|Photo of Kayla Theriot by Robin May|
When Kayla Theriot and her friends gathered at Indulge for her 8th birthday they had more than cupcakes on their minds (although there were cupcakes involved). In lieu of gifts, the Lafayette child asked that her friends give to Another Child Foundation, which reaches impoverished children in Romania.
“I want them to buy things they need,” Kayla says just weeks after her party.
Kayla first heard about Another Child Foundation at her church, First Baptist Lafayette, and something about the organization struck a chord with her.
“She came to us and said she wanted to do this,” her mother Allyson Theriot recalls. “I said, ‘wow, really?’ She said she didn’t need more. ‘These kids need shoes and clothes.’”
While it’s clear Allyson is proud of Kayla, there is a sense she is not surprised by the child’s awareness.
“She has a real sense of otherness,” Allyson says. “And very mission minded.”
A different kind of birthday
In lieu of gifts and goodies for birthdays, try teaching lessons to children about giving more than receiving. Go all out with a party aimed at raising funds for a cause near to your child’s heart. If they’re not too keen on the idea of forgoing gifts, don’t make them feel guilty. Instead, suggest that as they receive gifts they look for old toys or clothes to donate locally to a good cause.
The family had been praying for and talking about the children in Romania who benefit from Another Child. The organization, co-founded three years ago by John Frank Reeve of Lafayette, has a center called Point of Hope, which runs both a preschool and after-school program offering education, food and clean clothes to Romania’s poorest children. Many of the children are orphans, and there is no government assistance. Most lack necessities like running water and use public outhouses.
The aim of Point of Hope is to educate the children to break the cycle of generational poverty. To date there are more than 100 children enrolled and many more who wait outside of the fence each day.
And so, it was with these children in mind that Kayla created her birthday party where a donation box was displayed instead of a table for gifts. It was Kayla who was the catalyst for the party.
“She’s always been very different,” Allyson says, recalling her own recent birthday in which Kayla single-handedly orchestrated a surprise birthday party and baked a cake.
“She was so excited,” Allyson says. “She’s joy wrapped up in skin.”
Kayla may be unique, but her efforts to give rather than receive are something from which all children can take inspiration. And it all starts at home, according to Amy E. Cavanaugh, Ph.D., a licensed clinical psychologist at The Center for Psychiatric Solutions.
“It’s never too early; have your child be the one to put the money in the collection plate; teach them about setting aside a certain amount of allowance for giving; let them help sort toys for donation and talk about other children who are less fortunate; let them choose their own causes,” Cavanaugh says.
She suggests making giving a part of your child’s regular routine and says you should not fear exposing children to the realities of struggle in the world.
“[P]arents tend to shield children from knowing about or having to make sacrifices for a greater value, but I think that’s an important lesson that if learned early prevents children from becoming selfish and entitled teens and adults,” Cavanaugh adds.
In fact, children who learn empathy and pro-social behavior get along better in other areas as well. They are more thoughtful decision-makers and problem solvers. Says Cavanaugh,
“And they learn to consider how their behavior affects not only themselves but other people as well, all of which make for happier, healthier adults.”