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.