Positively Speaking – Lessons about Poverty

Kelly Curtis - Professional speaker, writer and counselor*** Monthly Feature Column ***

Positively Speaking
Building Assets in your Kids

by Kelly Curtis, M.S. from Pass the Torch

Each year at this time, our family buys extra school supplies so we can assemble full backpacks for students in my husband’s school. We sponsor these students because my husband works in a district with more than 50% of its school population living in poverty.

A classmate was helping check off the third-grade list and put the items in a new backpack, and she asked my daughter, “Why are you doing this?”

My daughter responded with the message she’d heard from us over the years, “There’s a lot of poverty in the community where my dad works, so it’s hard for some families to buy school supplies.”

To which her friend innocently asked, “What’s poverty?”

We are so fortunate — in a community with relative affluence, leading lives that have never seen hunger or homelessness. It’s easy to forget that for some families nearby, these are chronic issues.

Search Institute has identified Caring and Equality and Social Justice as two of the 40 Developmental Assets. Research shows these are characteristics of healthy, caring, resilient kids. The more assets youth have, the more likely they’ll resist risky behaviors in the future.

While there are countless ways to become involved in worthwhile organizations, churches or social charities that help to improve the lives of those suffering socio-economically, many of these opportunities require more commitment than young families are willing to give. But that doesn’t mean we can’t open the discussion with our kids anyway. Children are naturally curious, so learning opportunities present themselves daily.

Rather than shielding our kids from witnessing poverty or ignoring questions, we can plant small seeds of truth which, over time, will accumulate to become understanding. Sometimes short statements or questions delivered in a matter-of-fact way open the way for larger discussions. You may even find your child is the one that calls your family to action as a result.

Try saying this:

When your child sees a jobless man on the corner holding a cardboard sign, try saying, “Unfortunately, not all families have a warm home and steady income like we have.”

When your child notices the food stamps used by the next woman in line, try discretely saying, “Sometimes the government helps families that have trouble paying for food.”

When the boy at school never brings a snack, try asking, “I wonder if there’s a reason he’s not bringing snack?”

When your child sees a commercial to sponsor a child overseas, ask, “What are some of the things here we can be grateful for?”

Try doing this:

• Ask your kids to help stock the local food pantry. Set an amount and let them do the shopping for canned and boxed goods.

• Attend an Empty Bowls event. When we went last year, our kids were so moved they pooled their charity money and returned a second time to donate it.

Sponsor a student. Often the school counselor will have someone in mind. Just ask for the grade level and gender, pick up the school supply list and shop. It may just become an annual tradition you love.

Participate in Blog Action Day on October 15. This year’s topic is poverty. You could share what you’ve done with your kids!

What do you do to inspire caring and social awareness in your kids?

Thanks for joining in to build assets in your kids! I look forward to seeing you again next month for Positively Speaking.

Kelly Curtis is a Wisconsin school counselor and author of Empowering Youth: How to Encourage Young Leaders to Do Great Things. To read more about Kelly, please visit her Weblog, Pass the Torch or follow her on Twitter.


  1. says

    We have frequent jobless/homeless people at the bottom of exit ramps in our area. After the first time I gave money to someone I talked about this issue with my 5 year old twins. Now every time we see someone with a sign my twins talk about it and urge me to give money. Sometimes the wallet or traffic doesn’t allow this, but I’m so proud they feel this way for people.

  2. says

    That is such a timely post… I just had a big discussion with my five year old son as we bought a newspaper from a homeless man the other day.

    My son had so many questions and really heart warming suggestions as well!!

    Great post!!

  3. says

    Our church led by one of our members, a 5th grade teacher, and my husband, our church’s pastor, started on a mission about 8 months ago to help our lower socioecomic elementary students with school supplies. By May, our entire community (several churches, businesses and individuals) rallied to start an organization called HOPE for kids to help with all the costs of back to school. On August 16th, a week before this school year started, our entire elementary school (Head Start – 5th grade), not just the lower income kids, was supplied with backpacks with every school supply needed for the year along with free haircuts, eye exams, dental checkups and scoliosis exams. Anyone who felt they did not need the supplies was asked to come by anyway and donate monetarily what they would have spent, so to begin the funds for next year. It was a great success and such a testimony to our entire community (young & old alike) of how we can make a difference in the lives of others!

  4. says

    Great post.

    I have a very dear friend who has recently launched a blog to help food pantries. If anybody is interested in visiting it the link is http://playforfood.blogspot.com/. The concept is to organize a playdate, have your children become involved and each person brings a food donation. At the end of the playdate all of the food is donated to the local food bank.


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