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How to Raise Passionately Generous Children

One of the most frequent conversations I have with other parents is around raising our kids to be thoughtful and empathetic vs. entitled. Yet, our children are who most innately embrace the true definition of philanthropy: love of humankind.

Philanthropy helps solidify family values, communication, and trust. By deciding together where to spend your time, talent, and/or treasure, children can learn leadership, decision-making, confidence, organization, empathy, and more.

In raising my daughter, Sophie, I’ve focused upon her cultivating a sense of gratitude and kindness. Through countless botched “teaching moments” and breakthroughs, here are some nuggets I’ve learned along the way:

  1. Lead by Example.Talk about your philanthropy. Talking about giving increases by 20% the likelihood that children will give. This holds true across race, gender, and age. When appropriate, have your kids join in when you volunteer. 
  1. Show Enthusiasm and Support for their Interests.Encourage children to get involved in a cause they care about, or better yet, create opportunities to collaborate on the cause. Explore options together: charitable giving, volunteering, or being of service with your unique talents. 
  1. Make It a Family Affair.In our busy family lives filled with sports, homework, play dates, and more, engaging in philanthropy is a great way to spend quality time as a family while helping a worthy cause and instilling core values. When your family has decided upon what cause you would like to support, commit to year-round service, even if only quarterly, and choose times to evaluate impact upon the organization you’ve supported, and the impact upon your family. This can be formalized with creating videos, scrapbooks, and children reporting back at your family gathering: “What I learned this year about the cause, and about myself.”
  1. Use books, movies, and other mediums to discuss giving. Throughout children’s books, television shows, and movies, the theme of giving often appears. Use these mediums as springboards for deeper conversations with your child about what it means to give, how it feels to receive, and why giving is important.

Shameless plug: My daughter and I co-created a philanthropy/acts of kindness children’s book to inspire conversations around giving back and the yummy feeling it creates in our hearts.  Aimed at a pre-K through elementary-school audience, The Secret Adventures of Anonymouse is the story of a tiny mouse with a big heart, and the transformative power of anonymous good deeds upon a community.  While Sophie is simply the original Anonymouse, the vision is to inspire countless “Anonymice” to pursue their own kindness adventures.kindness1

In honor of Random Acts of Kindness Week, February 12-18, you can share your child’s random act of kindness on our website for the chance to win a school visit by the original Anonymouse!  Sophie Lynn will go to one lucky winner’s school, girl scout troop or other group of your choice for a reading of the book and interactive activity including creating kindness superhero masks!  Either way, Sophie will personally respond to every submission!

Like most parents, generosity and empathy are values I wanted Sophie to cultivate to help make the world a more kind and loving place in which to grow up.  We invite you to join us!

Natalie Lynn Rekstad

Family Volunteer Opportunities + Refugee Resources

Do you want to get your family more involved with helping others while bonding and doing some good in the world? Volunteers of America Colorado has a few great volunteer opportunities for kids of all ages. Email mbarfuss [at] voacolorado [dot] org for more information.
Snow Buddies. Help shovel the sidewalks for our senior clients. Winter can be a hard time for seniors and unshoveled walks can make them miss doctors appointments, be isolated, get injured or even get fined. Volunteer as a Snow Buddy and we will match you up with a senior you in your area. When it snows, you go over and shovel their sidewalks and driveways. It is an easy way to give back to your neighbors.
Mission Meals.  Volunteers are needed to help serve dinner at VOA’s Mission, a day shelter for the homeless, Monday – Thursday. Volunteer will set up, serve and clean up dinner from 4:15 – 6:30. Volunteer must be 14 years or older.  The VOA Mission is located at:
2877 Lawrence St.
Denver, CO 80205

Runnin’ of the Green. The 29th annual Runnin’ of the Green is a 7K run/walk or a Leprechaun Leap 2 mile run/walk on Sunday, March 12th from 7:00 am-2:00 pm (shifts will vary).  Volunteers are needed to assist with registration, course marshaling, waves, breakdown and much much more.  Proceeds from the race benefit Volunteers of America’s programs. Join them after your shift for an unforgettable post race block party. Note:  Must be 18+ to volunteer. Want to volunteer with your family? Check out their Family Water Station- email for more information.
If you are disheartened by the conflicts that have arisen over immigrants and refugees, here are a few resources:

– 7 common myths about refugee resettlement in the United States.

– Related: A Syrian family of refugees who has settled in Boston describe the vetting process they went through.

Statistically speaking, refugees who get resettled in the USA have found the ultimate pot of gold. Out of 65 million refugees in the world, only 1 percent of them will get resettled. Half of that 1 percent will resettle in the United States. Local resettlement agencies can get overwhelmed with an increasing number of incoming refugee families and limited budgets.

Donating goods is good and donating cash is often better. There are dozens of grass-roots organizations on the ground that provide basic necessities to refugees directly and hands-on. For example, LHI uses donated money to purchase vegetables, cooking oil, rice, lentils, tea, sugar, flour, dish detergent, laundry powder, shampoo, soap, diapers and many other basic items for the 525+ refugees in our camp.

Some organizations doing good work on the ground that could benefit from donations include:


This Valentine’s Day, the Y Wants to Give the Gift of a Healthy Heart

I’m a longtime member of my nearby YMCA branch. You can find me there for yoga or Zumba classes several times a week.

Since my now-teenage son was in 1st grade, he has played on a basketball league there, the rest of the family cheering his games from the stands. Our daughter has played volleyball, and my husband takes advantage of the weight room. Each of us has made new friends through the Y. Our YMCA is part of the fabric of our lives.ymca

So when I heard that the Y can help with all things heart-y this month, I wanted to encourage my fellow Mile High Mamas to check out your local Y. Here’s a short and timely message from the YMCA, as well as information on the facility closest to you. — Lori Holden

Not sure what to give your loved ones this year for Valentine’s Day? Your local YMCA has you covered. As a leading nonprofit organization, the Y organizes a number of programs to keep the hearts of every member of your family happy and healthy.

For Valentine’s day this year, you can keep the love alive for those close to your heart, and your surrounding community members through a Y membership or donation. Programs that promote a love of heart health include:

Blood Pressure Management Program

This program aids adults with high blood pressure to help them better understand how to negate its impact. The program encourages members to regularly monitor and track blood pressure readings, increases physical activity, and promotes heart healthy food choices.


A moderate-impact class with high-impact results, EnhanceFitness is an evidence-based exercise program for older adults that uses simple, easy to learn movements to motivate participants to stay active.

Diabetes Prevention Program

Certified by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), this small-group program helps people with prediabetes eat healthier, increase their physical activity, and lose weight, which can delay or even prevent the onset of type 2 diabetes.

Each program offers ways to protect hearts across the country. Available through the Y’s community integrated health initiative, these programs connect traditional health care with community-based prevention strategies, which make healthcare more affordable and accessible.

You can find your local Y here, and you can call to see if yours participates in the aforementioned programs. YMCA branches in metro Denver include:

Arvada: Susan M. Duncan Family YMCA
6350 Eldridge St
Arvada, CO 80004-3616
Phone: 303-422-4977

Aurora Family YMCA
27151 E. Lakeview Drive
Aurora, CO 80016

Community Program Branch at Manual High School YMCA
1700 East 28th Ave
Denver, CO 80205-
Phone: 303-292-2281

Downtown YMCA
25 E 16th Ave Unit B
Denver, CO 80202-5195
Phone: 303-861-8300

Glendale Branch YMCA
4500 East Kentucky Ave
Glendale, CO 80246
Phone: 303-639-4711

Littleton Branch YMCA
11 W Dry Creek Ct
Littleton, CO 80120-2038
Phone: 303-797-9622

Southwest-Chatfield Branch YMCA
5181 W Kenyon Ave
Denver, CO 80236-2901
Phone: 303-761-7530

University Hills Schlessman Branch YMCA
3901 E Yale Ave
Denver, CO 80210-6646
Phone: 720-524-2750


My family is thankful to have the Y as part of our community and our lives. Join your local branch, or find ways you can give, receive, and volunteer through your neighborhood YMCA.

adoption bookLori Holden is mom to a teen daughter and a teen son. She credits the Y with helping keep her strong and sane. Lori blogs regularly at about parenting and mindfulness. Her book, The Open-Hearted Way to Open Adoption: Helping Your Child Grow Up Whole, is available in paperback, hard cover, audio and e-book versions. It makes a thoughtful anytime gift for the adoptive families in your life.

Help is coming, Syria

Help is coming, Syria.  

We hear your babies’ cries, empty stomachs, and gut-wrenching heartaches.

In a season of giving, joy, and fullness, we refuse to turn our eyes away. Christmas extravagance overwhelms, but their cries echo in our hearts. We turn our eyes to your besieged hometown and we gently whisper, “We see you. We hear you. Help is coming.”

To the newborns left in the only remaining children’s hospital in an incubator—when the hospital was bombed and the electricity was cut off, they suffocated to death in their incubators… help is coming.

To Safaa, the little baby who only knows the pains of falling asleep hungry, and whose cries had to be stifled so as to not attract the attention of armed men outside… help is coming.

To Reem, the newborn little girl who passed away because no healthcare was available and her most basic medical needs could not be met. To her mother, who cradled her pride and joy until her last breath was gasped… help is coming.

To the parents of toddlers who are giving their children sticks and dirt to fill their little stomachs, and pulling stuffing out of mattresses to light the stove so they don’t freeze to death… help is coming.

To the babies and toddlers growing up in a warzone, normalizing shrapnel, bombs, and gruesome carnage as an everyday occurrence… help is coming.

In a land of affluence, we are thankful for food because so many are hungry, health because so many are sick, freedom because so many are restrained, family and friends because so many are lonely, and possessions because so many are without.

But this Christmas, let us see thankfulness as a catalyst instead of a conclusion. We receive blessings, and instead of comparing, we seek opportunities to give them away. How many times have we looked heavenward and asked God to bless us and He looks right back and says… “I have. Now what are you going to do with it?”

Saving Moses is a Denver-based international humanitarian aid organization working to save babies where the need is most urgent and help is least available. Our ongoing programs are focused where the infant mortality rate is the highest in the world and where the babies of sex workers are most susceptible to exploitation. Our hearts belong to the world’s most vulnerable population: babies and toddlers. We invite Denver moms to join us on this journey of showing genuine love to the least of these. 

This Christmas, Saving Moses is providing nourishment support to Syria’s most helpless: babies less than two years of age. Our hearts and hands are compelled to act in the midst of the worst humanitarian crisis of our age. Let’s take what we have, do what we can, and let Syria know that help is coming.  

To lend your voice, your heart, your hands to the babies of Syria, learn more at

-Emily Renken

Where to donate toys (or your time) this holiday season

‘Tis the season for giving and receiving. While the holidays are a time to celebrate the blessings in our lives, so many of our neighbors go without. Here are some ways you can brighten a child or family’s life for Christmas.

Santa’s Elves of Denver. Are you looking for a way to be Elfish this holiday season? Kids Giving to Kids and is about being great moms and dads and teaching children how to give back. They focus on giving, rather than getting – and showing children how they can help neighbors.  Their mission is to inspire life-long giving in all ages, especially children so they design opportunities for others to make a difference in the lives and communities around them. When your child is an elf, they get to experience giving first-hand, by giving presents to children face-to-face during one of their amazing events on December 10, 2016.  Please visit their website for more information or to adopt a family:

The Denver Santa Claus Shop is a volunteer-run, nondenominational, nonprofit that shares the spirit of the Holidays with Denver children in need – many of whom might not otherwise have a toy to open at Christmas. Hundreds of volunteers collect toys and donations, then build a huge temporary toy store in December – the Denver Santa Claus Shop. Qualified families are invited to the Shop so parents can actually shop – choosing toys for their children ages newborn through 11 years old, and expect to help 14,000 children in 2015.

AWRSAY Santa House helps struggling families during the Christmas season in the Arvada area. Toy donations such as dolls, learning toys, books, trucks, cars balls, skateboards, board games, craft kits, trucks, remote control cars, preteen jewelry, clock radios, hand held computer games, art materials, dartboards, portable Walkmans are great, as are cash/check donations. To help out, bring unwrapped NEW toys, for infants through age 12, to any Apex PRD facility during regular hours before December 12. Volunteers will begin their work setting up in late November, and the store will be open to families on December 2-3, 6-10 and 13-17. Santa House is located at Arvada Square Center at the northwest corner of 58th Avenue and Garrison Street.

Denver Children’s Home serves Colorado’s most vulnerable children and families who are struggling with poverty, abuse, neglect, violence and mental health problems. They provide wish lists completed by client families and you provide the gifts. Wish lists are available now and all gifts must be delivered, new, in original packaging and unwrapped, to DCH. There are other ways to serve that include their holiday gift card drive, join the cheer squad and more.

Care4Colorado Holiday Toy Drive.  Each holiday season, generous supporters collect toys and gift cards that are distributed to Boys & Girls Club members throughout the holidays. You can stop by any Front Range King Soopers location to drop off  new unwrapped toys from now through December 24. CBS4 and Boys & Girls Clubs of Metro Denver will also hold a special collection day event at the King Soopers at 2750 S. Colorado Blvd, Denver, CO. Be sure to go to the website to see the list of suggested toys for kids ages 6-18.

Adopt an Angel. When you “adopt” an angel through The Salvation Army Angel Tree program, you’ll make a local child’s Christmas wish come true. Simply pull a tag from an Angel Tree, select a “virtual angel here,” or make a monetary donation that will be used to purchase gifts for children in need right here in our area. There are several toy drop locations throughout the Denver metro area, as well as the annual Hope for the Holidays toy drive in partnership with Fox31 Denver.

Toys for Tots. The mission of the U. S. Marine Corps Reserve Toys for Tots Program is to collect new, unwrapped toys during October, November and December each year, and distribute those toys as Christmas gifts to less fortunate children in the community in which the campaign is conducted. There are local campaigns all over Colorado (find them here) where you may make toy or monetary donations.

Volunteers of America. The Adopt-A-Family program provides Christmas gifts for families who otherwise would not have the means to celebrate. Individuals or groups are needed to “adopt-a-family” for the holidays by supplying the family with holiday gifts. Volunteers are also needed to assist with sorting and distributing the gifts.

Hanes Holiday Sock Drive –The community can now donate socks to help the homeless in Denver with donations at Hanes Outlet stores in Lakewood and Castle Rock. Hanes has donated more than 1.9 million socks to the homeless and those in need since the program started 7 years ago. The donation bins provide a way for the community to add to what Hanes is donating.

We would love to add any large-scale toy drives we may have missed so please include in the comments below.


Introduce Kids to Charity with Kids for ColoradoGives!

With the holiday season around the corner, many moms are looking for ways their family can give back. But it’s not always easy to get the little ones involved: they can’t exactly write a check and they’re often too young to volunteer. But this year, there’s an easy way to teach the kiddos about giving back. It’s called

This new website was built just for kids and was based off the popular, which has been connecting Coloradoans with nonprofits for nine years.  With, kids choose what they care about, whether that’s animals, the environment, health or education. From there, they get connected with hundreds of Colorado charities that support it! They can even search by their city to find nonprofits that are helping in their neighborhood.coloradogives1

The site provides parents and kids with resources on responsible giving and was officially launched on September 15 with the Kids for ColoradoGives Kick-Off at the Denver School of Arts. The program was introduced to the school’s 6th and 7th graders by Lieutenant Governor Donna Lynne and student ambassador Allison Winn, who founded the Stink Bug Project when she was just 9 years old. Each student was invited to experience the joy of giving with donation dollars in the amount of $10 from FirstBank and boy, did they give! Those students have since donated $2,290 to Colorado nonprofits.

After all, kids might stumble over the phrase ‘tax-deductible donation’, but they know how good it feels to help others. While kids can give back all year-round through, they can also join hundreds of others in making a difference on Colorado Gives Day, December 6. Colorado Gives Day is the state’s largest annual giving movement and both kids and adults can schedule donations in advance. Last year, more than $28 million was donated to nearly 2,000 nonprofits on this single day!coloradogives2

You may be thinking, “This is great, but my kids don’t make money. How are they supposed to give?” Good question. Your kid won’t have control of your credit card – instead, kids donate online using Giving e-Cards, which adults can purchase on in any amount from $10 to $99,999.  These Giving e-Cards make wonderful holiday gifts or stocking stuffers, could be exchanged for chores, or even bought with the earnings from your kid’s latest lemonade stand.

And that’s it! Introducing your kids to charitable giving has never been easier than with It’s a great way for the whole family to learn about the people helping in your community and give back – together.

Holiday Volunteer Opportunities for the Whole Family!

If you are looking for a way to volunteer and give back during the Thanksgiving and Christmas seasons, Volunteers of America offers countless opportunities for your family, co-workers, or just you to volunteer during the holiday season.

Basket of Joy

Over 1,000 Basket of Joy volunteers come together on Saturday, December 10th to assemble 5,280 holiday fruit baskets and deliver them to low income seniors or seniors who might not have any other visitors for the holidays. Click here for more information and to sign up to volunteer at Basket of Joy.

Adopt-a-Family Project

As an Adopt-a-family Donor you will be paired with a family in need, receive a wish list of their most wanted items, and provide them with gifts for the holidays. Click here for more information and to register as an Adopt-a-Family Donor.

Thanksgiving Dinner Basket Sign-Ups

Help families sign up and register to receive Thanksgiving Dinner baskets Monday, November 14th. Sign up form for this project coming soon.

Thanksgiving Dinner Basket Distribution

Help distribute the Thanksgiving food baskets on Monday, November 21st to families in need. Sign up form for this project coming soon.

Thanksgiving Day Meals on Wheels Deliverers

Come as an individual, group or family and spent an hour or two delivering hot, nutritious meals to homebound seniors on Thanksgiving Day,Thursday, November 24th. Contact the Meals on Wheels Volunteer Coordinator, Emily at 303-297-0408 or

Thanksgiving Week Substitute Drivers for Meals on Wheels

Come as an individual, group or family and spent an hour or two delivering hot, nutritious meals to homebound seniors to substitute for regular volunteer drivers during the week of Thanksgiving, onNovember 22nd, 23rd, and 26th. Contact the Meals on Wheels Volunteer Coordinator, Emily at 303-297-0408 or

Christmas Gifts for Meals on Wheels Clients (Deliver and Donate)

Bring joy to a homebound senior by volunteering to deliver or donate Christmas gifts for Meals on Wheels recipients. Contact Sarah Knoblock or Trevor Byrne-Smith at 303-297-0408 for information on helping with gifts.

Basket of Joy Prep Day

On Friday, December 9th from 12:00 pm – 3:30 pm, assist staff in preparing the Denver Mattress Factory Warehouse for the Basket of Joy project, which provides holiday fruit baskets to lonely seniors. Sign up form for this opportunity coming soon.

Christmas Dinner Basket Registration

Help families sign up and register to receive Christmas Dinner baskets Monday, December 12th. Sign up form for this project coming soon.

Christmas Dinner Basket Distribution

Help distribute the Christmas food baskets on Monday, December 19th to families in need. Sign up form for this project coming soon.

Santa Shop

Help distribute wrapped presents for families in need to give to their children on Christmas on Tuesday December 20th and Wednesday December 21st. Sign up form for this project coming soon.

Meals on Wheels Holiday Substitute Drivers

Come as an individual, group or family and spent an hour or two delivering hot, nutritious meals to homebound seniors to substitute for regular volunteer drivers during the week of Christmas, onDecember 14, 15, 16, 17, 18, 19, 21, 22, 23, 26. Contact the Meals on Wheels Volunteer Coordinator, Emily at 303-297-0408 or

Christmas Day Meals on Wheels Delivery

Come as an individual, group or family and spent an hour or two delivering hot, nutritious meals to homebound seniors on Christmas Day, Sunday, December 25th. Contact the Meals on Wheels Volunteer Coordinator, Emily at 303-297-0408 or

Christmas Day Dinner at Sunset Park Senior Center

Serve Christmas Dinner at Volunteers of America Sunset Park Senior Center Sunday, December 25th – 9:15 am to 12:30 pm. Volunteers are needed to help set up, serve and clean up the Christmas dinner. If you would like to volunteer, contact Connie Leake at 303-297-0230 to volunteer.


Host a “Friendsgiving” for No Kid Hungry

What if I told you that you could enjoy great food, drink and the company of close friends, all the while helping to feed hungry children? It’s Friendsgiving for No Kid Hungry.

Simply invite your favorite people over to celebrate the Thanksgiving season and turn it into a fundraiser for No Kid Hungry.

Did you know there are 26,090 children in Denver alone who struggle with hunger?  And because nearly 1 in 5 kids across the nation are struggling, the No Kid Hungry campaign is working hard to ensure every child in America gets the health food they need to thrive.

When you host a Friendsgiving for No Kid Hungry, not only do you have a chance to celebrate the season and give thanks for what you have – but you can also rally your friends to give back.  Our hosts get access to our personal fundraising tools, exclusive recipes, chef webinars, fundraising incentives and many other fun resources.

Host a Friendsgiving for No Kid Hungry today and raise funds to help ensure no child goes hungry this holiday season – or any day of the year.

Every dollar you raise can connect a hungry child to 10 meals, so sign up to host today!

Family Volunteer Opportunity: Throw a BBQ!

Do you want to teach your kids the importance of service this summer?
Join Volunteers of America for their June Family Volunteer Event and help throw a BBQ and resource fair for the clients of the Bannock Youth and Family Center!  
Families are needed to help assist with cooking on the grill and with games for the kids. If you have a yard game (corn hole, lawn darts, etc) or a great idea (face painting, balloon animals, etc) for carnival type games that you’d like to bring, please email  at  VOA will supply the food, drinks, some games, and the prizes for the kids.  
When:  Saturday, June 18th from 10:30AM-2:30PM
Where: Bannock Youth and Family Center, 455 Bannock St, Denver, CO 80204
volunteerHow: Click the button to sign up!
Bannock Youth and Family Center offers three unique programs to help youth and families reach self-sufficiency. Participants in Bannock Youth and Family Center programs receive case management services to help support them in their employment, education, independent living, parenting skills and more.

Free, healthy summer meals for Colorado kids and teens

Summer should be a fun and enriching time for all Colorado children, but for many it represents a time when they are at the greatest risk of hunger due to lost access to school meals. A collaborative effort of government agencies, nonprofit and community-based organizations, and school districts focuses on addressing child hunger through a statewide summer food program. This summer, more than 500 community sites across Colorado will provide meals to children up to 18 years old at no cost.

The Summer Food Service Program, funded by the USDA, was established to serve as a nutritional safeguard for children when school is not session. It is administered by the Colorado Department of Education and supported by Hunger Free Colorado, dozens of sponsors and hundreds of Colorado organizations that are providing summer meals in their communities and neighborhoods.

“Just as learning does not end when school lets out, neither does a child’s need for good nutrition,” said Kathy Underhill, CEO of Hunger Free Colorado, the state’s leading anti-hunger advocacy organization. “It’s estimated one in five Colorado kids may not know when or where they will get their next meal, but programs like this ensure all children have access to the fuel needed to thrive throughout the summer months and help families stretch their food budgets further.”

Community sites such as churches, schools and recreation centers offer free breakfasts, lunches, suppers and/or snacks that meet federal nutrition guidelines, as well as fun, engaging activities for children so they continue to exercise their minds and their bodies. There are no income or registration requirements for participation.

Increasing awareness and access to the summer food program is a priority for the statewide collaborative, in addition to boosting the academic success and well-being of Colorado children.  Thanks to the involvement of partners across the state, Colorado successfully doubled the number of meals served to kids and teens in 2015 compared to 2009.

“Sponsors and champions of the Summer Food Service Program help ensure that all children in Colorado have access to healthy meals during the summer,” said Bre Riley, interim director of the Office of School Nutrition with the Colorado Department of Education. “Last summer, more than 1.5 million summer meals were served to children and we hope to increase that number even more this summer.”

Colorado families can find nearby summer meal sites by calling Hunger Free Colorado’s statewide food resource hotline toll-free at (855) 855-4626 or by using an interactive map at