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.

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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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A Baller with Heart: Aidan Disney

by Sundari Johansen & Molly Yuska

Sometimes it’s great to be reminded of how dedicated and caring kids and teens can be, and how rewarding it is to give kids the opportunity to participate in volunteer service from a young age. Taking families on that journey is really what Project Giving Kids is all about.

We recently sat down for a video chat with Aidan Disney, a 14-year-old basketball lover and active community volunteer in Los Angeles, and his mom, Sheri. What’s remarkable about Aidan isn’t that his great-grandfather, Roy O. Disney, was Walt Disney’s brother. It’s that at such a young age, he’s already made a pretty big impact.

“I got it from her,” Aidan says about his mom, Sheri, when asked why he has such a heart for helping others. Sheri felt it was crucial to get Aidan actively involved in volunteering and philanthropy from a young age. She wanted to be intentional about creating a culture of giving in their family. That’s why before Aidan even hit elementary school, he had already delivered his birthday presents to pediatric patients at Children’s Hospital Los Angeles. From there, it grew to annual participation with PGK partner Big Sunday and their annual big weekend of giving — something they still do! And when it came time for his bar mitzvah, Aidan dedicated this milestone event to Stand Up to Cancer, a charity that helped his family when his big sister, Charlee, was diagnosed with non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma at age 20, raising an astounding $12,000!

As a fourth grader passionate about both basketball and charitable work, Aidan was chosen by a friend to take over RePlayce With Love, a community service project at his school in North Hollywood that collects new and used sports equipment and gives it to children in need. With his mom’s active support, the program has thrived under his leadership.

My favorite part is the feeling you get that you know you’ve helped someone. The warm feeling that you have inside of you, knowing that somebody has a better life now because you helped them,” says Aidan.

Now he’s starting high school, passing the reins of RePlayce With Love on to another student, but he has no intention of slowing down his efforts for others. In fact, as he gets older, it is clear Aidan is developing a deeper understanding of just how impactful his efforts – and those of others – can be. He has become passionate about making positive change, actively supporting the work of the Human Rights Campaign, the I Have a Dream Foundation, Pediatric Cancer Research Foundation’s Dribble For a Cure, Meet Each Need with Dignity (MEND), and other organizations working toward racial and economic justice. “One thing that I do really believe in is equality, and I want to see that in the world, [but] I don’t… I can do something, I want to keep being part of it.”

Aidan has seen first hand the impact that even one dedicated person, and one dedicated family, can have by simply showing up. And he wants other teens to know that’s all you have to do.

A lot of teens each have their own passions and hobbies, and see the wrongs they want to right in the world. If you want to see a change in the world, you have to be the change… They can make a difference, no matter what.

Having recently joined the Mid Valley Chapter of National League of Young Men, a leadership and service organization for young men and their mothers during the high school years, there is no doubt this Disney will do a lot more good in the years ahead and leave quite a legacy of his own.