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The Focused Student: Learning to give

Philanthropy, according one dictionary, is defined as "love of humanity demonstrated by practical kindness and helpfulness." With the holidays here we will all have ample opportunities to demonstrate "practical kindness and helpfulness." Many of us will give and volunteer to help organizations and causes we feel strongly about. Where did we learn this trait and how do we instill it in our children?

Most of it was learned by family example. It wasn't so much that our parents sat down and told us to be philanthropic; it's that we saw what they did in making gifts of money, food or effort to worthy groups. Whether it was helping a neighbor, friend, organization or joining a civic group, we saw them give of themselves, with no expectation of a return other than emotional.

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Philanthropy is, at its core, about compassion. Compassion for siblings, friends, pets, bugs, environment, special causes and especially those less fortunate. And it is not just about giving money. Being active in a cause was even more of a teaching lesson. These values were taught through the family, and more often by example than word.

School was another opportunity to expand on those virtues. Private schools had a little more leeway than public schools yet each would incorporate the basic ideals mentioned above into classroom lessons, playground activities, and schoolwide projects such as collecting shoes, personal care items or toys during the holidays.

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If you went to a church, synagogue, temple or other religious institution, you heard more about sharing and compassion. In fact, giving a portion of your allowance or income was included in most services. Many sermons, readings and teachings were based on compassion, sharing and volunteering. It was instilled in those who attended the services. Our parents most likely dictated the policy when we were younger until it became habit and we had gotten old enough to understand and make that decision.

Finally, there could be a certain cause or life-changing event that creates a moment when we feel that something needs to be done. In fact, many medical organizations receive help from survivors of cancer or people who have had relatives or friends with the disease. We also learn about philanthropy when we become passionate about a particular subject.

Since the family factor is the greatest influence on philanthropy, think about how you can set an example of caring and compassion for those in your family. Talk with your children about why we need to care about more than just ourselves, and how and why we feel compassion for others. Help younger family members understand that they can make a difference, whether by giving time or money. Then do it. Teach by example. Volunteer effort as a family to feed the poor at Thanksgiving, take part in a charitable walk or run, or volunteer time at a senior center.

The holidays offer ample opportunities to be philanthropic. But help your youngsters understand that compassion and philanthropy are something to be thought about and done year-round, not just as a one-off holiday effort. With any luck at all, philanthropy will become a lifelong habit for them, and they will help make the world a better place.

I wish you the best during the holiday season.

ROBERT FRANK is the executive director of the Hillside School and Learning Center in La Cañada. He holds a master's of science degree in special education and has more than 40 years of teaching experience. His column appears on the last Thursday of each month. He can be reached at frank@hillsideforsuccess.org.

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