By Caren Chaffee
The month of December is well known for being a hectic time of year, yet it is also a time when many people celebrate their own fortunes by “giving back” to others. Recently, a KidsPeace foster care program received an unexpected visitor: Another non-profit organization moved into the office space next door to KidsPeace just a week earlier, and one of their employees walked into KidsPeace to introduce herself and ask if there was a family that she could “adopt” for the holidays. Serendipitously, a biological mother had been reunited with her three children the previous week, and while the family is celebrating their success with great joy, their reality is that the holidays will present a significant financial challenge. Upon learning that her family was being adopted for the holidays, the mother wept and expressed great appreciation for the generosity a woman who is (and will likely remain) an anonymous stranger to her.
It is important to share stories of goodwill to youth to impress upon them the impact of the actions of individuals on others. While not everyone is able to offer such a generous donation as the provision of a holiday celebration for a single mother and her three children, even small acts of kindness can make a difference. Collections of non-perishable food items for food pantries, hats and mittens for homeless shelters, gently-used coats for children and socks for our military personnel have a significant cumulative impact on those who reap their benefits.
For youth in care, the holidays can be a particularly difficult time. Most youth in care are often the beneficiaries of giving, rather than the donors. However, they can still be involved in making a difference in the lives of others, which can increase their own feelings of self-worth and confidence. In fact, some researchers have found that giving increases endorphins, boosts positive emotions and decreases stress. Youth can get involved in giving to others by making ornaments for nursing homes, sending letters to our service men and women, making cards for others who need cheering or organizing a group of peers to clean and decorate for the holidays. Even more simply, a smile for someone new, a helping hand for someone who needs it or a thoughtful word for someone who is having a difficult day can make a significant difference to the recipients of these basic acts of kindness.
Doing something nice for someone else feels good and almost always ends with a smile. The knowledge that an individual’s actions made someone’s day better is empowering. Spreading cheer and goodwill can transform a community and bring about a sense of belonging. Providing something positive for someone else enhances the benefactor’s dignity and reflects positively on his or her character. And knowing that he or she made a difference in the life of someone else can help a youth with a tumultuous history build relationships and begin to feel safe. One single action that does not have to cost anything but compassion and time echoes the KidsPeace Model of Care and helps improve the lives of countless individuals during the holidays and throughout the year.