Today’s post is by guest blogger, Sandy Barry-Loken (yes, the Sandy Barry-Loken who is Director of Greater Kalamazoo Girls on the Run). Sandy shares a family tradition that could easily become a tradition you may want to establish with your family.
It’s December 26th and Nana has gathered her six grandchildren around the ping pong table. Ages 13, 11, 10, 9, 6, and 6, every kid gathers round and anticipation fills the air. These kids know they are not about to play a single game of ping pong – they are about to help change the world.
Their Nana, Marilyn Loken, was taught early on by her father, a medical doctor, and her mother who assisted him, that giving back and serving others is not only necessary, but a responsibility. This is a value that she is committed to passing on to her grandchildren.
Starting eight years ago, Loken had an idea to involve her grandchildren in her annual year-end giving. So, every year, after the gifts are open and dinner has been served, another tradition ensues at the Loken household. These kids help give Nana and Poppa’s money away to causes they believe in – and this year, they believed inCommunities In Schools of Kalamazoo.
This is how it works. The kids gather and Nana rounds the table giving the four older kids $100 in play money in a variety of bills – twenties, tens, and fives. The two six-year olds each are given a total of $50. Then, Nana asks the all-important question, “What organizations do you want to help this year?” Suddenly, a kid-friendly brainstorming session begins.
Hands go up in the air. The youngest ones bounce in their places. With grandparents and parents who volunteer and include a nurse, a police officer and the director of non-profit organization, the six Loken kids have no trouble making a list of causes they want to get behind. While the kids call out organizations and explain why they want to help them, Nana writes down their suggestions on small slips of paper and begins to spread them around the table. This is fun, but every grandkid knows the best part is yet to come. They know it won’t be long before they get to walk around the perimeter of the table and place their dollar bills on the causes that mean the most to them. They can place all of their money on one, or spread it out amongst several.
It’s no surprise that the furry friends of the world have benefited greatly through the years – these are kids, after all. Not only have Paws With a Cause, and Loken’s son’s K-9 unit made the list, but Heifer International has been a favorite as well. The little ones scurry around the edge and think of the milk that will serve a village when they give $10 to help buy a goat or a sheep for a community.
As the kids are getting older, they are paying attention to stories they hear about—the many people who do not have a roof over their head, or enough food for their table. So this year, organizations like Mecosta County Habitat for Humanity, where Marilyn Loken is a member of their board of directors, also benefited.
There was one other organization this year that tugged on the heart strings of all of the kids – Communities In Schools. Nicholas, 13, the oldest of the kids, made the nomination. He remembered his mom coming home from work one day and telling the story of two brothers at an elementary school who were sharing a single coat through the winter – until a CIS site coordinator learned of the need and presented each with his own. The Lokens had also heard about the students -who cannot wait for Friday. While the Loken kids know that for them, Friday means a break from the busy school week, they were moved to learn there are other students in Kalamazoo Public Schools who anxiously await Friday because that is when their CIS site coordinator presents them with a Kalamazoo Loaves & Fishes backpack full of food to get them through their weekend. It was sad for them to learn that kids in their communities don’t get enough to eat. But they now realize, thanks to Communities In Schools, more kids are getting the help they need when school is not in session to provide them with their basic meals.
And so, when Nana’s $500 was carefully distributed around the room among five different organizations, Communities In Schools was the recipient of $140 of these dollars, and the Loken grandkids knew they were making the world a better place. And Nana knew, so was she.