YMCA Camp Kitaki

The Big Help

The Big Help

Today marks the start of one of my favorite times of the year: Giving Tree season. You see each year Lincoln YMCA members donate gifts and winter gear to give to the students at Elliot Elementary, where 91% of the students qualify for free or reduced-price lunch. The full time Kitaki team helps organize the gifts so that the teachers can select the right match for each student, and then we go help distribute the gifts. It is a big undertaking, but it has become one of my favorite holiday traditions, and this year we’ll have an extra set of (slightly smaller) hands joining the team-my daughter, Hattie.

Hattie is 8 now, and in our family that means she is capable of doing the laundry, sweeping floors, and feeding pets. She is capable of contributing beyond the home as well, and so I started talking with her about giving back and whether she would be interested in a few of the volunteer opportunities open to us that I was aware of. Seeing her overwhelming enthusiasm made me remember something I hadn’t thought about in years: Nickelodeon’s The Big Help.

For those of you who did not grow up in the 90s (or for those of you who did but weren’t all in on this yearly event as I was), The Big Help started in 1994 as an effort to encourage kids to give back to their community. It worked sort of like a telethon, except instead of calling in and pledging money to help a cause, you called in to pledge hours of volunteer work. You didn’t have to say what work you planned to do, you just called in and told the phone bank helper how many hours you planned to volunteer that year (some of the helpers were celebrities, though I never lucked out enough to have one of them answer my call). And then you did something. It could be anything, from planting trees, to donating toys, to reading to your little sibling. The point was just to help, and to foster in kids an appreciation for service.

And I was all in on this idea. I would pledge my hours each year, and would rope my friends into picking up trash at recess instead of climbing on the playground. I wasn’t making an earth-shattering difference, but at the time I FELT like I was making a difference. I was out there saving the world, one candy wrapper at a time. And it felt great. I am not sure if the “help-a-thon” motivated other kids to give back, but it definitely worked on me.

I think kids, all people really, are inherently driven to contribute positively to the world around them. Feeling that you matter to people in this world is such precious gift, and volunteer service is such a great way to experience that feeling. Perhaps one day Kitaki will organize our own Big Help inspired pledge drive, but in the meantime you’ll find us sorting basketballs and mittens into bags to help ensure a cheerful season of giving for all.

Wishing you a heartwarming holiday season, 

Nat

Associate Executive Director

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New Year's Live:  December 29-January 1 for ages 7-14