Rory Anderson, Foster Division vice president,  LiFT Consulting

The word “selfie” was added to the Oxford Dictionary in 2013, validating what parents were already very aware of: Our kids are growing up in a time when words like “altruistic” and “charitable” are becoming rare. Furthermore, purposeful and deliberate acts of altruism and selflessness are rolling by the wayside as we get caught up in our own lives and the busyness that raising kids brings. If you’re experiencing parenthood like I am, sometimes it feels like we barely have time to do anything but rush our children from one activity to the next before coming home and passing out from sheer exhaustion.

However, service and generosity are virtues that must be taught and, more importantly, practiced. Several years ago, as I was driving to a mall in California to do holiday shopping, I noticed a homeless man on the side of the road getting drenched by the freezing rain. I had four small children in my car and knew I was taking a chance when I rolled down my window and waved him over to the parking lot. I didn’t have any cash to give him, but I had the quilt my mom made for me when I went off to college. The quilt meant a lot to me, but, seeing his need greater, I handed it over to him. I’m not sure how significant this modest gift was to him, but for me this symbolized a turning point in my service to others, sacrificing my own wants for the needs of someone else. After that experience, I knew I needed to guide my children to learn selflessness and generosity.

Parents can teach simple selflessness in a variety of ways and settings. One day we were driving to a store as a family and noticed a young man carrying a lot of groceries. We stopped and asked him if he’d like a ride. We discovered that he was an athlete from out of the country and didn’t have a vehicle. He was extremely grateful for a ride to his apartment, and my husband and I were grateful for the opportunity to teach our children that we can help anyone — even strangers. My family has also been the recipient of kind acts of service from strangers, so I know how meaningful and important even seemingly trite acts of kindness can be.

I’ve been touched by watching many a mom and dad come up with unique ways to teach their children to serve others. Here are a few ideas to try:


Service around the neighborhood
  • Mow a lawn for an elderly neighbor.
  • Drop a treat on someone’s doorstep anonymously.
  • Clear snow off of someone’s driveway and walkway.
  • Rake a neighbor’s leaves and clean their gutters.
  • Offer to take a young mother’s children for the afternoon so she can take a nap or clean her house without interruption.
Service around the community
  • Involve your kids in Meals on Wheels — many elderly people LOVE having young people in their homes.
  • Volunteer at the Food Pantry together.
  • Take a walk to a grocery store or restaurant and pick up trash on the side of the road (then end with getting an ice cream cone!).
  • Humanitarian Birthday Party: Instead of asking for presents, ask for people to bring a donation for CAPSA or The Family Place, then deliver together.
  • Family Fun Day: Go to a store and give each child $10 to $20. Their goal is to find someone to give the money to.
  • Visit to find a multitude of immediate needs in our community.