4 Tips to Raising Kids Who Give Back

I believe strongly in raising future leaders who see giving as an important part of their leadership character.  I felt inspired, as a parent of two boys, to share a bit of my story and what I have found to impact their behavior and character.

In 2008 I organized a “hotdogs for the homeless” event in downtown Detroit.  At the time I was running a Detroit based social network and a few of my advertisers jumped at the opportunity to donate a bunch of hotdogs, water and supplies to grill and serve those in need.

We set up at St. John’s Church Detroit right next to Comerica Park on a Detroit Tigers game day.  With a big grill and a group of volunteers we started grilling dogs and packing bags.  The big memory for me that day was not just feeding the homeless, but watching my son, who was 5 years old.

To get the word out that we had food for those in need, we walked the streets with bags of food and hunted down the homeless.  My son tagged along.  With bags in hand, he took part in handing out the food and letting them know we had more food down at the church.  After 20 minutes of walking around we headed back, and waited.

As people began to pour in, the demand got hot.  I found manning the grill trying to keep up with the demand.  The rule for the group was no more than 2 dogs and 2 waters per person.  As I grilled I watched my son, Ethan, in the corner of my eye talking to a man in a wheelchair.  It wasn’t long before I saw him shoving 4+ bags of food into the pocket of his chair.  I smiled with joy – my son was righteously rebelling.

Having involved my children in volunteer work for 10 years, here are 4 tips I can offer to raising our future leaders who give back.

Choose Something that Kids Can Get Involved In

Providing them the opportunity to get in on the action is far more important than them seeing you do it.  Don’t get me wrong, seeing you in action does far more than just telling them they should care for others, but allowing them to be a part of it builds their confidence and character.  By choosing family friendly volunteer projects, you also can invite other families in the community to take part.  Most parents will see the value in it and appreciate the fact you organized something that they and their kids can get involved in.

Allow Them to Shape You

Since moving to Orlando in 2010, our family got involved with Matthew’s Hope, an organization here locally that doesn’t give handouts to the homeless, but provides counseling, health/medical, jobs, housing and many other forms of care to help rehabilitate those that want to get off the streets.  At this time my second son was getting involved.  While we were serving food to the homeless, who were working on houses, I asked my youngest to give one of the men a water.  Out of shyness, he refused.  A few minutes later, he asked if he could have some of the cookies – Frustrated, I told him that the food wasn’t for us, but for them.  When he started to whine I told him to eat the cookie because I didn’t feel like battling anymore.  Soon he was enjoying food with the homeless.  I felt like an idiot, because that’s exactly what we should have been doing.  Fast forward to the end of the day, he was working with others to pack to-go bags and has been a part of working with us since.  That day was a big wake up call for me to see the homeless as not my “work” but as people like you and I who need human interaction more than being served.


One time projects are better than none, but molding a child’s character and leadership takes consistency.  They need to see that giving is a way of life and is one of the most important roles as a leader.  Consistency also allows them to find where they fit in.  I recommend choosing something that your family can do once a month.  Your kids may start out focusing on one area of that project, but later find themselves focusing on something else.  As they get better at doing it, their confidence and ownership of the role will reap the benefits.

Stop Telling Them it’s Fun 

This is an interesting one.  When our family goes on a serving opportunity we always bring the fun.  This is just the way we’re wired.  However, serving projects are often met with non-perfect weather, hard work, and a sacrifice of personal time.  I don’t ever tell my kids it’s going to be fun, I focus on telling them we are there to care for others.  That is the focus, and that is the belief we have as leaders to help.  We can always make it fun, but the focus is giving.

Our current monthly project is providing 30 dinners for the homeless who come in once a week to Matthew’s Hope for lunch, counseling, haircuts, medical and more.  We invite our community of friends to take part, and this last month, I decided to shoot a video to show what we do and encourage others to support the organization. Here is my family:

After serving Matthew’s Hope for 6 years I was invited to join the Board of Directors in 2016.  I have never met a better organization that has proven to help the homeless get off the streets, and I am proud to serve alongside with my family, the homeless community in Orange County, FL.