Get Ready to Feel Good About Giving!

by Charlotte Long, Youth Ministry Coordinator

I went to the Chicago Laboratory High School in Hyde Park, famous for its connection to the University of Chicago. My grade was full of professors' kids, intellectual protégés and the children of some of the most well-connected families in the Midwest. It was not uncommon for the students to be well-aware of the privilege they were born into; and they spent their time either in a constant need to prove they were not affected negatively by their class/wealth OR a complete disregard for the responsibility they had been born into. So, it was without much surprise that I heard a certain girl in my homeroom freshman year complaining to our advisor about the community service requirement. And these words came out of her mouth: "If it doesn't show up on our GPA, I just don't understand why it's so important that we do it."

Okay, so no 15-year-old is ever totally psyched about going to the soup kitchen, including me. But none of us ever had the gumption to say it out loud. And in some ways I sympathize with this girl now; because she had been groomed to care about one thing, and that was what college she was going to. And maybe her parents were really hard on her. And maybe she spent a lot of time on homework to make sure she didn't disappoint anybody. And maybe community service was just something she couldn't imagine having time for. Boy, do I get that.

But at the time, sitting in the room with her, hearing her say that, I was horrified. And, nine years later, it's still really hard for me to pretend to like her whenever we run into each other.

When I was in 7th grade, my Sunday School teacher Susan came into our room all excited and showed us a short movie describing an organization called Heifer Project International. We learned that HPI is a non-profit charity dedicated to empowering communities worldwide and trying to address the problems of global hunger, while respecting the communities' natural rhythms, cultures and traditions. For HPI, this means not donating money or food, but livestock (animals) and seeds, workshops and classes. A family in need, in Cambodia, Ukraine, Rwanda, Peru or Vietnam, or elsewhere receives a living animal that can benefit for the rest of their lives: a goat, a cow, a chicken, fish, a guinea pig (feel free to ask certain members of our Junior High how a family can use a guinea pig to feed their family for years!). And then comes the really beautiful part, a cornerstone of Heifer Project that they call "Passing On the Gift."  That family must give the first offspring of their animal to another member of the community in need. And that family must do the same. And so on, until the entire community is benefiting from one animal. In the meantime, HPI provides workshops on how to care for that animal in the most energy-efficient, cost-effective way, so that taking care of the animal provides income instead of sapping it.

When I became involved with Heifer Project in grade school, I was only just becoming aware of my responsibility to my community and family, let alone to the world. But raising money with my Sunday School for HPI sent that impulse into overdrive. I suddenly cared immensely about getting a member of my church to "buy" a sheep, because I could see directly how it would effect some 13-year-old just like me. And when my Junior High class received a beautiful painted plaque from HPI congratulating us on raising enough money for 2 of every animal available to be sent somewhere in the world, I cried and cried. Probably from a mixture of pride, but also from an increasingly overwhelming sense that there was so much more I could do as a member of the human race.

In the next few weeks, look for members of our Rite 13 class (7th and 8th graders) making announcements about HPI and setting up tables for you to buy an animal for HPI. You'll have a plethora of choices! And the kids can tell you where your animal is going and how it will help the community! And we'll ring a cowbell every time someone buys a cow!