"Mom, I want to help"

BY SUSAN KIM | BALTIMORE | December 11, 2001

"I would encourage kids to give something of themselves rather than getting some money and buying something for somebody."

—Ann Eissfeldt

"What can I do to help?" On the three-month anniversary of the terrorist attacks -- and with Christmas rapidly approaching -- this question is on thousands of lips.

Disaster responders are sticking with the message they've been sending for three months: Send monetary donations to a reliable responding group. Don't send volunteers. And don't send material goods.

But what if kids want to help? Most children don't have a lot of money or resources. They can't really tap a personal network. But many have a strong desire to pitch in, however they can, with their own two hands.

What can kids do?

Sometimes it's as simple as encouraging young people to share their hearts with somebody in need - whether that need is related to Sept. 11 or not, said Pearl Dueck, a project director from Mennonite Disaster Service (MDS). Dueck is helping people in Houston repair homes damaged by Tropical Storm Allison, which struck in June.

"We had a volunteer team out, and one couple brought their 5-year-old girl," said Dueck. "She sat with the homeowner, who was elderly, and they just related to each other all day long."

If you're bringing kids to a post-disaster site, be sure to check with coordinating groups to see if children are permitted, added Dick Rempel, another MDS project director working in Hoisington, KS rebuilding tornado-damaged homes.

Many times kids aren't allowed at post-disaster sites and, if they are, they need to be closely supervised, Rempel said.

But the results can be fantastic, he added, for all ages. "For children that go through a disaster, one of the best ways to help them is to simply bring other children who come in and play alongside them."

With national publicity focusing on kids setting up lemonade stands and donating the profits toward Sept. 11 response, families are tending to overlook other things kids can do besides raise money, pointed out Ann Eissfeldt, a school psychologist in St. Petersburg, FL for three Lutheran schools.

"I would encourage kids to give something of themselves rather than getting some money and buying something for somebody," said Eissfeldt.

Eissfeldt, who helped respond after the shooting at Columbine High School in April 1999, emphasized that adults can encourage kids to show caring to others. "I would tell children that if they see someone being bullied, or picked on, or left out, or a kid who has gone through an illness with a parent -- to make that person something or just give them a hug."

If children feel compelled to buy something for a person in need, a gift certificate is a good choice, said Eissfeldt, because it gives the recipient the power to choose. "Giving a gift certificate enables kids to do their own buying, or it lets parents do the buying because they know what their kids want or need. So many places are national -- Toys R Us, Office Depot, Sears, JC Penney."

Another fundraising option for kids is to raise money as a class or a school, then partner with a class or school in an impacted area. "A class could purchase a gift of materials or books for another class," she said.

Financial contributions could also go toward Camp Noah, a day camp for kids impacted by disasters that is coordinated through Lutheran Disaster Response and other faith-based response groups. Or the Presbyterian-affiliated Ferncliff Camp and Conference Center in Little Rock, AR, which has been developing for several years a peer-to-peer ministry for kids affected by school violence.

Disaster Child Care, a program administered by the Church of the Brethren that deploys trained volunteers to care for children in the wake of disasters, is another meaningful, child-focused effort for which kids may want to raise money.

When possible, kid-to-kid e-mail contact is a great way for kids to see the positive impact of their gifts, added Eissfeldt.

Sometimes an e-mail pen pal does more to boost a child's spirits than any material gift could, pointed out Florence Coppola, who helps coordinate domestic disaster response for the United Church of Christ/Wider Church Ministries.

"It really does need to be supervised. But it works well when children can share happy stories - not phony positive - just real stories related to local things."

Kids can also make cards or share drawings that are positive, she added, as long as they have a definite recipient who has expressed interest in receiving them. "Otherwise it can seem to a child like an intrusion from a stranger."

Coppola also suggested that, in the wake of the terrorist attacks, kids turn their attention back to needs in their own community by making a local contribution in honor of those affected by the Sept. 11 events.

"There are so much local things kids can do, then turn around and say, 'we did this in your name.' A lot of local organizations are hurting for money right now since everybody's attention is focused on Sept. 11. Like environmental groups -- kids seem to enjoy helping groups that help animals and plants."

Sunday school classes can also hold special food drives by kids for kids, she added. "Kids could pick the foods they know other kids like -- Spaghetti Os, macaroni and cheese, stuff adults might not think of."

Adults don't always think of some of the most creative responses to need -- but kids do, pointed out Linda Reed-Brown, associate director for domestic disaster response for the Church World Service emergency response program.

Reed-Brown, who is based in New York, said one of the most creative responses to the Sept. 11 attacks came from a school for troubled boys in Kentucky. "They had taken brown jersey work gloves and painted messages on them with fabric paint. They donated them to the workers and the firefighters."

Whatever the gift, Reed-Brown said that kids -- and their parents -- should follow the direction of people who are the recipients. "Many donors feel a need for direct contact with recipients but sometimes that's a drain on the recipient. On the other hand, sometimes, direct contact with a donor can mean so much to a recipient. It depends on the person, and on the day."

For additional information, see our “Top 10 - What Can Kids do to help” link below.

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