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Never too young

Teaching children about the importance of kindness

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It was a posting on The Pape & Danforth Community Group on Facebook that got Livvy’s attention. The Grade 8 student and her classmates at The East Alternative School of Toronto (it asked that we only use her first name) were asked to brainstorm ideas for a project they could do for Giving Tuesday.

“I found someone who had posted that East United church had taken in asylum seekers and there was a list of items people could donate to help them,” she said.

Livvy brought the idea to her school, and it was picked as a project they could do to mark the day, which encourages people of all ages to take part in creative and inspiring acts of giving.

The students where soon making posters calling for the donation of hygiene products, non-perishable food and items like washcloths and towels that could be given to the church, which is hosting 30 refugees from Africa.

“There is a lot of bad stuff going on in the world all the time, too much to name,” Livvy said. “But there is still a lot of good and it is important for us to recognize that we can also do good, even if it seems like something really little compared to the huge things going on in the world.”

Julia Gutowski, a teacher at East Alternative — a small middle school with 50 students in Grade 7 and 8 — said initiatives like Giving Tuesday fits with the school’s larger curriculum.

“We have a lot of conversations with the students about social justice issues, both locally and globally,” she said. “I really think they will be the changemakers that we need in the world, but it can be a bit defeatist with everything going on. So, to be able to do something where they can contribute in some small way gives them hope and encourages them to keep going. We are teaching them how small things can make a change.”

Gutowski said this is the first year her school has been officially involved in Giving Tuesday’s Cool to be Kind campaign to engage with youth. Toni Brem, program manager for GivingTuesday Canada, said it is important to expose young people to the important of charity and philanthropy.

“Giving feels good and when things feel good the chance of repeating the behaviour is really high,” Brem said. “It is important to create an environment that promotes generosity and empowers youth in changemaking.”

She said that was the goal behind Cool to be Kind, a program that provides teachers across Canada with resources so they can start a generosity-related project in their classroom to mark Giving Tuesday. This year close to 3,000 youth are participating.

Among the projects they are taking part in are warm clothing drives, volunteering with charities and baking goods for food banks.

Along with Cool to be Kind, GivingTuesday Canada has also launched Disability Gives to amplify the voices of people with disabilities.

“There is this notion of viewing people with disabilities as requiring support, which is true, but we are all multifaceted and those that need support also have the capacity to give,” said Brem. “It is more of an awareness campaign, building on that notion and engaging with different groups to highlight ability and generosity in the disability community.”

Danjela Malobabic is the principal at the Beverley School, which serves the most vulnerable and medically complex students in the Toronto District School Board. All its students have been diagnosed with a developmental or physical disability and have some sort of communication device — such as eye-based technology or a voice box — to ensure their voices are heard.

“It is probably among the most magical schools you will ever encounter in your life,” she said.

They are participating in Giving Tuesday by creating and decorating one-ofa-kind bandanas that will be offered on a pay-what-you-can basis to the school community and parents. Proceeds will go toward a special project where the school can then thank some of the people who regularly support the students. Malobabic said creating bandanas made sense since the students use them regularly, in their hair or as something to hold in their hands.

“Every child was able to participant, whether they splattered paint on them or did silk screening or coloured them — all of our children,” she said. “When I say all of them, I mean our students in wheelchairs or who have very limited mobility are still able to have a part in creating and participating.

“What we are doing is showcasing all the students’ abilities and their generosity. That is why I emphasize ‘every single student.’ That is the primary goal here. Whenever we do something, it is ensuring that every child can participate and it is that recognition that no matter what any other child can do, that our students are able to do it as well. We find a way for them to participate and give back.”

And, ensuring all children see themselves as having the capacity to be agents of change is what Giving Tuesday is all about, said Brem.

“Most people might typically think both groups are recipients of generosity, so I love this notion of empowering them to know they also have the capacity to give, and it doesn’t need to be financially, there are so many ways you can contribute,” she said.





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