The perks of philanthropy: how schools are teaching kids to give

Click to play video: 'Why more Canadian students are getting involved in charity work'
Why more Canadian students are getting involved in charity work
WATCH ABOVE: Kids across Canada are becoming more and more active when it comes to charity and helping others. Laurel Gregory looks at how the trend is benefiting not just communities, but also the students themselves – Dec 1, 2016

It’s the time of year when we pat ourselves on the back for giving; donating money to a local charity or volunteering time to a good cause. It’s a month-long blitz in adult altruism. Yet for a lot of kids, this kind of stuff happens year-round.

A growing number of elementary and high schools have committees devoted to community work. This week, the social justice committee at St. Pius X School in Edmonton shipped hundreds of socks to a local homeless mission. Some of the committee’s other projects include reading at a seniors’ centre and handing out backpacks of necessities to people who are homeless.

“To give them that opportunity within the four walls of the school makes it really powerful for them,” teacher Sarah Adomako-Ansah said.

“They’re able to say, ‘I did that. I helped here. I did this,’ and that’s something they can carry with them as they grow up.”

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A similar student-led committee at an Etobicoke school launched a food drive this week. The POWERhouse food drive will deliver food to up to 90 families in the community this holiday season. The pride is long lasting. Grade 12 student Jennifer Bauer still remembers how it felt to drop off food to one mother last year.

“It was really emotional because when we were bringing in the food to her family she was thanking us for not forgetting her.”

While the community reaps the benefits of their generosity, research shows the students are getting intrinsic rewards too.

In 2012, Simon Fraser University social psychology researcher Lara Aknin and her team studied toddlers’ physical responses to giving. They presented the toddlers with treats (Goldfish crackers or Teddy Grahams) and asked to share with a monkey puppet. They recorded bigger smiles when a treat was shared compared to when the toddler was given the treats.

“We’ve been finding that kids, like adults, feel happier after giving things to others than after receiving things themselves,” Aknin said. “We find this is particularly true when they are engaged in costly giving, so giving away treats that belong to them as opposed to an identical treat that does not.”

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Aknin believes this kind of “prosocial behaviour’ is both innate and taught.

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Based on her own experience with the food drive, Bauer believes we give instinctively.

“We all have it in our heart…We see people on the street and we see them suffering. Everyone wants to help them out.”

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