Beth Nowak was a kindergarten teacher for 12 years. During that time, she noticed many changes to the educational system, but there was one thing stayed the same: each year, the 5- and 6-year-old students entering her classroom displayed an amazing capacity for love and desire to help their peers.
However, Nowak says, the changes to the educational system placed ever-increasing expectations on these little ones to keep up with over-committed schedules while performing well on developmentally inappropriate testing. “This caused my students to feel stressed and show anxiety at an early age,” she adds. “It just broke my heart.”
Students were no longer seeing those positive outlets they needed. According to Nowak, “Student of the Month” programs dwindled and the negativity created social and emotional issues such as bullying because of this lack of encouragement.
“When I realized that parental involvement, early intervention and consistency are the pillars of early childhood education, I wanted to proactively help my own children develop their innate abilities to be kind, compassionate and generous before it was too late,” explains Nowak. “I wanted to set out to create activities that would enable them to put those skills to good use and develop over time.”
That’s when she came up with the idea of Giving Families. It’s like Upworthy with a dash of Disney and a call to action. Nowak says Giving Families, which launched in November 2013, provides parents with fun and easy activities that support kid-friendly causes so they can make memories with their children while also making a difference in the world around them.
“Parents are undoubtedly the most important influence in a child’s life. Giving Families works by encouraging parents and children to give together – leading by example,” says Nowak. “While random acts of kindness are great, intentional acts of compassion and generosity are even better so Giving Families has created a combination of online and offline activities that help parents teach children valuable lessons and enable children to mimic the positive behaviors of their parents.”
You can create a free family account by visiting www.givingfamilies.com. You’ll then begin receiving monthly “Giving Challenges” by email and each challenge is a quick, simple activity that can be completed at any time, anywhere. They’re seasonal in nature and most are an extension of activities families are already doing, but they include a slight variation that introduces a specific cause and an easy way for families to support it.
When you sign up for a Giving Families account, you’ll also be given access to the organization’s easy-to-use Giving Platform that’s especially beneficial for children learning financial literacy skills based of the save-spend-give philosophy.
“Operating on a unique ‘credit-based’ system, tech-savvy children have the ability to log-in to their family’s account on a regular basis, learn about a variety of causes and support the ones they care about the most without requiring the use of a parent’s credit card,” explains Nowak.
Giving Families is an organization unlike any other, according to Nowak.”It helps families strengthen their bond through shared moments of giving,” she explains. “While going to the zoo or park is one thing, intentionally spending time with your children so you can teach them valuable life lessons is another.”
Giving Families is also unique because of all the added benefits, such as: children learning financial literacy skills as they save-spend-give in meaningful ways, broadening their global perspective without experiencing guilt or obligation, participating in activities that make them feel good about themselves and beginning to feel like they’re a part of something larger than themselves – a community of givers.
Since getting started, Giving Families has grown mostly by word of mouth. “Families who have been engaging with us the longest are doing the most talking as they’ve been able to see first-hand the difference in their child’s behaviors and want to help other parents experience the same benefits,” Nowak says.
The organization has been recognized multiple times in its short time. They recently presented at the TEDx event held at Xavier University in April, received an Honorable Mention in Stanford University’s Center for Compassion & Altruism Research & Education’s “Compassion & Technology Competition” in December 2013, earned the Alumnae of Excellence Award as a Leader of Promise from the Girl Scouts in November 2013, was selected as a finalist in the Duke Energy Museum Center’s Difference Maker Awards in November 2013 and received an Honorable Mention as the “Best Social Entrepreneur” In Grow America’s ‘She Can Pitch’ Competition in May 2013.
As for the future of Giving Families, Nowak says the organization has connected with Yale University’s Center for Social and Emotional Intelligence and have plans to collaborate with their growing Parenting Program.
If you’re interested in becoming involved in the July challenge, Nowak says it’s called “Feed People, Not Landfills.” She’s still finalizing the details but she believes families will be surprised at how easy it is to involve children in these activities.