When she was 12, Freddi Zeiler started donating her time and money to charitable causes. Now she's a grownup and still giving strong! She's written a book to help kids called "A Kids Guide to Giving." The holidays are a perfect time for kids to start this meaningful tradition.
Here's how Freddi got started — and her advice for kids who want to make a difference.
Grownups have jobs and more money to spend on charities. Why should kids give?
There's no better time to start helping, whether it's in your own neighborhood or on the other side of the world. The amazing thing about giving is that it not only changes your life, but it has the power to change others' as well. Giving can be time or money. It can mean helping out a friend or someone you've never even met, but however you give, you're doing something good for someone else, and that's the important thing.
What made you start giving?
When I was 12, my family moved out of the city and drove to a small town in mountains where our new home was. Everything about it was different. There were no sidewalks. I'd fall asleep to the chirping of crickets. I knew all of my neighbors. I loved it. My mom often took me and my sisters on hikes through the canyon, and when I found a piece of trash, I'd pick it up and put it in a trash can, or when I heard that someone had lost a pet, I'd help look for it. I even created a lost and found pet web site to let owners post pictures of their animals, and would volunteer at the local Animal Adoption Day at the Farmers Market.
I loved my town and I wanted to take care of it, so giving back was easy. It made me feel like I was really a part of my community and I could actually see the difference my good deeds were making. People around me began to notice what I was doing, too, and wanted to help.
The more I started giving, the more I realized that there were other things I cared about, too, not just in my community. One day, I decided to donate some money out of my weekly allowance to a global cause. I spent a long time looking on my computer for the perfect charity. I knew that I wanted to help other kids — kids who didn't live in a place like I did and didn't get to do the things that I took for granted, like going to school, living in a house, or being able to go to the doctor. The only differences between us are the places we were born, and that didn't seem fair.
What was the first charity you donated money to?
After reading about a lot of different charities, I picked Save the Children. With Save the Children, I could sponsor a kid from a different country who needed money for school, food, clothing, health care, and shelter. Her name was Myrlene. She was about 4 years old and from Haiti. Every month I'd donate some of my pocket money, and in return I'd get photos and letters from Myrlene. I was even allowed to write back and send her little gifts, like candy or stickers or drawings that I had done. Because of my donations, she was able to go to school, receive new clothes, never go hungry, and have a place to sleep. And I helped her!
Why do you give?
Because I can. Because I care. And most of all, I give because I like knowing that even I can make a difference in someone's life.
Why did you write the book?
I wanted other kids to realize that they can also make a difference in the world. It was hard for me to find the perfect charity or to get involved in volunteer work at first, because a lot of people don't expect kids to want to help. I had to put in a lot of my time and effort just to find ways to give, and I wanted to save other kids the trouble of going through what I did, so I made it easier to help.
How do I start giving?
The first step is choosing a cause or issue, so look into your heart. What is really important to you — animals, the environment, helping hungry people? Second, you'll want to get the facts about the issue that concerns you. If it's animals, what is the most pressing need in your area? Or are you interested in saving a certain animal that's endangered? Once you know about your cause, it will be easier to find charities that do that kind of work.
Here, you'll need to do your research. What are their needs — money, your time, or donated goods? You'll also want to find out how the organization spends its money. Most important, how much money goes to the cause — such as caring for abandoned pets — and how much pays for other stuff such as the cost of renting an office or maintaining their web site? A charity you can trust will be happy to answer those questions before you give.
What if I don't have a lot of money?
Don't let that stop you. When I was younger, I started donating some of my allowance, which is an easy way to do it. But there are other ways, too. You can participate in a sponsored event — like a walkathon — or a fundraiser like a car wash. Beyond that, you can give your time and energy by volunteering (if the organization allows volunteers under age 18) or helping with efforts to collect donated items, such as canned goods or warm clothes for those in need. And even though you personally don't have a lot of money, there are probably times of the year when you have a little extra cash, like around your birthday and the holidays. When you get these money gifts, you might decide to share the wealth!