Five Ways You Can Inspire Your Kids to Serve

inspire your kids to serve

By Lanie Pemberton, Contributing Writer

So you want to raise your child with a heart for service. It’s an amazing goal and one that could positively impact the communities around us in a lasting way. If we are going to change the culture of our world into one that is radically committed to community service and philanthropy, we must start with the future of our world: Kids. But, simply asking your child to participate in a service project every now and again isn’t enough.  Here are some simple steps you, the parent, can take in order to make service a priority in your child’s life.

  1. Lead by Example

The best way to raise your kids with a heart for service is to show them your heart for service. Kids learn through observation. They watch their older siblings and copy their actions, or they mimic their favorite superhero from the latest action movie. And, of course, they watch their parents. They learn what is and isn’t the norm through the actions of the people who lead their household. To create a culture of philanthropy in this world, we must each start in our own home by fostering this kind of lifestyle in our children. What better way to instill this in your kids than to participate in- or lead- service projects! In fact, if you make serving others part of your lifestyle, you won’t have to teach your kids to serve, for they will do it willingly and happily because it is what their parents do.

  1. Make it a Routine

Dealing with a job, bills, family, friends and other responsibilities make daily life extremely busy. Most people find that if they do not plan for something, it just doesn’t get done. Simply saying you will participate in service projects as you have time usually leads to no service at all. With everything you have to do in a week, there just doesn’t seem to be time in your schedule to serve. If you want service and philanthropy to be part of your life and the lives of your kids, then it needs its own place on your calendar. Set aside a time each week, or each month, that is meant exclusively for service and nothing else. Make it part of your routine and service projects will be much less likely to slip through the cracks.  Make this “service slot” a non-negotiable. If it is part of your family’s culture, then your kids won’t question a commitment to community service. It will be the norm.

  1. Give before Receiving

Another great way to raise your child with a servant’s heart is to encourage them to give before they receive. A great example of this would be having them donate the toys, books and clothing they have outgrown. The weeks before Christmas and birthdays are a great opportunity for this as your kids are about to receive new things. Make it a tradition every year to gather any used things they no longer use and donate them to kids in need. Not only does this serve less fortunate families, it also teaches your kids that giving is just as fun as receiving. Maybe one day they will look forward to the giving more than the receiving!


  1. Keep the Dialogue Open

Although it may be easy to forget about serving others in between scheduled community projects, keeping a steady discussion about service and philanthropy will keep it at the forefront of your kid’s minds. Talk to your kids about it. Make it a frequent topic at the dinner table or on the ride home from school.  Ask your kids if they have heard any particularly inspiring community service stories lately. Share any stories you may have heard. Brainstorm with your kids about new ideas for service projects and service leadership. Talking about these things will help your kids grow in a culture of philanthropy, rather than just participating in a project every now and again and forgetting about it later.

  1. Encouragement

Encourage your kids in whatever service endeavor they may choose. They want to help at the local soup kitchen? Amazing. Praise them for their desire to help the needy. They donate their toys to foster kids in need? What a great way to give back to the community! They want to step out even farther and start their own project? Let them know how confident you are in their ability to lead a movement of service, no matter how big or small. Encouraging your kids as they serve will give them the confidence to take more risks and step out of their comfort zone. Let them know that you believe they are capable of anything! Instill in your child the mindset that any act of service can snowball into something truly great.


If you want to support your kids’ desire to serve consider applying for a grant to help them get started, or donate to help us fund kids that want to tackle a problem about which they are passionate.

Family Volunteer Day 2014

family volunteer day 2014

Nov.22nd is National Family Volunteer Day


By Blythe Clifford, Co-Founder Start a Snowball

It’s not too late to plan to incorporate community service into your family’s plans for this Thanksgiving season.  It could be the most important thing you do this year.

A recent article by David Crary published in the Associated Press indicated that Americans who earned $200,000 or more reduced the share of their income they gave to charity by 4.6 percent from 2006 to 2012. Those earning less than $100,000 donated 4.5 percent more of their income.   (Read the full article HERE.)

In other words, the wealthy are giving less to charity while the middle and lower income families are giving more.  It’s the modern day version of the parable of the widow.  You know, the story in the Bible of the widow who gives all she has to the Church.  I was saddened to hear the news in the article about the decline in giving, particularly by the wealthiest among us, but I wasn’t surprised.   I’ve experienced this first hand.  So have my children.

Two years ago, my oldest son heard about a program at his school called BackPack Buddies.  He heard they needed food donations to send home with kids from food insecure homes on the weekends.  As we sat and talked about our plans for Spring Break (and how excited we were that they had 9 days off), my son was suddenly panic stricken.  He said there was no way that one backpack of food was enough to keep those kids full for 9 days.  I asked him what he wanted to do about it.  He said he wanted to get food donations for them.  So, he made and executed a plan to collect food donations for BackPack Buddies.  Part of that plan was to stand outside of a grocery store and ask for people to shop for certain needed items and drop them back off with him on their way out.  My shy son mustered the courage to ask every person that walked by to please donate food.  We watched as people rushed by him, often not even taking the time to listen to him.  He began to get discouraged, but we told him to stick with it.   Eventually, he began to get a fair number of donations.

At one point, a nicely dressed young man zoomed into the parking lot of the grocery store in his fancy convertible.  He brushed passed my son, saying he didn’t have any money to give him.  A few minutes later, he came back out with his arms full of expensive beer.  My son asked me how he had money for all of those things: clothes, car and alcohol, but not even a penny for kids who needed it.  We tried to explain that perhaps he had already donated plenty to charity, knowing in our hearts that probably wasn’t true.  Toward the end of the day, a man approached my son’s table.  We had seen him get off the bus at the nearby stop.  He was wearing tattered clothes and his shoes had holes in them.   He approached us and in broken English said: “I come here from Africa.  I know what it is to be hungry.”  He opened his worn wallet and pulled out the only thing left – a one dollar bill.  He handed it to my son.  He, like the widow, gave everything he had.  It was a moment that none of us will ever forget.  What a lesson we all learned that day.  We were forever changed in how we viewed our own level of giving.

This wasn’t an isolated event, though.  My son had another food drive this past Spring.  This year, he had people collecting donations at 4 area grocery stores.  I’m sure it won’t surprise you to hear that the grocery stores that collected the most amount of food were located in the lower income neighborhoods.  The grocery store located in the most affluent neighborhood collected the least amount of donations and it was far less than the amount collected at the other stores.  When we polled volunteers on what was the most meaningful part of participating in the food drive, they said they were surprised that the people who appeared to have the least gave the most.  As people approached the table to turn in food donations, volunteers reported to us that many of the people who gave the most food said: “I was saved by a program like this when I was kid. Thanks for helping this program.”   People who know what it is like to be hungry, to be homeless, and to need help are more likely to give.  But, it doesn’t have to be that way.  Our volunteers said that the experience of volunteering at the food drive made them reevaluate their giving.  Witnessing the parable of the widow first hand had quite an impact on everyone.  Volunteering is a great way to do good.  It’s also a great way to teach your children empathy and compassion.  Children learn by doing.  Children who volunteer with their parents are more likely to stay engaged in helping their communities as adults.  Make plans today to engage your family in some type of community service.  It doesn’t have to be a big food drive.  There are hundreds of ways that you can participate in Family Volunteer Day.

Click here for more ideas on how to get involved on Family Volunteer Day.


Raising Givers and Building the Next Generation of Givers

raising givers

Raising Givers is Not a Spectator Sport

Recently, my husband and I were chatting with some friends after dinner. We were all sharing stories about our parents. My husband and Start A Snowball Co-Founder, Mac Winslow, was telling funny stories about his father and his family medicine practice in a small town in NC. Mac’s father was one of a small handful doctors in the town where they lived. His dad made house calls and also received patients at his own home. Mac laughs when he talks about how whenever they went out to eat, his father always ended up seeing someone who began with “Dr. Winslow, could you look at this…” and would write a prescription for what they needed on whatever scrap of paper he could find (whether it was a receipt, a scrap of a paper bag, or a napkin). His father never complained about this. He just treated his patients, many times never receiving payment for his services. The stories were funny, but led Mac and I to reflect on the generous nature of our parents and grandparents, and if they knew they were raising givers.

Mac’s grandfather recently passed away. At his funeral, we heard countless stories of all the things that his grandfather did around the community, especially at church. He grew a “garden” that was big enough to feed most neighbors and he and Mac’s grandmother hosted a Sunday dinner each week that did in fact feed most neighbors and the pastor from church. Mac has hardly any memories of his grandparents that don’t involve helping someone else.

My grandmother was a beautician and owned her own salon. She never graduated from high school, but eventually taught herself enough to become a licensed realtor. She spent her free time, though, doing hair at a nursing home. When I stayed with her in the summer, she was always busy doing something to help a friend, neighbor or family member. My parents share a similar sense of duty to help those around them. Growing up, there was often a family member or friend staying at our house. It was so normal to me that it was strange for me when I was a teenager and realized that most families don’t host people in need. My parents were often dragging us off to help volunteer at whatever community event was going on or to plant trees and bushes at the local schools. The drive to my son’s elementary school (which is also the school I attended) is lined with beautiful Bradford pear trees that were planted by my own parents. My Dad is in his seventies, but can still be found on any given Saturday helping someone move.

These are the memories that Mac and I share of our parents and grandparents…countless stories of their generosity. Perhaps that was ultimately drew us together. We grew up very differently. He grew up in a small town, but I grew up in the “city”. Our parents have different occupations and political affiliations. We came from similar backgrounds, though, because we both came from families that believe very strongly in service, in helping those in need, and raising givers. We share a desire to teach our children the same and to raise them to be generous and kind. We believe that most children share a desire to help. They want to help their peers, their elders, and their communities. They just need encouragement and support. They need to understand that they CAN make a difference. That’s why we founded Start A Snowball, because we believe that we can help build the next generation of givers.

When you think back on your family’s legacy, what do you remember? What do you want your children to remember?

Visit to learn more about how you can help your child apply for a grant to help support their community service passion.

Blythe Clifford, Co-Founder

Start A Snowball

10 Skills Kids Learn Through Community Service

Kids learn through community service : one kid can make a difference

10 Skills Kids Learn Through Community Service

I have been moved to tears by the actions and inspiration of an 8 year old boy. Recently, I witnessed my son William complete his second food drive to benefit hungry kids in our community. This was a project he conceived on his own last year and asked us to help him make it a reality. Last year, he collected 1,400 pounds of food and $305 in donations to benefit his school’s Backpack Buddies program. This year he decided to expand it, and at the age of 8, he organized a food drive coordinating over 50 volunteers and collecting over 3,200 pounds of food and over $3,200 in donations. That’s enough to feed 17 kids for an entire year. When he first came to us with the idea, we didn’t think he would really go through with it so we called his bluff. Next thing we knew this 7 year old “shy” boy was telling a grocery store manager how he should think “win-win,” and we had dedicated a week to his food drive. Since then, he has continued to worry about the hungry kids in his community and around the world, and at he says one of his life goals is, “no hungry kids.” As I step back and look at what he has done, I have seen skills emerge in my son that I have never noticed before this experience. These are skills that will serve him long into the future and these skills are worth cultivating in all children.

10 Skills Kids Learn through Community Service


  1. Self-Esteem: The key to lifetime mental health and social happiness is building positive self-esteem. Leading a community service effort is a fantastic way to build a child’s self-esteem. When they can see and quantify the difference they have made, they feel like they can do anything. Kids learn best by doing, parents constantly tell their kids, “You can do anything, if you put your mind to it.” Making a difference in the lives of others shows them this.
  2. How to ask for something: A child asking an adult for something can sometimes be a challenging task. Through planning the project, William had to have many conversations with store and restaurant managers, as well as others from whom he needed support. Additionally, he and all of his volunteers also had thousands of interactions with people asking them to purchase and donate food. Through these interactions, he learned valuable lessons and gained experience in communicating with adults and kids.
  3. Organizational Skills: Kids have more going on in their lives these days than ever. These demands only get more intense as they get older. It is more important than ever that kids learn to manage their time and organize projects. Whether a child is doing a lemonade stand or organizing volunteers for a food drive, there are lots of moving parts that will need to be managed. Let your kids experience what it takes to pull off their project. Helping them learn how to organize themselves through real-life experiences will take them far.
  4. Speaking: Everyone has heard that the number one fear of Americans is public speaking. Whether that is actually true or not, it is VERY intimidating. Through organizing their project, kids will have the opportunity to talk to groups about what they are doing (maybe to their church, scout group, school, or civic organizations). If they can begin to get comfortable in front of groups at an early age, the sky is the limit as they get older.
  5. You can’t judge a book by looking at its cover: Many of the assumptions we make about people and the world around us are based on our visual perception: how they look or what they wear. This holds true for people of all ages, so teaching kids about this can sometimes be hard. During the food drive, we all witnessed that many times those who had the least gave the most. People may pull up in a nice car and totally ignore the kids asking for donations, while someone with tattered clothes would walk over from the bus stop to empty their pockets into the donation jar.
  6. Emotional Intelligence: Wikipedia defines Emotional Intelligence (EI) as “the ability to monitor one’s own and other people’s emotions, to discriminate between different emotions and label them appropriately, and to use emotional information to guide thinking and behavior.” This type of intelligence may even be more important than a child’s IQ. Emotions are a difficult thing to read and manage, especially for children. Because of the interactions with people during their community service project kids go through a wide range of emotions, and have to learn to understand and manage those emotions real-time. As William was going through his food drive, he and the others volunteering with him had to learn to handle their own emotions when they got a “no” from a perspective donor, or worse when people walked by them as if they were invisible. It was tough at first, but all the volunteers, even adults learned from the experience, and in the end, everyone was more encouraged to keep trying than discouraged.
  7. How math really is used every day: How many times has a kid said, “When am I ever going to use this?” Well here you go, a real life opportunity to put their math skills to the test. They get to handle money, manage time schedules, plan out a budget, and manage expenses. All of a sudden they realize how important numbers are in our world. They also get a nice introduction to personal finance as well.
  8. The power of action: When I have asked William what he has learned from his experience, one of the first things he says is, “That one person can make a difference.” This lesson is key to helping a child to understand that they can make a difference in the world. No matter how small their action, it can snowball into something that affects others in a powerful way. The effects go much further than those whom they are trying to help. A child working to help others is incredibly inspiring to others, and will ignite a spark in others that can last for a long time. This will allow them to feel confident as they work to helps others as they go through life.
  9. Empathy: Working to help others already requires a certain amount of empathy. Going through the process of developing and executing a service project gives kids the opportunity to connect with what others are going through on a deeper level. The interaction with people that want to help because they may have needed help once enhances the ability for kids to develop empathy during their community service.
  10. Leadership: All of the previous skills roll into building the leaders of tomorrow. Giving kids the opportunity to take on a leadership role in their own community service project helps them put everything together and prepare them for the future. With all of the problems facing or world, our future leaders must have a sense of service ingrained in them, to give them the skills and abilities to care for those in need.


Families have very busy lives. There are so many things that demand attention like school, sports, and other activities. These activities all help kids develop many skills that will help them throughout their lives. It is really easy; however, to overlook teaching our kids to do good. The skills they can begin developing will be some of the most important arrows in their quiver as they move into adulthood and are faced with challenges that will be even more magnified than they are now.

Kids may feel like they can’t do much to help because they don’t have the financial resources that adults do, but I would argue that kids have more raw resources to do good than anyone else because of their youth and innate compassion for others, and because they have the ability to inspire adults to wake up and take action with their financial resources. What they need is encouragement and support from their families. Through my son’s project, I have grown and learned as much as he has, and am thankful every day that I have been able to be moved and inspired by my child. It is comforting to know that as this world gets more challenging, he will be equipped with the skills necessary to succeed.

If you would like to learn more about the food drive, you can visit the website at

If you would like to apply for a grant to help fund your kids’ service project, click the button below.

Dads Teaching Kids about Community Service: An Open Letter

We would like to thank Start A Snowball Board of Directors member John Mize for this open letter to fathers about the importance of teaching kids about community service.
Dads teaching kids about community service

We live in a fast paced society.

Everything seems to happen so fast and there all to often appears to be too much for us to handle.  I get it, you’ve worked hard all week and on the weekend you want nothing more than to chill out, play a round of golf, or sit around in your boxers all day and scream at the television.

We have an opportunity!

As dads however we have a responsibility to help our children learn the value of giving back.  There is something that is humbling and at the same time powerful for a dad that is willing to drop the remote or the golf club and call his family to action.  There is really nothing more important as parents than teaching our children compassion and understanding.  Sometimes we get so focused on achievement with our kids, that we forget that it’s in the service of others that our children develop character.

Engaging in community service to help lift others, and working toward a common good developmentally are some of the best things we can do as fathers.

As the father of a special needs child along with my experience as a foster parent I can say with certainty that there is an absolute need to help kids learn compassion (as there generally appears to be a total lack) as well as understanding and really there isn’t a better avenue than in helping your kids engage in community service.

You want to build a lasting memory with your kids, volunteer at a soup kitchen or get the family out for a day at the Special Olympics.  I promise you your kids will never forget the experience and one day will look back and thank you for helping them see the world from a different perspective.

-Written by John Mize, Board of Directors, Start A Snowball

Encouraging Community Service by Kids

How do Parents Encourage Their Kids to Engage in Community Service?
Encouraging Community Service by Kids

We live in an amazing country and have been blessed with opportunities and resources that allow us to live a quality of life only dreamed of in other countries. However, there are still many people that struggle every day in poverty or hunger. Our society has the ability to solve these problems ourselves, and it doesn’t have to come from the government or some other large entity. The solution to these problems lies within each and every person. We can build a culture of service that can feed the hungry and shelter the homeless, and it starts with encouraging kids to engage in community service.

Families are busy. Every day parents shuttle their kids between school, sports, music lessons, Scouts, and not to mention getting their homework done! We do this in an effort to broaden our kids’ horizons, to give them new opportunities, or to help kids become an Olympic star or professional athlete. But what good is all of this if our kids don’t learn the things that really matter when it comes to helping our fellow humans. Teaching kids the value of giving back is arguably one of the most important lessons they can learn, and it is one that cannot be left solely to schools to teach. Everyone has to take part in teaching our kids the importance of giving to the world around us. Marian Wright Edelman, Founder and President of the Children’s Defense Fund said, “Service is the rent we pay for being. It is the very purpose of life, and not something you do in your spare time.” To us, this means that we have to incorporate service in our daily lives, and that it is the responsibility of everyone that comes in contact with a child to teach them, and to model to them what service means. It doesn’t always have to be a grand gesture or project for kids to learn that they can make a difference, it can be:

  • Giving a sandwich to the guy with a cardboard sign
  • Letting someone ahead of you in the check-out line
  • Giving a dollar to someone in need (even if you aren’t sure how they will spend it)
  • Sending canned food with a child for a school food drive
  • Letting someone out in front of you in traffic
  • Or even smiling at someone that looks like they are having a rough day

The key is to make it a priority every day. Encouraging kids to engage in community service and helping kids to realize the impact they can have on the world around them may be one of the most important things we do as parents.  One easy way to engage in community service as a family is to make it a tradition.  For example, ever year on Thanksgiving, collect food donations for a local food bank.  Another great idea is to plan something around Earth Day (April 22nd) or Global Youth Service Day (April 11-13).

I don’t think you will find many people that will say that it isn’t important to teach our kids about community service and philanthropy. But with our busy lives and kids’ hectic schedules, it is difficult to really find time to fit it into your schedule. Between school, sports, friends, and other extra-curricular activities, no one wants to become over extended. The important thing is to set the example for children every day, and hope that it takes. Create your own culture of giving, and kids will take notice. Kids will want to do their good too, and the feeling they get from doing good will stay with them for a lifetime – and hopefully encourage them to keep being generous and kind as an adult.

How can Start a Snowball help you get involved as a family?  Click here to apply for a grant or click here for a list of service project ideas.


Fighting Childhood Illiteracy: a great way for kids to share their love of reading

Kids can help fight illiteracy

Sometimes the best way to get kids to care is for them to notice problems that may be hiding in plain sight. Childhood hunger is something we have highlighted as a problem that could be facing someone sitting right next to you or your child in class. Something even more prevalent and affects 1 in 4 kids in the United States is childhood illiteracy.

  • According to UNICEF, “Nearly a billion people will enter the 21st century unable to read a book or sign their names and two thirds of them are women.”
  • Begin To Read states that
    • 2/3 of children who cannot read by the end of the fourth grade will end up in jail or on welfare
    • One child in 4 grows up not being able to read

Not only is childhood illiteracy a problem that kids may see every day, but it is one where kids can make a big impact towards helping. is a non-profit organization that dedicated itself to changing the world through the power of children’s books. They do this by providing new books to children in need, and they seem to be doing a great job of it. As of the date this was written they have joined the fight against illiteracy by distributing over 110 million books to 90,000 schools and programs. They have more compelling data to back up their plight against illiteracy. With more than 30 million children living below the poverty level in the United States they have found that over 70% of the children they followed showed increased home literacy activities after receiving books from First Book.

All that being said First Book offers the ability to launch your own virtual book drive to raise money to buy books for impoverished kids, and you can even chose if you want it to be dedicated to your own community or wherever it is needed the most. This is an excellent way to harness your energy around a worthwhile cause and a platform already established.

First book is just one idea to help fight childhood illiteracy. There are many other things that can be done. You could volunteer with a local group that tutors disadvantaged kids, and help them directly. You could also start your own community book exchange, giving your community a way to rally around fighting illiteracy by donating their used books for others to take for free.

Childhood illiteracy is a huge problem facing the US as well as the world, and a great opportunity for kids community service. Please engage at some level with a project of any kind whether it is this cause or another. You have the choice to do nothing or to help. Please choose to help, click on the button below to apply for a $100 grant to help get your project off the ground.


Apply For A Grant





Childhood Hunger – A Cause Kids Can Get Behind

1 in 5 children are hungry

One of the biggest problems children face in America is hunger. According to, 1 in 5 American Children struggle with hunger. Just ask any public school teacher, and they will tell you that they see children come to school everyday that haven’t had enough to eat. For many children, the only regular meals they receive are breakfast and lunch provided at school. How can we expect the cycle of poverty to be broken when these children are hungry and learning takes a backseat to the emptiness of their stomachs?

Childhood hunger CAN BE HELPED, and its best advocates are children.  Many schools have programs in place to help these kids and their families the best they can, maybe it is a backpack program or a kids cafe. While these programs can have a huge impact on the children, they are reliant on donations or outside support to operate. If kids want to make an impact on their community this is a wonderful place for them to start. Even though these programs are confidential, the thought that the kid in the desk next to them may have no food can move a child to act. They can speak with their teacher or school counselor about what help their school’s program needs, and if they don’t have one, you can start one.

See Causes and Groups for Kids to Help for more ideas to help fight hunger.

You can also download our charity information form here to help your child gather what they need.

Apply For A Grant



We love community service for kids!

Children Giving for Their Birthday

Children Giving on Their Birthday

Birthday Community Service

Have a party with a purpose! You can find numerous stories across the internet about generous children turning their birthday into an event for giving. A birthday collection drive is a very easy yet powerful project to get children giving back.

  • You may already be planning a birthday party
  • It allows your child to make a conscious sacrifice in order to help others
  • It inspires others to do likewise
  • It feels better than any other present they could receive

This is a great first step to creating a lasting sense of philanthropy and to get your children giving. We would like to encourage kids to find a cause they are passionate about leading up to their birthday, and make their birthday a collection event.

Please share your birthday story with us to help inspire others.