December 6, 2013

The Secret to the Spirit of Giving.



So this is Christmas
And what have you done
Another year over
And a new one just begun.

~John Lennon, Happy Christmas (War Is Over.)

Here we are. My sweet little four-year-old is drawing in her journal—ooh, now she’s up doing spontaneous ballet moves—while the dog snores audibly on the floor next to her. The cat is twisted into a fuzzy pretzel on the back of the red couch and Bing Crosby’s Hawaiian Christmas fills the air like fresh baked bread.

Our artificial tree, just about the height of Jesse and I, is buried in an opaque layer of whimsical creatures on strings, so you can hardly see the lights. On Christmas morning there will be presents under that tree. Not a busload, but plenty. We are conscious not to go overboard, but, if we wanted, we could.

We are enjoying the holidays from the vantage point of abundance, joy, relaxation and safety.

And the grown-ups in the equation know that this is not a luxury everyone gets to afford.

Opal is old enough now to somewhat understand that there are many kiddos out there who are not as fortunate as we are, though her understanding is conceptual, not experiential.

We ‘adopted’ a young girl a few years ago, Andrea from Columbia, through Children International and send some money every month to support her care. We get updates from the agency every few months, with pictures and hand-written letters from Andrea. The other day, when Opal saw Andrea’s photo on our fridge, she said, thrilled, “She is getting bigger!” And she is.

Though I don’t want Opal to ever experience being without, I’d like to give her plenty of practice in the art of generosity and what it feels like to be of benefit to others, while feeling grateful, not guilty, for what we do have.

And the most direct access she has to this experience is through us, her parents.

So I grabbed a glass of wine and went for an online stroll.

The following are a few ideas of things we can do to set an example of generosity for our kiddos this season, and to hopefully set the tone of giving for the new year to come.

Most are specific for Boulder-County, Colorado, but if you aren’t in this area, you can use this information to give you some examples and ideas of what to look for in your neighborhood.

1.  Adopt a Family for Christmas.

There are many organizations that offer adopt-a-family and adopt-a-child programs, some for the holiday season and some for the entire year: Hope House of Colorado, Rescue Mission of Denver, Volunteers of America and Denver Children’s Home are just a few.  And as I mentioned, Children’s International is a great organization to sponsor a child continuously, year-round. You can get more information about who each organization focuses on by going to their website. (We adopted a child from Denver Children’s Home for Christmas this year.)

We sponsored a kid for Christmas (actually two, by accidentally clicking twice) through Salvation Army two years ago. I bought the gifts and Opal ‘helped’ me wrap them (read: she tore up paper and asked for more tape to put on the cat).  She certainly asked if she could also have a present, too. But she was fine—and quickly on to something else—when I explained that these gifts were for another little boy who probably wouldn’t get much else for Christmas this year.

2.  Donate a toy or two.

There are numerous donation agencies and drop-off spots in Boulder County that collect new or gently used toys for kiddos. Share-A-Gift, Toys For Tots and A Precious Child Giving Tree are just a few. It is likely that there are donation bins located in many of the places you already go to, so you won’t even have to make a special trip.

Last year, because I didn’t get my act together in time to sponsor a child for Christmas, we took Opal on a mini-shopping spree for other kids.  We had her pick out four gifts for other kids and one for herself (all under $10 each) and we drove them directly to the local library and had her put them in the donation bin.  She sauntered back to the car with an air of pride and sung Christmas carols the whole way home.

3.  Hit a holiday event-with-a-cause.

I am always looking for something festive to do with the family, so why not choose something that is beneficial?

Note:  Many of these are timely and happening soon!

  • The Christmas Tree Festival in Longmont, on December 7th, features over 30 beautifully decorated trees to be raffled, door prizes, a gift for each guest, a plated dinner, and music provided by singer/song writer Scott Von. All proceeds benefit TLC Learning Center’s mission to provide high quality early care and learning programs and comprehensive therapeutic services to nurture success in all children.
  • Holidazical, on December 8th at the Hotel Boulderado, is a family-friendly event that features a magician, lunch buffet, silent auction, music, children’s activities, and more. All proceeds benefit the YWCA of Boulder County.
  • Santa’s Elves, on December 14th, is an event in Denver where kids come and give gifts to other kids in need.  Kid-to-kid, heart-to-heart.

For older kids:

  • Denver Cutthroats Hockey team will donate $6 per ticket to a Precious Child. Go to a hockey game and provide basic essentials to local kids in need!
  • Food and Faith Event, a Fundraiser for Local Farmers on Monday evening, December 9th. An evening of conversation with Fred Bahnson, author of Soil & Sacrament: A Spiritual Memoir of Food and Faith, and local growers who are working to recover from the flood. There will be delicious complimentary food donated by local restaurants. This event is free and donations to the Front Range Farm Relief Fund will be accepted.
  • St. Stephen’s Southmoor Soup Supper and Christmas Conversation, on Wednesday evening, December 11th. It’s been a difficult year for many families in Southmoor Park affected by the flood. Join in for delicious soups and a conversation led by Boulder psychologist Andy Horning: “It’s a time to deepen our compassion and kindness for ourselves as we move through the Christmas season…and our lives.”
  • It’s a Wonderful Life on December 8th, in Golden Colorado,  Victim Outreach Inc. (VOI) invites you to celebrate the spirit of Christmas by joining them at the Miners Alley Playhouse in Golden for a special showing of “It’s a Wonderful Life! The Radio Play” by Joe Landry. Festivities include drinks, hors d’oeurve’s, and dessert and a champagne toast at intermission.

These are just a few examples. If you are curious about more, grab a glass of wine and take an internet stroll for yourself.

Growing up, my family was involved in an organization called the Alpha Athletic Club.

My mom and dad—along with my grandparents and many family friends—gathered together with the Alpha Club folks on a regular basis. The guys played softball and there were family picnics every summer.

But the thing that made the Alpha Club exceptional was that it’s focus was to raise money throughout the year in order to adopt families in need each Christmas.

They adopted (and still do) a total of 60 families+ each year. The families can have up to eight children, and the Alpha Club provides each kid with three age-specific, hand-selected toys. My mom did the toy shopping for many years. The families were also given a week’s worth of food, including a turkey.

All this, not to mention a solid helping of Christmas spirit, for all of them: one of the Alpha Club guys would dress up as Santa and deliver the gifts from a mini-van sleigh.

“All you need is to go for one ride (on the delivery van) and you will learn all you need to know,” my dad once said. I went on one of those rides and I learned more from that, about how lucky I was, than anything my parents could have told me.

We, as kids, would also help wrap the presents and we’d help make pizzas and subs for the fundraisers. (I remember always having a freezer full of Alpha Club pizzas.) And while we did this, we were having a ball.  Music blasting, grown-ups drinking beer and causing a ruckus. Everyone being silly and getting shit done.

I grew up seeing this: regular, lovely (oft wild) guys doing a hell of a lot of good in the world, while they were having a blast with their friends. It was just what they did.

As a mom, I can’t think of a better thing to expose my children to.

“Living well is an art that can be developed: a love of life and ability to take great pleasure from small offerings and assurance that the world owes you nothing and that every gift is exactly that, a gift.”
~ Maya Angelou, Wouldn’t Take Nothing for My Journey Now

Christmas is the perfect time to get into the spirit of giving, but the needs of others certainly don’t end in the new year. The holiday season can be a warm-up period, buoyed by an abundance of spirit and magic. So that, perhaps, it would be nearly effortless to pick one thread, just one, to follow into the New Year. Imagine what the cumulative effect would be if each of us committed to making one thing better.

Especially if we took the advice of St. Nick and the Alpha Club by having a jolly ole’ time—beer-in-hand, in the company of friends—while doing it.


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Editor: Catherine Monkman

{Photos: Flickr, Flickr}

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