I have been a teacher for most of my life, and I consider myself pretty good at it. But when it comes to knowing how to help others, my daughter Kirstin has been my teacher. She knows how to reach out to people in a way that I will never be able to do. She genuinely cares about others and they feel her sincerity. In my book, This Little Light of Mine, a woman with Down syndrome shines brightly in the world, I call her and others like her “angels among us.” If you will permit me to quote myself, “They care for others, even those who are not kind to them, without any expectation of reward. They are patient, gentle, and loving. They hold back nothing but share their feelings openly. They forgive and forget.”
I believe we are all born with a desire to help others. Consider the small child who wants to help his mom in the kitchen, or make the bed or feed the dog. How often does the busy parent dismiss this desire to help and instead hurriedly complete the task on her own? Later, when those same activities are the child’s chores, they become the source of argument because the child no longer wants to do them. I’m not naïve enough to suggest that by allowing our toddlers to help with chores, they will necessarily grow up to happily do them as teenagers, but it is certainly something to think about.
By cultivating in our children the desire to help others, we are developing in them a lifelong spirit of giving. While they are young, and their lives are less complicated, it is easier to find the time and opportunities to help others. As we become adults with adult responsibilities, it is more of a challenge to do our part as loving, caring citizens of this planet. If helping others is already a natural part of our lives, we are more likely to continue it into adulthood.
The characters in The Handy Helpers books seek out opportunities to help. While their parents encourage them, it is the children themselves who are choosing to serve others. Sometimes children become involved in volunteering through church groups or scouts. These are very good ways to start. Sometimes the entire family volunteers together. How ever it happens, children will always benefit. Rabbi Shumuley Boteach, who hosts a show on Oprah Radio, says, “When we don’t give kids responsibilities, we pay the price. Kids become lazy and complacent and too self-focused. Volunteering and giving back prevents that and helps others.”
Part of my vision in writing The Handy Helpers books is that someday there will be groups like the Handy Helpers in communities all over our country. I don’t know exactly how that will happen, but I pray every day that it will. On the back cover of Seven is a Perfect Number, I quote one of my young readers who says, “I love the great moral values talked about in the book. It inspires me to want to start a Handy Helpers group myself.”