A couple of years ago my dad asked that instead of giving him birthday presents, we donate to a charity of our choice.
It's a fitting tribute to my dad, whose life has been spent helping others both professionally and personally.
We've kept up the tradition ever since, but this birthday, my dad's 75th, my husband, daughter and I decided to do something different. Instead of donating money, we plan to give our time.
It's something my husband and I have been doing more of this year. Our daughter started kindergarten, so we've been helping out at her school, and I've had a little extra time to volunteer in the community.
Though my daughter sees me volunteering, I'd like to involve her so she can be part of this gift to her grandfather and understand how fortunate she is and how we can impact others.
This isn't the first time this has come up. Like most kids, as soon as she could talk she started questioning everything she saw around her. In the car, she often asks about the homeless people holding signs on the side of the road.
"They need help," I'd tell her, my liberal guilt kicking in as I explained how difficult it can be to find a job and that these people need help to get back on their feet.
Her response: "So why don't we help them?"
So we put together bags of snacks and water to keep in the car and hand out to those in need. She helped me pick out the food and stuff the bags, but I'm embarrassed to admit that eventually the bags were moved to the trunk to make room for something else.
It came up again in her preschool program at the South Tampa Jewish Community Center.
There is a Jewish tradition of giving to Tzedakah, or charity. Every Friday we brought change to fill the Tzedakah box. As summer break approached, I had the idea that we would keep up Friday Tzedakah. It could be as simple as giving a couple of dollars or taking more time to volunteer. Another great idea that quickly fell to the wayside.
So now we're trying again to find something my daughter can truly embrace. I did some research and came up with a few ideas. I love to cook and nurture through food, so Ronald McDonald House seemed to be a good fit. My daughter loves animals and we recently rescued a dog, so the Humane Society was another idea. And living close to Bayshore, we often talk about the impact of littering, so a beach cleanup also came to mind.
We discussed the options as a family — I wanted us all to be a part of the entire process — and agreed that we would try all three. Unfortunately, they are not all open to having a 5-year-old participate, so choosing a few options still allows us to do some as a family and we all get to help organizations we feel passionate about.
I look forward to my daughter getting a taste of how she can make a difference in this world. She has talked about it and I know she will gain from something from the experience.
Elizabeth Freid Vocke is a married mother of one who lives in South Tampa.