It’s January and with a few notable exceptions the U.S. is cold today. Most of the Midwest, East Coast and Plains are in the 20 degree range. Meanwhile, all over the country, there are homeless people living on the freezing streets and in the city of Nashville, TN, there are about 2200 on the streets this year.
Whatever the contributing factors are, all over the country you'll find families, veterans, runaway youth and re-entry populations who call cardboard boxes and the underside of bridges home.
When Sofie Hoolhorst, a five-year old girl heard about a homeless man on a freezing night in another state, she motivated her family to join her in an effort to collect coats and blankets for those who were homeless in her home city of Nashville.
Five-years old and she’s concerned about those who are homeless. Where does that come from? Trust me. Five-year olds are not naturally overly generous. These kinds of responses from children are the direct effect of family members who talk about helping others and parents who involve their young children in conversations that point out ways to alleviate hurt and provide for others’ desperate needs.
When it is a family goal to be a help to others, children soak it up like a sponge. Then, when they are confronted with an opportunity to respond they jump at the chance.
So when Sophie wanted to help, the Hoolhorsts’ put the word out and collected donated coats and blankets. Then they walked the streets of downtown Nashville to meet, greet and provide for those living outside in the cold, giving birth to a movement called “Let’s Warm Nashville."
The Hoolhorst legacy is one of imaginative effort on behalf of others—expecting nothing in return—unless, of course, you count a deep feeling of contentment and peace. How great is that?
In this space I talk a lot about people who have done amazing things for someone else. But this story is about an engineer who has affected the lives of more than a million people. His name is Don Schoendorfer and he was on a trip to Morocco when he saw a woman drag herself by her hands across a dirt road as she dodged traffic.
That vision led him to develop an inexpensive but durable wheelchair that he hoped would change the lives of people like her. Since he began, his Free Wheelchair Mission (FWM) has given away almost a million wheelchairs. In 2015 alone, FWM gave away 74,000+ wheelchairs in 37 countries.
This young man is one of those recipients. His name is Soun and he lives in Roarng Leu Village in Cambodia. Since 2006, when he fell and suffered a spinal cord injury, he has been unable to work. As in the case of most paralyzed people, he suffered from depression and sadness because he could not care for his wife and children. Said Soun, “I prayed to God for a wheelchair,” prayers that were answered when he received a GEN_1 wheelchair through FWM’s partner, CBN Cambodia.
Whenever FWM’s wheelchairs are distributed, crowds come out to see what is happening. Villagers are incredulous to see care being shown to the least among them. No longer dirty, stuck at home and left out of society, the wheelchair recipients come alive again and are always struck with awe and gratitude and the new life they have been given.
Free Wheelchair Mission has identified its passion and concentrated its efforts on changing the lives of the world’s disabled poor, one person at a time. It is a move Jim and I strongly promoted in our book, World Changing Generosity. Each of us has the opportunity to look at a hurting world and to identify our own passions.
What moves the needle with you? Do you care about childhood diseases, clean water efforts, teaching agricultural methods, ending homelessness, or any of the other needs in the world? Find your passion, locate, learn about, and support those charitable efforts that you care most about. You will be doing the good in the world you have always wanted to do.
I am babysitting today for a seven year-old (Jack) and a 10 year-old (Katie).They love to drag out an old barn and two houses from the toy chest and set them up. The barn makes a long "mooooo" sound when you open the doors, and comes with a herd of two-inch horses, cows and people that these two love to make stories about and just let their imaginations create a world for.
Today they decided the barn and houses were the Triple “C” Farm, which stands for the family’s (pretend) Corn County Company, a firm that produces organic vegetables and provides organic milk to local groceries. The two-inch people had a grand time today. There was a proposal, a wedding and a round-up of all the horses. But most importantly, we talked about the way the farm makes money and how the family spends it when it is paid for a product the farm produces.
We made $5,000 pretend money from the sale of milk this day. So I asked them if they remember what we do with money. They remembered: “We save some, spend some and give some.” So, we figured out that we should think about giving at least $500 and talked about the charities we know about that we’d like to support. The kids came up with one that cares for wild horses. We pretended to give that one $50. Then we gave a charity that feeds hungry children half of the rest, $225, and the other half went to a pretend orphanage in Haiti.
All that might sound silly. But, these kids have developed a real vocabulary for giving. They have exercised a thought process and discussion process for deciding what charities do the kind of caring work that matters to them. And, maybe most importantly, the idea of giving away part of the money they have is an exciting opportunity that they embrace.
Generosity in a “me” oriented society may not be a child’s natural tendency, but given a little education and an opportunity to volunteer and give real money in child-appropriate situations, these kids can surpass the understanding of their peers in one of the most important lessons of life: The lesson that it is better to give than receive.
Raising a generous generation is up to us. All it takes is a little time for some fun.