At the age of 7, Michael already considered himself a philanthropist and social activist. Each year, Michael, his brother, Steven, and cousins Matthew, Jordyn, and Gillian carefully decide how to spend their "philanthropy budget." One year, Michael spotted some mittens on sale for only 65 cents. He consulted with his team and the children spent $100 to buy as many mittens as they could to distribute to the poor.
Every year, as a grandmother, I deposit $100 in a "philanthropy" bank account for each of our five grandchildren. Our "Philanthropy Club" helps the children spend money on philanthropic actions. The Club broadens my relationship with my grandchildren beyond movies and cookies, and teaches them values that are important to us.
The philanthropy club was so meaningful that it inspired me to create Grandparents for Social Action (GSA), an organization that encourages seniors to engage in social action and teach their grandchildren, through word and deed, that they have a responsibility to perform acts of kindness, justice and world repair. I believe we all want to leave a legacy to the next generation. There are many ways to achieve that goal.
GSA serves a number of important functions, including developing a grandparent network and providing ideas to spark a teaching relationship between grandparent and grandchild. It offers a free monthly e-newsletter, with a column by me, a.k.a. "Bubba Sharon," along with social action quotes, book reviews, activity ideas, inspirational stories, articles by guest columnists, and more.
To take our work to the next level, I've partnered with JUF and InterfaithFamily/Chicago to develop a series of classes, known as GIFTS (for Gratitude, Inspiration, Family, Tzedakah and Service) to teach grandparents how to pass along their values to their grandchildren. Funded by a Covenant Foundation Ignition Grant, the GIFTS program includes five 90-minute sessions taking grandparents through the process of visualizing their own values, and giving them the skills to pass those values along to their grandchildren. The classes, piloted at four congregations last fall, are currently running at Anshe Emet, Bernard Weinger JCC, and Beth Tikvah, and will run at additional congregations and locations this fall. Information about the classes and website, and soon the curriculum and supporting materials, including inspiring videos, will be available on a new GIFTS webpage on juf.org.
We love to just be with our grandchildren, to teach and play with them, but most important is to teach them values. As our grandparents taught us, so must we teach our grandchildren that together we can change the world, that each individual child can make a difference and repair the world. Our efforts and actions will live on unto the thousandth generation. It is an awesome responsibility and a most exciting opportunity.
Sharon Morton is the grandmother of five grandchildren, ages eight to 19. She is the founder and executive director of Grandparents for Social Action. She was the educational director of Am Shalom in Glencoe for more than 30 years, and now is a storyteller and educator who teaches at congregations around the county.
Hallie Shapiro, assistant vice president of Israel Experience and Youth Initiatives for the Jewish United Fund/Jewish Federation of Metropolitan Chicago, contributed to this article.