations. Extensive information and publications list to help families create and maintain family foundations or funds at community foundations, 1828 L St., NW, Washington, DC 20036; 202-466-6512; www.cof.org
Family Matters. An initiative of the Points of Light Foundation, it links families, neighborhoods, organizations and corporations in volunteer activities. 1400 I St. NW, Suite 800, Washington, DC 20005-6526; 202-729-8000; www.pointsoflight.org
FamilyCares. The Web site features dozens of ideas for family projects, with new ones added each month. Membership is free, but parents can also obtain information by mail for a small fee.
P.O. Box 1083, New Canaan, CT 06840; 914-533-1101; www.familycares.org
Kids Care Clubs. A companion project to FamilyCares, this nonprofit organization has sparked the creation of more than 400 clubs through which children perform community service projects. The site provides help in organizing a club and offers project ideas and other support. www.kidscare.org
Prudential Spirit of Community Initiative. In partnership with the Points of Light Foundation and Youth Service America, Prudential teaches young people leadership skills they can apply to Community problem solving. Visit the Community Involvement section of the Web site www.prudential.com, where you can download a copy of the booklet "Catch the Spirit! A Student's Guide to Community Service"; or obtain one free by calling 973-802-4568.
VolunteerMatch. (www.volunteermatch.org) A Web-based service that matches volunteers to more than 20,000 jobs nationwide. It also highlights projects volunteers are doing.
VolunteerAmerica! Helps families find volunteer vacation trips on public lands such as national and state parks and forests. Example: clearing trails in the Grand Canyon. www.volunteeramerica.net
Youth Service America. Resource center and alliance of more than 200 organizations committed to increasing the quality and quantity of opportunities for young people to serve. YSA sponsors National Youth Service Day every April. 1101 15th St. NW, Suite 200, Washington, DC 20005; 202-296-2992;www.ysa.org
A DONATION HOW-TO
1. Decide in advance what amount your family will give to charity.
2. If your children are young, predetermine how funding
decisions will be made. (Each family member might pick his or her own charities, the family can vote on them as a group, or a combination of the two). If your children are older, they may want to help devise the plan.
3. Set the time and place for the family meeting.
4. On an easel or large pad, write the amount of money you plan to give to charity.
5. Explain how the decisions will be made.
6. List the preferences of each family member on the pad.
7. Use play money to help young children visualize how the money could be divided among the chosen charities.
8. Vote on which organizations to fund and in what amounts.
9. Let the children help write the checks.
SOURCE: Adapted from the book: "The Giving Family: Raising Our Children to Help Others," by Susan Crites Price, published by the Washington-based Council On Foundations.