Teaching kids to give back, exhibit empathy and be kind is not as difficult as you might think. Giving Artfully Kids is a program that does all of those things: they teach children about philanthropy via art and crafting through thoughtful lesson plans and specialist teaching. Read on to hear how you can help your kids find real ways to make a difference and meet a local instructor, Jessica Vacco.

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Why was this a cause worth pursuing for founder Sitinee Sheffert?
As a parent, Sitinee wanted to teach her kids kindness and the importance of helping others. She recognized that the ways adults give back, such as raising money and donating food to pantries, doesn’t always resonate with kids. Though they knew it was all very beneficial, the daily aspect of giving back wasn’t clicking. It wasn’t until her kids made something that took time and effort, two characteristics that children understand, that they were able to fully comprehend the meaning of giving something to somebody else to help. She used this personal experience to create a platform, Giving Artfully Kids, where she could help introduce this type of philanthropy to kids as well as teachers.

Why did she feel this was important? What do kids learn and how are they empowered?
Empowered is an important word. When children see a piece of cloth turned into a dog toy to be donated, it not only gives them a sense of self-worth, it empowers them to do bigger things. It shows them that no matter how small the gesture, each and every act of kindness somehow helps make a difference. By using talents unique to them to help someone in need, confidence is built and they truly feel they’re making a difference. This teaches empathy. The lessons learned, along with the crafts made, help open their eyes to things going on in their own community as well as worldwide.

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What kinds of projects have the children worked on?
The projects vary greatly and fit a wide range of interests. Examples are: dog toys for local animal shelters, letters to servicemen abroad, scarves for the homeless, placemats for Meals on Heels and gratitude bags for those in need. Simple snowmen decorations from one class, for instance, were donated to the Oak Park Senior Center. The light in the children’s eyes when they received photos of their snowmen being loved by the seniors was something that couldn’t be captured, but is replicated every time Giving Artfully hosts a class.

Who are some of the beneficiaries? What organizations has Giving Artfully Kids helped?
Giving Artfully Kids is always looking for different organizations that accept handmade donations. Currently some of the organizations they are donating to are: dog toys for PAWS, tutus for Traveling Tutus, fleece blankets for Project Linus and felt hair bows for Bow Dazzling. On top of these major organizations, they also incorporate local crafts and ones in which the kids can share as “random acts of kindness.”

Jessica Vacco

What is the background of Giving Artfully Instructor, Jessica Vacco
Jessica read about the program and immediately intrigued, got in contact with Sitinee. She felt it was an amazing program to be a part of – impacting youth by teaching them about philanthropy in a way they enjoy. She had previously taught a journalism/media class at Garfield Park and knew she wanted to incorporate some sort of teaching into her schedule.

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How can parents and instructors get involved? 
Jessica is currently holding two classes at Doodle’s Donuts in Chicago and running several weekend summer camp programs in Oak Park. Visit the website to register for classes. Giving Artfully also runs several programs as part of an after-school program, interested parents can contact Sitinee at sitinee@givingartfully.com.

If someone is interested in becoming a Giving Artfully Kids Instructor, they can become a Giving Artfully Kids Certified Instructor and start their own program. Instructors will receive all the necessary training, not just the curriculum but how to market and sell the program to their school and community.

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Have your kids taken a Giving Artfully Kids class? Tell us about it in the Comments below!

— Wendy Altschuler