Adam regularly gives food to a food bank. Odean listens to people to show he cares. These two boys attend elementary schools in Montgomery County, Maryland, where they are members of The Giving Square and identify themselves as philanthropists. The founder of this non-profit organization, Amy Neugebauer, believes “we all have something that we can uniquely contribute to the world around us.” Neugebauer and other parents decided to “engage children in philanthropy by starting a program grounded in empathetic connections to the needs of others.”
The Giving Square's signature program - Kids for Kids Fund - started in 2017 at Wood Acres Elementary School, spread to four schools in 2018 and now includes 10 schools in Montgomery and Anne Arundel Counties in Maryland and Elgin, Illinois.
Neugebauer and fifth grader Anna Murray from Wood Acres helped launch Malala Yousafzai: Warrior with Words this spring at Politics and Prose as shining examples of Malala’s insistence that “one child, one teacher, one pen, and one book can change the world.”
Teachers and counselors at each school promote voluntary participation in the Kids for Kids Fund. Altogether there are 225 third to fifth graders meeting once a week for two months. Each 35-minute session occurs during recess. “Part of the message,” notes Neugebauer, “is that kids are giving up something to participate.”
Children start by discussing what all kids need: “a home, shelter, food, friends, family and definitely love,” says one young girl. Education and health insurance were also on the list, “in case somebody breaks an arm.” Youngsters learn about stepping into the shoes of others using videos, activities and a collection of books curated by the partner bookstore Politics and Prose in Washington, D.C. The books may be taken home from the school library and often help start conversations at home. Children even become change agents influencing family discussions about giving.
In order to participate in The Giving Square, schools must contribute $750 for administrative costs, enlist a donor or foundation to provide $1000 for students to donate and a teacher or counselor who champions the program in the school.
Toward the end of the sessions, kids begin talking about local solutions to the problems they’ve learned about, drawn from charities in the Greater Washington Catalogue for Philanthropy. During the next to last session – March Madness - each child nominates an organization. Following a lively debate, students vote and decide where to donate their $1000. In the last session, the newly energized philanthropists write their own giving pledges:
“I am good at speaking and I can make useful items.”
“I will be kind to people who do not have friends or have someone to play with.”
“I can help because I am good at solving problems.”
“I am a philanthropist.”
When The Giving Square was brought to a Title I school, where most students come from families with lower incomes, Neugebauer realized “there is a universal desire to help. Everyone feels there are people less advantaged than they are. Everyone feels they have blessings in their lives.” When asked to describe their personal experiences with helping others, children in these schools said,
“I taught my brother how to read.”
“I helped an old lady carry her tomatoes.”
“I sit with my mom when she is sad.”
The meaning of philanthropy for children is giving of yourself in any way you can. And really good philanthropy, adds Neugebauer, comes with understanding the full story of someone else.
·At a grand celebration this spring, giant $1000 checks were presented to the winning charities. Hundreds of kids were excited about philanthropy – and able to pronounce the word! The 2019 grantees include:
For more information about The Giving Square, contact firstname.lastname@example.org.