During November, in honor of Thanksgiving, it seems quite popular to engage in the “Gratitude project,” an online movement in which participants express appreciation each day for something or someone different. It’s a cool idea, since most of us spend our days so busily moving through life that we do not stop and reflect on what we might be taking for granted. Unfortunately, I wasn’t organized early enough this month for a daily devotion, but I wanted to post this one reflection in time for Thanksgiving.
Near the top of many of my friends’ gratitude lists are their children. Even if we might sometimes be frustrated or overwhelmed by the responsibilities of parenting, children clearly bring love and joy to their parents, and interactions with them can be rewarding and educational. So, I wanted to express gratitude for my own children, and in particular what my 8-year-old daughter Clara learned and taught others through a cause she took on this year.
This past summer, Clara demonstrated her persistence (which, sometimes, let’s be honest – I’m less than grateful for) and her compassion when she committed herself to raise money to help dolphins. Not just any dolphins, though. She — like millions of other kids, I’m sure — was inspired by the story of Winter the dolphin, the real-life star of Disney’s Dolphin Tale, who lives at the Clearwater Marine Aquarium.
She brought home library books about endangered dolphins. She drew endless pictures of dolphins. And, as her birthday approached, she began planning a dolphin-themed party turned fundraiser (she asked for donations in lieu of gifts). Her grandma joined in the effort, throwing a second party/fundraiser on Clara’s behalf. Earnings from lemonade sales and extra chores were added to the party proceeds, and before you knew it, Clara had $434 for Winter and the aquarium.
As luck would have it, we were headed to Florida for a family vacation, so planned a side excursion to Clearwater so that Clara could deliver her donation in person. What a surprise was waiting! By calling ahead to inform the aquarium of our plans, we were met by the Director of Development, given a mini backstage tour, and treated to a poolside photo with one of Winter’s fellow dolphins.
Clara’s efforts to support the dolphins were educational in many ways. And, given my career, I was heartened by her interest in animal conservation. Most important to me, though, were the life lessons embedded in her first real experience with philanthropy, including:
1) Feel good by doing good. In this world of conspicuous consumption, Clara got to experience the joy of giving back to someone or something less fortunate. Her pride and excitement during our aquarium visit was palpable, and she’s told the story hundreds of times since. It’s an experience she’ll remember for the rest of her life, and could inspire her to support more causes down the road.
2) Be your own person. Despite the barrage of over-the-top birthday parties and over-indulged tween TV characters around her, Clara shunned societal norms, making her own decisions and relying on her own commitment and self-determination to do something meaningful. Clara had heard about other kids choosing charitable causes for their birthdays (a friend supported a local soup kitchen). But the decision to do so – and dolphin theme – was all hers. I pray that in her teen years she is able to similarly opt for a “higher”/less traveled road.
3) Do what you love. I am fortunate to work in an organization and a field filled with people who are passionate about the missions they support. By focusing on something that resonated emotionally with her, Clara got true enjoyment out of every step of her efforts – including the less-than-glamorous research, outreach, and fundraising. May she find an academic pathway and career that she loves as much as she currently loves dolphins.
I know that fellow parents struggle with the challenges of instilling values, self-confidence, and life skills in their children. So, I was grateful to observe how this project of Clara’s drove home important life lessons without me ever pointing them out. With this in mind, and in the spirit of the holidays upon us, here are some tips for fostering your children’s creativity and compassion for others and for the earth around them:
One small thing is to encourage kids to reflect throughout the year on who they are grateful for, rather than what.
[Image: Clara presents the check to the Clearwater Marine Aquarium's director of development. Credit: Sarene Marshall.]
Sarene Marshall is the managing director for The Nature Conservancy’s Global Climate Change Team. She holds an MBA from the Wharton School of Business and an MA in International Studies from University of Pennsylvania, and is fluent in Spanish. Sarene, a mother of two, enjoys gardening and gourmet cooking.
By Sarene Marshall, The Nature Conservancy