Wednesday, November 29, 2006

Children For Children

Marcia Vickers, an editor at Business Week Magazine, called me one day and asked if I’d like to meet Silda Wall, a friend of hers who had created an organization called “Children For Children.” Marcia thought that since New York Social Diary covers so many philanthropic and charity events, we should know about this one in which children are also encouraged to participate in helping other children. Marcia also told me that Mrs. Wall is married to Elliot Spitzer, our recently elected governor of New York.

Frankly, I was as interested in meeting Ms. Wall because of that. It’s not every day that you get to meet a candidate for a major office, or his or her partner. So we made a lunch date.
DPC, Silda Wall Spitzer, and Marcia Vickers
I was a few minutes late, which is recognized by many others as my habit (or fault), and which it is ... partly. Me and the traffic situation in New York City, which is completely chaotic thanks to: 1. too many cars and trucks, and 2. mid-town traffic re-directing which I often think was designed by nihilists operating in the Bloomberg administration.

I had no idea what to expect on meeting Ms. Wall. My imagination couldn’t provide an image of the kind of woman who would be married to Attorney General Spitzer whose image I’d seen a million times on the business pages of all the papers.

As you can see from the picture taken of us at Michael’s, Mrs. Wall is a very attractive young woman in her mid-forties. With a degree from Harvard Law. She, like Mrs. Vickers, grew up in the South – North Carolina and Mississippi respectively. Like many of us New Yorkers, Ms. Wall’s hometown was small – where you knew your neighbors or at least were well aware of their presence and their lives in general.

It is not so easy for children growing up in the metropolis to know about their contemporaries’ lives, outside of the small circles they live in. Many children who live in the privileged environs of Manhattan, who attend private schools and summer and weekend at their parents’ country places, are totally unaware of the other (and larger) side of city life where children (and adults) encounter all kinds of deprivation daily.

This matter had been on Ms. Wall’s mind for a long time. She and Mr. Spitzer have three daughters – 14, 11, and 9 – who are growing up here in Manhattan. One day she and her husband were on a motor trip and were discussing the excess of children’s birthday parties in Manhattan and a certain socio-economic strata of Manhattan where money seems to be no object for anything, including kids’ birthday parties.

The Spitzers both agreed they wanted their daughters to be exposed to a bigger world, namely real life. Children For Children was borne out of that discussion and was founded in 1996 by parents who shared the Spitzers’ concerns for their children.

The mission is to find ways to promote hands-on
youth volunteering and giving, so the more privileged children among us will learn about the world they are growing up in and also the value of being involved in their community. The main emphasis has been on providing resources to under-served schools.

Their first program: the Birthday Party Program focused on establishing a simple way to make helping other children a part of the event. They chose “birthdays” because it is something almost all children celebrate from an early age. The kids of these founding parents were asked to take part of the money they would spend on a birthday party and instead pledge it to help under-served schools purchase supplies, such as musical instruments.

The reason for emphasizing helping with matters of education is that all children can relate to or empathize with what it must be like to try learning without enough resources.
Children from CFC's 2004 "Grow Involved Educator Award" benefit
The first year, the Children For Children’s annual fund was $2600. Last year it was close to $200,000. Since that original Birthday Party program, CFC has evolved into a series of youth service and philanthropy programs which encourage young people to Get Involved. As of March 2004, contributors have given thousands of hands-on volunteer hours and almost $1 million for resource grants throughout the City’s five boroughs, directing them to under-resourced schools and teachers, for books, funds to purchase computers, art supplies, math materials, musical instruments and instruction, science equipment, gym equipment and school improvements such as murals and garden projects. They’ve also supplied almost a half million new and “gently used” books in the schools.

More than 120,000 children have benefited from these gifts. CFC also has developed programs to engage children within their own communities to participate in youth service, which offers powerful lifelong benefits such as learning responsibility, leadership, critical thinking and problem-solving skills. All of the children are exposed to experiencing greater self-respect, character development and discipline. It increases motivation and work in their studies. It also naturally encourages tolerance and a broader perspective of the world.

People like Silda Wall and her supporters, contributors and colleagues have discovered something powerful (and obvious), which is that children love participating in their community. They love being part of constructive activity that improves or positively affects the lives of others. They experience the same exhilaration that adults experience from giving because it is a natural force. Everybody wins in these situations, especially the children. And the future.

For more information call 212-759-1462 or visit www.childrenforchildren.org
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