Meet the Family That Started PGK!

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.