"As we work to create light for others, we naturally light our own way." - Mary Ann Radmacher
The Cause We All Must Care About
By Molly Yuska, PGK Founder
Earth Day is Sunday, and as I sat down to write this, I thought about the fact that Earth Day really should be every day. My son, Michael, started an Eco Club at our school a couple of years ago. In addition to starting a recycliing program for our school (because they didn't have one when we arrived, if you can believe that), the group does weeky segments on the school news to raise awareness, school clean ups, and a variety other things to inform, educate and move our school to act. This week, there has been a different focus every day - from encouraging a Trash Free Lunch to a recycled art contest. As a mom, I couldn't be more proud. As a fellow human on this precious planet, I thank him for his leadership.
He informed me a couple of weeks ago that humans have consumed more resources over the past 50 years than in all of recorded history combined before that. That fact can't get out of my head. In a little more than my lifetime, we have consumed, and thrown away, and consumed some more at a rate that is most definiitely unsustainable. As much as most of us, especially those of us in country that consumes a disproportionate share of resources relative to the percentage of the population we represent, are aware of our consumption-focused tendencies, awareness is simply not enough. Each and every one of us has got to be a part of the solution.
Small tweaks - the resuable shopping bag, ditching straws or switching to compostable ones, having a compost bin, forgoing the toys in the happy meals - can all add up. If we all do it together, the collective impact can be huge.
If you are feeliing like doing more, we have some great partners offering some options this weekend (see below). EarthDay.org has some good ideas for action too. We encourage you to celebrate Earth Day in a more meaningful way this year. We encourage you to act. Saving our Planet really is the one cause we all must care about.
Nothin’ But Sand Beach Clean-up Santa Monica with Heal the Bay (4/21)
Meet the Family That Started PGK!
By Sundari Johansen, PGK Manager of Strategic Engagement
Here at Project Giving Kids, we are all constantly inspired by kids and teens who are doing good things in the world. It really gives me hope, and restores my faith in the basic goodness of people on a daily basis.
And that’s really how Project Giving Kids got started - inspired by kids who love helping their community. Our founder, Molly Yuska, was inspired by her own children, who have been volunteering their whole lives. They have helped out with food banks, disaster relief, and many other great causes.
I interviewed Molly to find out more about how this great organization got started, and about her philosophy on why it’s so important for kids and teens to get involved with volunteering and service learning.
You’ve said that your kids inspired you to start PGK. Can you tell me more about that?
I always say, I am a mom first and a nonprofit founder second. My kids inspire everything I do in some way, shape, or form.
Wanting to instill certain values, in part, drove me to start PGK. I also realized early on that their childhood, while beautiful, was very unlike most of the rest of the world. Kids only know what they experience, and I wanted to be sure my kids’ experiences were broader than what their day-to-day reality might naturally serve up. Parenting takes intentionality at a lot of different levels, and I see exposure to service and the needs of others as a one of the most important life experiences/lessons I can give my kids. I have to be very intentional about that.
What projects have your kids started that inspired you?
I see all my kids looking for little ways to bring smiles to others – whether a thoughtful card to a grandparent or a lemonade stand to support a natural disaster or sticking up for a kid at school who is “on the fringe” or otherwise being singled out.
But my oldest, Michael, took his concern for the environment to our school which had no formal recycling program when we moved to the area. He put a PowerPoint together on why recycling is so important, frightening stats on America’s waste habits, and ethical concerns about our (in)actions. He pitched the principal, and then the faculty/staff. He is now on his second year of leading the new Eco Club which he founded, and hopefully will live on long after he leaves the school.
I am inspired when I see them taking action because it is the right thing to do, even if it requires work and time and commitment. Those are good life lessons in general, but applying them selflessly to assist others is one of the most gratifying and inspiring things for me as a parent.
How do your kids inspire you every day?
Four kids is a lot! Every day there are a million things to think about and a million things to juggle, but I think having kids – my kids – have taught me, or perhaps reminded me, that the little things we do and can squeeze into the busy moments can be transformative.
I think that extends to something like service. It doesn’t have to be a big service trip to Haiti to be impactful. We raise thoughtful and caring kids through all those little moments – when we put down our phones to say “I love you” for no reason at all; or when we stop to hold the door for someone at a store, and then magically find that our kids do the same the next time around because you’ve modeled that behavior unknowingly.
Having kids quite honestly gives me hope in the future. I believe empathy and kindness are hardwired, and my kids remind me every day that all we have to do is stay connected to that.
How is volunteering good for the whole family?
I got an email the other day from a woman at our church who coordinated a family service opportunity at Christmas. We went into the home of a homebound couple from our church and spruced things up for Christmas. We ended up mostly cleaning - floors, windows, kitchen cabinets, etc. I’m not sure my kids would say it was their favorite Saturday activity, but they all got why we did it, felt good about helping someone and walked away feeling like they had been a blessing to another human being, which was great.
The email said that they couple had called last week requesting us again for this Christmas and recalling with excitement just how much that day had meant to them. I read the email to my kids and they got huge smiles on their faces. Three months after the fact, everyone was thrilled by what that small exchange had meant to all involved. I could have taken my kids to the mall that Saturday. Instead, I have a memory that none of us, or that couple, will ever forget.
As a mom, why is volunteering so important for all kids and teens?
Children have a beautiful developmental window in which volunteering can truly take root in an organic way that changes the way they view themselves and the world around them. And it has been shown that those effects last a lifetime. I want concern for neighbor to trump concern for self for my kids. I want them to know that in helping others, they are not hindering their own advancement, but rather aiding it.
I do not believe life is a zero sum game. We all do better when we help our neighbors and our communities. I want my kids to know they can make a difference, and I want them to actively seek to make that difference long after they have left our house.
Parkland's Teen Leaders
By Amy Johnson, Outreach and Marketing Manager, PGK - Bay Area
I have been working with or for youth my entire adult life. So when the tragic events of Parkland, Florida occurred last month, I was rattled to the core on both a personal and professional level. It was too easy to imagine myself huddled together with students and colleagues at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School.
Soon afterwards, I found myself consumed by media coverage of the event and its aftermath. I was overcome with emotion. Anger. Sadness. Confusion. But like many others, these feelings quickly changed. As if in an instant, I was swept up with new emotions. Hope. Inspiration. Pride. Following the event, Parkland teen survivors took immediate action and began to not just participate in, but lead, a national movement. Over the past month, Parkland teens have mobilized youth from all over the country, arranging marches, protests, and school walkouts, all of which have been captured and shared using social media.
The teens’ work has not just been for show; it has produced legislative changes. After making their voices heard at the Florida capitol, Florida Governor Rick Scott signed a bill raising the minimum age to purchase a firearm to twenty-one and extending the waiting period to three days. Additionally, three major U.S. companies, Dick’s, Walmart, and Kroger, each announced they would no longer sell guns to customers younger than twenty-one and in some cases, no longer sell assault-style rifles. Dick’s CEO, Edward Stack, credited the policy change to Parkland teen leaders, "When we take a look at what those kids and the parents and the heroes in the school, what they did, our view was if the kids can be brave enough to organize like this, we can be brave enough to take these [assault-style rifles] out of here."
Regardless of your political leanings, the maturity and leadership shown by Parkland youth over the past several weeks is admirable. These teens have been able to start and sustain a national conversation about gun reform, a task adult representatives have been unable to do for decades. In considering this, I am once again filled with hope, inspiration, and pride. For if these teens can make great change in the wake of great tragedy, imagine what they can accomplish when given the best of advantages?
At PGK, we recognize - and applaud - the power of this new generation of leaders and change makers. We hope they continue to find their voices, and to use them for good. We only hope that next time, it need not come with such tragedy and sacrifice.