So, around here (that is, in our family), autumn is charity time.
I don't know how much it is a reflection of culture (harvest is in!), or logistics (ack! Have to get the charitable contributions in for taxes!), or other stuff, but fall seems to be our biggest chunk of attention to the charitable work.
Sunday I was part of the UU Fellowship service, talking about practicing our principles. The principles of being present, being in community, and taking action, in combination are a big part of what it means to be a UU. They're also a big part of our family process, on both sides (after all, those values are common to many other religions, such as the Quakers, being the other side of the family).
So Baba and I got up in church and talked about how we do this. How do we get the kids involved, how do we make it light them up?
How did we get kids to choose to do extra chores to pay for their public-radio membership?
How did we get kids out in the dirt, digging up history or planting trees?
How do we get them to send money to a girl's school in Afghanistan, or donate to Doctors Without Borders?
How do we get them to get excited about donating food to the food bank?
How do we get them involved in the research project for (hopefully) inoculating amphibians against the fungus that is killing them around the world?
We only had two minutes to talk, so I tried to make it short - but that meant we didn't really get to explain HOW in detail. More 'what' than 'how'.
A little on the how, though - like staying aware and open for the possibilities. Listen for the question that you can let them answer from their values. Like for public radio, explaining what a pledge drive is, but not asking them too much, or telling them, or lecturing, or bossing - just discussing, and asking what they think. Funny how they will come up with the idea that if they're listening, maybe they should support it, too. My kids are therefore the youngest contributors to the public radio classical music station they've ever had.
In coffee hour after the service, though, we got more questions. HOW do we do this? How do we get kids to want to help?
Following the kids is the core of it, for us. We don't make them do it, even if we set them up to do it. If I'm going to donate food to the food bank, I plan it to have the kids available to come along. But that's the cheap-ass version of the process. The deeper level is watching for what upsets them, and finding a way to answer that anger or hurt or fear or sorrow.
So, when my mom's house addition meant that some beloved trees were going to be taken down, my mom didn't just assuage their sorrow or tell them to deal or otherwise just answer that part of the problem, she promptly contacted the Nature Conservancy and asked if there were any tree-planting events going on that needed volunteers. So the kids in honor of the trees lost went and planted trees in a place where those trees had been lost long ago - and would now get to grow back in a protected and safe place.
It answered the pain with action.
And there's also the chance to follow someone else's passion that isn't mom-and-dad's. Like, my sister - aunts and uncles and friends are part of this. My sister has many passions, and is an expert on charities (it's part of her job). She found the amphibian research project that needed a push - they really needed to hire a grant writer, and she talked to them about funding that. And the kids donated specifically to that. She's also into the non-profit archaeology group that we dig with - she set that up, and got us psyched, got us started, and ... well, the kids got to light up on someone else's cool.
And then we celebrate that - the events are documented with more care than we give birthdays and holidays. Certificates of thanks are framed and put on their bedroom wall (at Baba's house, where there is more wall space, but where they see what they've done often). We talk about it with others, in front of them, show the pride we have in their willingness to help. We embed it in conversation with them, as well.
The opportunities are endless. We choose differently each year, but the point is to choose. Start, find something that lights them up. Whether it is a 'do-good' thing (Doctors Without Borders) or a 'fight for change in the world' thing (a girl's school in Afghanistan) or an arts thing (volunteering at the Art Museum) - it doesn't matter.
Starting matters. Practicing being aware of the community matters. Being open to the opportunity to create change matters. Doing it as a family matters. We do it all year long, but the peak is really in the fall, when we gather as a family-extended, and think about gratitude as part of Thanksgiving, and send our gratitude back out into the communities in which we see ourselves - local, regional, global.
Christmas is so commercialized at this point, it is hard to fight back without undercutting the fun. 'Tis the season becomes too complicated, fraught, confusing.
For us, this is the season of giving.