Teens need service—not bribery—to get into the best colleges

As a mother of four, there are so many things I believe I probably don’t get right in the parenting department on a daily basis. My first instinct is to beat myself up over all the things I am probably doing “wrong,“ rather than focus on the things I may be getting right. But that’s human nature—I think most of us can relate.

I often jokingly say that raising my children to be kind and empathetic adults is the one piece I feel like I may be getting more right than wrong. But I even second guess that!

While I’m working on being a bit more self-forgiving, I’m also working on not standing in judgment of other moms struggling through the same stuff. I couldn’t help, however, but to be struck by the recent Hollywood college admission scandal and all that it said to me about where we are in our parenting journeys.

It is so easy to get caught up in the latest gimmick, fad, perceived advantage-creating scenario, when it comes to our children and their future success. I’ve been a witness to the helicopter parent era and now the “snowplow parent” generation. And again, as a mom of four, I totally get it.

But I’m not naive. The nonprofit I founded—Project Giving Kids—works in LA, where the college admissions scandal is centered. I have heard plenty of stories from friends and colleagues there about people taking advantage of others for the sake of preserving or advancing their own agendas.

It sometimes takes a good story for us to step back and analyze where we are and where we want to be. I am excited to see universities have now begun to say they want students of character who have engaged meaningfully in community service—not the kind that just looks good on a resume, but the kind that changes people from the inside out—and have found ways to incorporate that desire into their admission processes.

In fact, a recent survey of college admissions officers suggests that more than half consider volunteer service to be the tie breaker between equally qualified candidates. And another recent study found that over 70% of them valued four years of service to a cherished cause—which is just one reason we not only have short and simple volunteer opportunities for all ages, but are also committed to providing a variety of more in-depth, potentially long-term volunteer opportunities for teens, such as with the San Francisco Campus for Jewish Living, Ethos in Boston, or The Gentle Barn in the Los Angeles area, to name just a few.

The vast majority of admissions officers also said they were confident they could tell whether a student was really committed to volunteering for a particular cause, or only doing it to look good for admissions.

I believe that if we start those lessons of service early enough, we naturally build children of character who have a positive and meaningful view of their role in the world. They naturally become the kind of people colleges want because they are the kind of people we all want to be around, who really believe in something, and genuinely care about others.

So I will take my shock and horror over the recent scandal and put those feelings in a useful place. While I may not agree with their choices, I will not condemn the parents who made them, for we all want what is best for our kids.

Instead, I will reaffirm my commitment to raising a generation of children who know their worth not by the test scores they may or may not have rightfully earned, but by their empathy, the actions they undertake, and the positive ways in which they affect the world and those around them.

I do not believe that life is a zero-sum game.  I believe we all can win when winning is defined by the metrics that matter, most especially a life well lived—a life of honesty, integrity, meaning, and service.

14 Activities to Do Good With Your Kids This Spring

We want to say THANK YOU to everyone out there helping us spread love and kindness through acts of service!

Spring is coming, and no matter where you are, your family can make a difference in your community. Fire up your calendar—we have 14 ways to volunteer with your kids and do some good! Be sure to create an account with Project Giving Kids or download our iPhone app so that you can easily favorite and keep track of activities.

Some of these you can do anywhere in the US, and we also have great on-site volunteer opportunities for kids, teens, and families in the San Francisco Bay Area, Los Angeles, and Boston.

Everywhere

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Creating the Change at the Holidays & Beyond

We just wrapped up a successful Create the Change Day season spanning all three of our cities – Boston, LA and the Bay Area. As a small nonprofit, three major events in five weeks in three different cities was no small task. Now that the busyness of it all is in the rear view mirror, we are able to sit back, enjoy and reflect on all the good that came from those days…and there was a lot of good! (We’ve got LOTS of ways to create more good below too, so keep reading!)

Perhaps as much as anything, we are struck by how easy it was to create community in those moments. Everyone who came did so with a desire for nothing more than to make a difference. People gave up their Sunday afternoons in service to others  – no football, no Fortnite, no other distractions. In large part, they were events full of people who had never rubbed elbows before, but that didn’t matter. They were there for the same reason, and there was an energy in each of those spaces much bigger than the individuals in it. The sum was definitely greater than the parts. But that’s what happens when we build community. We become something greater than our individual parts.

As we try to impart every day, creating community does not require running for public office or leading a community-based organization (although those things are great). It is the choice to turn to one’s neighbor with a friendly smile, to pick up trash along your path when you see it, to help a friend struggling at school, to see a neighbor in need and respond with compassion.

As a part of this year’s Create The Change Days, we asked our nonprofit partners to give us  other ways youth and families could assist them in the weeks ahead. Below are PDF’s from each region which should keep anyone who is interested busy for a while. And if you aren’t from one of our regions, you will still find lots of great ideas you can take into your own community too. So will you help us keep it going? It’s the perfect time of year to look outside ourselves and let the season of hope and giving inspire us all.

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Make an Impact on Create the Change Day in 2018!

“One person can make a difference, and everyone should try.”

– John F. Kennedy

They say that Rome wasn’t built in a day. That it takes a lot of hard work to see a small change. And that tiny steps are worth celebrating just as much as big ones.

All these things are true. But sometimes, we can see a big, tangible change unfold in real time, right in front of our eyes.

Since 2016, hundreds of volunteers, including kids, parents and other community members, gather each fall in Project Giving Kids’ three home cities to spend a day making a difference. As PGK gears up for its third annual Create the Change Day, we’re reflecting on where we’ve been – and what we can still accomplish.

Create the Change events combine service opportunities for many local organizations under one roof, along with fun activities, inspirational speakers and the chance to see an immediate impact.

Interested in joining our events in Boston, San Francisco or Los Angeles (new this year)? Learn more about each
event on our website.

Last year, we:

  • Created 200 thank-you cards for veterans.
  • Assembled 520 toiletry kits for low-income and homeless individuals and families.
  • Crafted 200 pet toys for local animal shelters.
  • Collected 200 books for a library in Africa.
  • Prepped 1,000 silverware packets for St. Francis House’s annual Thanksgiving dinner.
  • Made 100 welcome-home keytags for people moving into homes for the first time.
  • Wrote 40 letters to city council members advocating for affordable housing.
  • Put together 150 shower bags for homeless women in the Boston area.

And if you don’t live in a PGK city, don’t worry; there are still plenty of ways you and your family can get involved this fall. Check out our redesigned activity finder to pick a cause and start making a difference today, wherever you are.