Teaching Kids About Homeless Giving & the Value of Charity

Sheri Reed

homeless man
Flickr photo by ab.photo
When you pull up to a stop light where a person holding a cardboard "HOMELESS" sign stands, what do you do? Do you dole out a dollar? Or do you roll your window up tightly before rolling to a stop? And if you do the latter, what do you tell your kids? Does one action make you a more compassionate person...or not?

Lisa Novick, mom and co-founder of YesKidzCan!, a do-good company that helps parents raise kids who like to give, is here today with a story about her own personal decision of how to approach this situation, especially with her daughter in tow.

The Drive I Dread
by Lisa Novick

My daughter and I run a lot of errands together. Most of the time we figure out a way to make going to the grocery store or gas station or bank fun. But there is one part of these routine stops that has given me some anxiety. Standing on the median at the same intersection pretty much any time we drive by is the same man with a cardboard sign that reads, “Homeless. Can you spare some change? Hungry, looking for work. God bless.”

The man is wearing jeans, a plaid shirt and work boots. He has a severe limp and uses a cane. I notice all these things because we drive along side of him -- always in a perfect position to roll down the window and hand him some change. So what do I do? I press the automatic lock for my car doors. My daughter immediately asks, “Why did you lock the doors, mom?”  

I am not proud of this response. On one hand, it is an automatic motherly instinct to keep my daughter safe from an unknown person who is not behaving in a typical fashion. On the other hand, I ask myself why am I not showing compassion -- particularly in front of my daughter?

I have thought a lot about this. My daughter knows I am a compassionate person. We have talked at length about the plight of people who are living on the streets or in shelters and the need to support them. I have chosen to support them by donating money or goods to shelters or nonprofits that help the homeless because I know my contributions are being directed appropriately.

The hard truth is that I decided to draw the line at rolling down my car window when my daughter is in the car. Part of my concern comes from an article in local paper from several years ago that profiled people who were posing as homeless people. Their impersonation was their creative approach for either an occupation or for funding their drinking or drug habits.

Since my daughter is now old enough to understand these nuances, I have explained to her exactly why I lock the car door and prefer to support the homeless in a way that gives me greater confidence that I am actually helping.

So, I ask this: Can I be compassionate and a skeptic on this issue at the same time? I guess my answer is that I will have to live with being both.

To learn more about Lisa Novick or about bringing "giving experiences" into your kids' lives, visit YesKidzCan!

Do you have a similar approach to homeless giving when you're out and about with your kids? Why or why not?

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