“Love is not patronizing and charity isn’t about pity, it is about love. Charity and love are the same — with charity you give love, so don’t just give money but reach out your hand instead.” ― Mother Teresa
As an adult I have found one universal truth – offering your hand to help others is the secret to fulfillment. When I am able to do anything for someone else, it fills me with joy and in a strange way gives me strength in the form of gratitude. I know it sounds counterintuitive, but the more I do for others the more gratitude and love I feel. As a child, I was always a motivated helper. I pitched in without being asked and often wanted to surprise my mother by doing things to help her. It was innate in me to think about what I could do to make her happy. In looking at my own children, I often see glimpses of this. The way they light up when they scheme to surprise me with a handmade gift or by unexpectedly doing a chore. But, I also know that this spirit of giving has to be fostered and cultivated. We need to encourage kindness, selflessness and place a value on helping others. We also need to look for ways to help outside of our own homes — although it’s not always easy to know where to start. It’s also not easy to know the best way to foster the next generation of helpers.
This is why I was drawn to the story of Aditi Verma, a Washington DC area mother of two who helped establish an organization that connects people wanting to help with individuals or organizations in need of assistance. Aditi, along with Priti Bansal, created HelpingTown in September 2012.
Their inspiring vision statement says it all: “HelpingTown has been born, as a vision to enable grassroots volunteerism in every community, as a conviction that our collective spirit of giving is boundless, and as an ultimate dream to strengthen the bonds of love that tie us all together into one human brotherhood. ”
Please read Aditi’s start-up story and learn how you can get involved. One of my favorite ways to support their mission – other than signing up yourself – is to purchase their children’s book Sal, Let’s Help. The book is a great tool to start a conversation with your children about the importance of being a helper and taking on responsibilities.
What is HelpingTown’s main mission?
Our mission is to connect people who have the skills, time and resources to help individuals or organizations that need assistance. Research shows that people who volunteer and give back to the community not only have a sense of connection, but it can improve their mental health and they can live longer. We want to make giving back easier by providing an internet-based forum that empowers people to ask for help and enables grass-roots volunteerism to reach it. You don’t necessarily have to be in same city or state. With today’s technology you could be 1000 miles apart and still be able to help each other. At HelpingTown we hope to make that possible by providing a proper medium to connect these people and organizations. HelpingTown.com is free for people to register and post their needs or interest to help.
Why is helping and volunteerism so important to you personally?
I believe the spirit of helping and volunteerism is important because it brings out the best in people. It makes the people who are receiving help happy but more importantly it is even more fulfilling for people who are helping. In fact, people who are helping or giving get a lot more out of it. Here is one of the many examples how giving back helped me:
Since childhood, I loved to dance. As a child, I volunteered and performed at many charitable events. I was giving back to the community by doing what I loved. Fast-forward a few years, when I was completing my Masters at the University of Pennsylvania. I started a non-profit with a mission to raise funds for different charities by putting on a dance show. Due to my experience in performing since childhood, I was able to choreograph and teach multiple dance acts that were performed on the day of the show. I was also able to quickly learn the acts choreographed by others and be there as a backup dancer when there was a need. The event was a huge success. Although the goal was to give back, I ended up learning valuable skills needed to organize a formal event, market an event and raise funds. These skills have helped me in my professional and personal life and also with my very first venture, HelpingTown. It truly works like Francis of Assissi said, “For it is in the giving that we receive.”
Why in your opinion is it important to teach this to our children? Is this something that needs to be taught?
Teaching your child to give back is important, as giving to others is an important part of a well-rounded individual. The easiest way to encourage your child to volunteer is by engaging him or her in doing good deeds. Although there are many ways to engage children in doing good deeds, the best and most effective way is start with small tasks around the home. By doing small tasks around the house such as putting toys away, watering plants, washing hands before and after meals, etc. children develop a sense of responsibility and good manners. These characteristics coupled with awareness of helping and giving back ensure that your child grows up to be an empathetic and caring person.
When and how can parents start teaching kids to be helpers?
The best age to start teaching kids to be helpers is between 3 and 6. Children are very generous and giving by nature; at this age, they have the motor and communication skills to express this nature. Since they are most comfortable in their own homes, the easiest way to start is by including them in household tasks. Children imitate what parents do and so it is important to be role models from the beginning. Additionally, reading them books that encourage helping and good manners can further solidify the message and make it more appealing for children to do such tasks. Sal Let’s Help is a children’s book that does exactly that. Prita and I wrote this as a way to support HelpingTown, while also sharing this message with children.
Sal, Let’s Help is a story of a furry little bear who lives in a treehouse with his mommy and daddy bear. Sal, in the course of a regular day, is faced with various household tasks. Sal meets these tasks with bubbly enthusiasm. Sometimes, there are tasks that he doesn’t find entertaining but Mommy Greene knows exactly how to change that.
Why did you write the book?
Our inspiration to write this book comes from our children – Yash, Ishaan, Aditi and Rohan. Rohan has Autism and Verbal Apraxia and his parents are in constant need of volunteers for Rohan’s play therapy program. Seeing amazing volunteers making a huge impact on Rohan’s journey made us realize that we want our children to also experience the happiness that comes from helping. Our children’s ages range from 3 to 7 and so we felt the best way to encourage them to help and take responsibility is by helping around the house. Other parents we talked to also shared the same interest. So we searched for such books. Although we found many wonderful books teaching numbers, colors, animal names or letters, we couldn’t easily find books that instilled character and basic values of daily life. Hence we decided to write our own book.
The book is really created by the children for the children. Our children, Yash and Aditi created the very first Sal, which further evolved to what is in the book. The original story was read to group of children between the ages of 3 and 6. Based on their reactions and feedback, the storyline was improved.
Children really connect with Sal and the different tasks that Sal does with his parents. We noticed a change in our children as well. They were more observant, asking how they can help around the house and eager to complete the simple tasks given to them. With the help of the book, parents will be able to emphasize good manners, involve and encourage their children to help with simple tasks around the house daily and instill a sense of responsibility.
How can people buy the book and/or support HelpingTown?
The book, fully funded by a kickstarter project, was released this spring and is now available on Amazon.com, BarnesandNoble.com and Booksamillion.com. For a sneak peek into the book, go to http://www.helpingtown.com/sal/.
All the proceeds from the book will further improve and build HelpingTown.com, allowing for our mission to continue to expand. For the latest information on what we are up to please visit the HelpingTown Facebook Page.