WORDS Kate Symons

’Tis the season to be jolly, but the spirit of giving at Christmas can get lost in the spirit of ‘expanding our wish list’. This festive season, we celebrate the kids whose number one wish is to spread joy through the gift of giving.

At the age of seven, Brooke Jones joined her dad on a business errand. It was a standard delivery, but the destination set the wheels in motion – literally. When Brooke returned home from the Nepean Cancer Care Centre that day, she swiftly declared she was heading outside where she planned to sell raffle tickets to passers-by.

There were a couple of problems with Brooke’s plan. Firstly, the Joneses lived in a cul-de-sac so passers-by were rare. Secondly, Brooke didn’t have a prize; she was, quite simply, planning to sell raffle tickets. But the philanthropic seed had been planted and Brooke, who is now 11, was determined to raise money for the Nepean Cancer Care Centre.

With help from her mum, Amanda, a former patient of the Nepean facility, Brooke brainstormed ideas and soon launched her grand plan – Brooke’s Car Rally, She aimed to raise $300 in her first year, 2013; instead, she raised more than $7,200. Last year’s two-hour edition attracted about 70 car teams which left from the Panthers Penrith club in Sydney and finished with a barbecue, raffles and games at a secret location. She has gone on to raise over $25,000 from three events and is adding a trivia night to her charitable efforts this year. 

The youngest of four children, Brooke believes “if there’s anything I can do to help, then I should.”

At Christmas, especially for kids, the importance of giving can be easily lost in the excitement of receiving. Yet, what children can gain from thinking of others and acting on generous instincts can be far more than Santa could ever leave under the tree.

Studies have shown that both adults and children involved in philanthropy, experience multiple benefits including increased happiness, improved health and better social connections.

As the founder of SchoolAid, a national schools-based philanthropy network, Sean Gordon has been watching charitable children in action for almost two decades. His work with KidsGive, a two-year-old offshoot of SchoolAid with a crowd funding focus, has offered an even deeper insight into the natural generosity of children.

“I think most kids have a predisposition to want to give,” he says. “What we have found is that the kids experience that sense of hope, they feel more optimistic, they get excited, they’re highly engaged, they feel empowered to make a difference. Instead of feeling hopeless and despondent about the news and what a terrible world they live in, they think ‘It’s a good world and furthermore, I can make it better’. The benefits for the kids are spectacular and it’s the reason we exist.”

Since launching in 1999, SchoolAid has raised close to $5 million in countless campaigns by students from more than 5000 Australian schools.

Jasmine Cochrane, 13, is one of the organisation’s most prolific supporters. She has instigated eight philanthropic campaigns in support of a range of causes including children’s education in Bangladesh, Ebola medication and protective clothes, brumby horse rescue, and Nepal earthquake recovery efforts. She has run cake stalls, car washes and second-hand book sales. She has even donated 30cm of her own hair to make wigs for children with alopecia.

“It makes me feel really good and lots of people are a lot less fortunate so I want to not be selfish and help,” Jasmine says. “It’s good to get a small group of friends together and, even if you just do something really small like just raise a bit of money, it still makes a big difference.”

Jasmine’s sentiment is one Ruth Tofler-Riesel strongly supports.

Four years ago Ruth co-founded Kids Giving Back, an organisation that provides volunteer opportunities for kids aged six to 18. The enterprise was in response to Ruth’s frustration at the lack of age-appropriate opportunities for her son.

“In the end, we thought ‘well, if we can’t find anything, we may as well do it ourselves’,” Ruth recalls. “The main impetus for us was to connect our kids with a world that was bigger than their own little bubble and to make them aware of communities around them.”

Kids Giving Back has connected about 6000 young people with volunteering opportunities and made more than 23,000 meals for homeless communities.

For Sydney teenager, Apsara Lindeman, Kids Giving Back presented an opportunity to continue living generously, as she had been brought up to do while living abroad. “When I lived in Vietnam, I went to an international primary school and every week we would have to bring in an item like soap or toothpaste to donate, and we would also get an understanding of where those items were going and why,” she says. “So it’s been ingrained from a very young age.”

Apsara first connected with Kids Giving Back last Christmas. With help from her mum Wendy, Apsara prepared a meal for 40 people at the Asylum Seekers Centre (ASC) in Newtown, Sydney. She also served the meal and washed up afterwards. This experience inspired the 14-year-old to start her own campaign, Buy 2 Give, The online platform invites people to purchase simple items such as milk, rice and washing powder to help stock the ASC pantry.

“I want to spread the message that life is not just about us,” she says. “It’s not all about looking at our own lives, but being tolerant and understanding of everyone. Everyone has challenges in their life and there are ways you can help.”

For kids who want to take generosity a step further, these organisations connect you with charitable projects:

KidsGive – a crowd funding platform for charitable young people,

Kids Giving Back – connecting philanthropic children with volunteering opportunities,

Kids in Philanthropy – workshops and events for kids to help them understand and engage in philanthropic activities,

GIVIT Kids – an online portal that helps children donate new or pre-loved belongings,

‘Charity begins at home’ is an expression that has the full support of child behaviourist, Nathalie Brown.

“Leading by example is the number one thing,” she says. “You can talk about it all you want but if you’re not role modeling, it won’t happen. Parents are the biggest role models for their kids.”

While donating money or time to charity is wonderful, Nathalie says it’s practising generosity day to day that counts, and not just at Christmas.

“Your daily interactions with people will teach your kids a lot. If a shop assistant is rude to you, are you going to be rude back? Or do you handle it with empathy?”

With help from Nathalie, here are a few festive ideas that might light the charitable spark in your child these school holidays.

  • Encourage them to take ownership of buying and wrapping a gift for a campaign such as the Kmart Wishing Tree Appeal.
  • Help them raid their rooms for toys and clothes they no longer need, but that are still in good condition and take a trip to your closest donation bin.
  • School holidays usually mean extra free time for kids, so why not encourage them to donate some? Even something as simple as helping an elderly neighbour mow the lawn can instill a sense of pride.
  • Write a shopping list of items to be donated to a Christmas food drive. Turn the shopping trip into a family excursion.
  • Start a Christmas tradition by selecting a charity as a family. Accumulate donations from each family member throughout the year (perhaps set aside a percentage of pocket money) and donate the annual collection each Christmas.

You might also like to read:

Celebrate the Magic of a Perfect Aussie Christmas with ALDI.

SESAME STREET Is Back To Teach Australian Kids About Kindness In Sesame Street Presents Elmo’s Super Fun Hero Show

‘The Future Belongs to Those who Give the Next Generation Reason for Hope”.