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Helping others: Children learn about the world and themselves through helping others

November 1, 2016
By Kristy MacKaben - For Mirror Moms , Mirror Moms

Lauren Lehman learned early that giving is sometimes better than receiving. Her birthday falls the week before Christmas, so for the past five years, the 8-year-old Hollidaysburg girl has been requesting food donations for the needy in lieu of presents.

The idea came about when Lauren was in preschool and her parents had planned a big birthday party and invited all her classmates, said Lauren's mom Betsy.

"Her birthday is Dec. 17, so it's very close to Christmas," Betsy said. "Kids only need so many things. We really didn't want to be inundated with too many gifts. We could have had 30 birthday presents, and then Christmas. It's too overwhelming."

Article Photos

Courtesy photos
The Lehman family cleans the highway together in spring 2016. From left, Betsy, Lauren, Joey and Joe Lehman Jr. wear orange safety vests along a Hollidaysburg section of Route 36 as part of the Lehman Engineers “Adopt a Highway” program, organized by PennDOT.

So, Betsy suggested Lauren ask the birthday guests to bring food donations or money to donate to the St. Francis University Dorothy Day Center, a nonprofit organization which helps local families. (At the time Betsy was working at St. Francis University.)

Lauren jumped on the idea.

"She loved it. Her heart is just very selfless, very giving. She's always been a very selfless child," Betsy said. "She wholeheartedly loves the idea of a food drive."

Since that birthday, Lauren has held a food drive every year on her birthday and has yet to complain or ask for more presents, Betsy said. But, Betsy said, it's up to Lauren.

Kids are never too young to understand the importance of helping out, said Hully Hoover, guidance department chair for the Hollidaysburg Area School District. Students of all ages are encouraged to volunteer, but in high school volunteering becomes essential, as kids prepare for college.

"It's encouraged all along, and obviously as they get older they're more capable of doing a lot of things," Hoover said. "It's getting them to think about their future and how good they feel afterward."

Parents should encourage their kids to volunteer, and set a good example by helping the community or charities, but volunteering shouldn't be forced, Hoover said.

Pressuring kids to volunteer will only backfire, Betsy Lehman agreed, explaining it has to be in their hearts.

Lauren's younger brother Joey agreed to ask for donations to an animal shelter one year for his birthday. The following year, however, he opted for a regular birthday party.

"We try not to push them into it. I think it's important not to force your children," Betsy said. "They see how fortunate they are, and they're blessed to have what they have. We just try to foster the mentality of giving back."

Children could also try to choose charities that interest them, or organizations where they can see what impact they are making, Hoover said.

To find the right fit for your family, contact your child's school, local churches or the Hollidaysburg Area YMCA for ideas.



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