None of us are born wanting to share. Allowing a sibling to play with a favorite toy for a few minutes can be a bitter test for even the sweetest child. And a generous spirit doesn’t always come easily as adults either, especially when considering treasures like time, resources, or special holiday traditions that are limited and valuable. On the flip side, when children are exposed to people lacking basic needs, these young hearts often exhibit a tenderness that can grow numb with age and the practicality that dominates everyday adult life. Yet, families who model community-minded, selfless giving can set the clock for a child to exhibit a philanthropic lifestyle for decades.
In our home growing up, we were exposed to sacrificial giving as a way of life primarily through riding around with John Fling in his iconic blue pickup truck. My mother wanted us to see what a true heart for caring for the community looked like, and so she arranged for my sister, Mary, and me to ride around with him on his rounds of giving to the poor, to go to his dinners for the blind, and to help with his big Kmart annual Christmas shopping spree. Mary and I were astounded to see how much want for basic necessities existed in our own city, and even more so by going to the Flings’ home and realizing that he was hardly better off than those to whom he gave everything. Mr. Fling also taught me the joy and fun of outreach.
Another person who modeled thoughtful giving during my youth was a boy named Zach. My then 11-year-old sister, Helen, was in the hospital fighting stage 4 cancer when she received a shoebox full of age and gender appropriate treats from Zach. A letter explained that he had once been sick in the hospital but now was healthy again and living a normal life. This simple gift encouraged Helen in her fight to live, and once she too was healthy again, she decided to pay it forward and started a charity called “Helen’s Hugs” through the Central Carolina Community Foundation to take teddy bears to children in the hospital. This domino effect of charity shows the exponential ways that a gift can grow. Zach’s one shoebox more than 12 years ago has multiplied into thousands of Build-A-Bears received by other sick children.
So many approaches, basic and creative, encourage giving and a spirit of community in young children, and to say that the stories shared in From Here to Philanthropy on page 36 are inspiring is an understatement. From forgoing birthday gifts in order to raise money for families in need, to spending Christmas morning giving to the homeless in Finlay Park before opening presents at home, these families are doing their part to cultivate a spirit of philanthropy in the next generation.