Teens and charity

A Christian Science perspective on daily life

Musicians and bands, participating in a program called "You Got 2 Give 2 Get," were giving free concerts for teenagers who agreed to donate four hours of their time to various charities. When they completed the required time, they were given concert tickets worth approximately $100.

The program encouraged teens to see the importance of including volunteerism in their lives - something, the article said, they probably wouldn't do on their own ("To get to the concert, help the neighborhood," The Christian Science Monitor, Oct. 12).

What about this carrot-on-a-stick approach to contributing - getting teens to volunteer by offering them incentives? Doesn't this assume that teenagers are too self-absorbed and indifferent to the suffering of others?

And is volunteering important enough to warrant the efforts of organizations such as the concerts program? Or is it enough that their parents donate the money until the kids are more mature and able to make the decision of charitable giving on their own, when they have more means?

Mary Baker Eddy, who founded Christian Science, pointed out the effect that loving one's neighbor has on the individual and the community. In her book "Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures" she wrote, "Unselfish ambition, noble life-motives, and purity - these constituents of thought, mingling, constitute individually and collectively true happiness, strength, and permanence" (p. 58).

That phrase "noble life-motives" stands out to me. Isn't that what the desire to give really is?

I think about Jesus, watching contributors in the temple line up to drop their offerings into the collection plate. According to the account in Luke 21, there were people in line who were wealthy and wouldn't miss the money given. And this isn't to say that such giving is unimportant.

But Jesus stopped to comment on two mites - a small amount of relatively inconsequential value - given by a widow who was generously giving apparently all that she had. Jesus said that her offering had the most value, because, not really in a position to give anything, she had given her all.

What would impel someone to give everything?

A few weeks ago, while I was volunteering a few hours at an alternative school for at-risk high school students, an appeal came in for girls to donate almost a foot of their hair to make wigs for children being treated for cancer. The pictures of the kids needing the wigs were heart-wrenching, and four of the girls at the school signed up to donate their hair.

It's difficult for a teenage girl to give up her beautiful long hair, and, as the "cut-off" date drew closer, each of them had second thoughts. They helped each other through those cold-feet moments, and all four went down together to have their hair cut.

Except for a picture of them, standing shoulder to shoulder, holding their lopped-off ponytails, that was it. No fanfare, no incentives.

But as kids who come from families where the free dinner provided on Parent Night is a strong enticement to attend, these girls had given significantly.

When I've told this story to anyone who has really listened, the initial response is the same: awed silence. And humbly we begin to wonder together how we can follow the girls' example. Those girls' selflessness has moved others, who are already contributing, to find more personal ways to give.

A chemist made arrangements to come to the school to help with science experiments. A senior citizen asked if she could come to the school to see how she might help. Other friends gave me funds to buy art supplies so I could continue my work as a volunteer art teacher.

We each go away a little happier, a little stronger, a little more resolved to find opportunities to express unselfish ambition and to offer up our own mites.

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