One of the hardest lessons to teach children is about how miraculously the gift of giving to others improves our own lives. It sounds so trite when you say it out loud, but I firmly believe that we can heal ourselves by helping others.
Sure, we can achieve this task by encouraging our children to get involved in various community service opportunities through school, religious organizations or nonprofits. But a real connection takes place when a child is passionate about the specific cause for which he or she is volunteering.
My 15-year-old niece, Alexa Robertson, has such a passion. At age four, she was diagnosed with a Wilms tumor. She went through months of grueling treatments at UNC Children’s Hospital — chemotherapy and radiation — and surgery, to shrink, and ultimately remove the basketball-sized tumor that attacked her kidney. Today, she is a thriving 10th grader and a talented dancer who aspires to be a doctor someday.
When Alexa thinks back on her time spent in the hospital, she can recall one special moment. One day, a woman came by her room and gave Alexa a simple gift - a stuffed dog.
“She said it had my name written all over it. That stuffed animal became my buddy during the rest of my time there,” Alexa remembers. “Although my stay there was never easy, that dog made me happier and stronger. I still have that dog today, almost 11 years later.”
Born out of this personal struggle, Alexa decided this year she would like to bring peace and comfort to other children experiencing what she went through on Valentine’s Day. “Operation Love” is a toy drive aimed at collecting new stuffed animals for children undergoing cancer treatments in the Triangle. Over the weekend Alexa delivered the stuffed animals she gathered to the Pediatric Oncology ward at UNC Children’s Hospital.
“Stuffed animals have the ability to bring so much joy. They offer compassion, love and strength,” Alexa says.
She hopes to “bring a great deal of happiness to many children fighting for their lives on the only day of the year dedicated solely to love," she says.
Chances are in the process Alexa will get something much greater in return: A chance to intimately know and understand the gift of giving. We should all look for tangible ways to connect our children with opportunities to help others in a way that’s meaningful to them.
Amanda is the mom of two, a reporter for WRAL-TV and the author of several books including some on motherhood. Find her here on Mondays.