What does Generosity mean to you?
During this AAseason of the year, Generosity – and its cousin, Charity – are very much in our thoughts. Although Americans are surprisingly tight-fisted, typically giving away less than two percent of our income, Alabama traditionally ranks among the highest states for charitable giving. And we give untold hours working at food banks, animal shelters and in community gardens.
The concept of Generosity is crucial to 4-H youth. It is one of our four key values, along with Belonging, Independence and Mastery. Youth development scientists recognize through the development of Generosity, young people grow as human beings and as contributing members of families and communities.
Generosity means giving freely, without expecting anything in return. It is that impulse going beyond taking our out-dated clothing to Good Will or scurrying to find end-of-the-year tax deductions. It means true kindness coming directly from the heart, and it’s wonderfully bound up with empathy, forgiveness and human decency.
One does not have to look far to see amazing, heart-felt acts of goodness from Alabama 4-H club members.
One of the most wonderful stories is of Alex Boatwright, a Cullman fifth grader and avid 4-H skeet shooter. Alex had worked hard in his grandfather’s chicken houses, mowing lawns and baling hay. He had his eye on a crucial piece of skeet shooting equipment. Then Alex heard the story of 15-month-old Aspen Brown, the granddaughter of his former kindergarten teacher. Little Aspen has Tay-Sachs disease, a relentless and destructive illness.
Alex’s school, Welti Elementary, was sponsoring a "Penny War" to help Aspen undergo an experimental treatment. As the other kids dropped in their nickels and pennies, Alex quietly slipped in his $50 bill, a substantial portion of his savings. He thought less about his shooting equipment and more about little Aspen, and his own cousin Trevor, who had once dealt with childhood leukemia. Altogether, the kids of Welti Elementary were able to pitch in more than $1,400 to aid with Aspen’s treatment.
And, as wonderful as Alex’s gift is, it is but one example of the genuine kindness and generosity of 4-H kids. Every day, 4-H kids stand up for the kid who is being bullied. They help the other kids in class "who don’t read so good." They teach younger siblings to tie their shoes and ride bikes, and they are kind to animals.
Then there are the dozens of amazing stories of how 4-H clubs demonstrate Generosity. The kids at DAR Elementary in Marshall County helped collect can tabs to support Ronald McDonald house in Birmingham. Along with service, they learned basic 4-H skills like organization and communication.
The Fayette/Lamar/Marion County 4-H Regional Council annually undertakes a major service project. This year, the group not only collected supplies for an inner-city Birmingham homeless shelter, they served lunch to the residents and talked with them about their families and the troubling hardships that led them there.
As part of Kids Care Week in October, Cherokee County’s Gaylesville School 4-H Club adopted an animal shelter. They have contributed pet items and raised funds–and at least two of the club members found a pup to call their own. But there is also unique learning about animal care and the logistics of running and maintaining an organization.
Baldwin County’s Southern Jumpers 4-H Horse Club celebrated "Pet Celebration & 4-H Day" with a bake sale, a plant sale, donations for a homemade horse quilt, pony rides and a petting zoo—all to support an animal rescue center and a program providing therapeutic riding for the disabled.
Under the leadership of 16-year-old Shannon Gragg, a Jefferson County group collected more than 400 Beanie Babies for overseas soldiers to share with local children, and West Alabama’s Clever Clovers 4-H Club worked with the American Red Cross and SAFE (Stuffed Animals for Emergencies) to collect toys, books and blankets to be handed out to children after emergencies.
And the amazing young people in Jackson County 4-H focused on hunger within their own county. Kids in Jackson County 4-H have collected enough spare change to purchase more than two-and-a-half tons of food for those in need within their county!
In 4-H, we always refer back to the scientific basis of our work. University research indicates giving your time and money has its own rewards. Generosity may help you be healthier, happier and live longer, just as mean-spiritedness has a negative impact. And research clearly shows the accumulation of material goods has no link to a person’s happiness, while spending on others and charity will significantly boost your happiness.
We always say, "If it isn’t fun, it isn’t 4-H!" If you look at the faces of 4-H kids who are actively practicing generosity, part of that fun is based on simply doing good things.
Chuck Hill is the 4-H Youth Development Specialist.