"As we work to create light for others, we naturally light our own way." - Mary Ann Radmacher

Meet the Family That Started PGK!

Michael, Andrew, Molly & Abby

Michael, Andrew, Molly & Abby

By Sundari Johansen, PGK Manager of Strategic Engagement

Here at Project Giving Kids, we are all constantly inspired by kids and teens who are doing good things in the world. It really gives me hope, and restores my faith in the basic goodness of people on a daily basis.

And that’s really how Project Giving Kids got started - inspired by kids who love helping their community. Our founder, Molly Yuska, was inspired by her own children, who have been volunteering their whole lives. They have helped out with food banks, disaster relief, and many other great causes.

I interviewed Molly to find out more about how this great organization got started, and about her philosophy on why it’s so important for kids and teens to get involved with volunteering and service learning.

You’ve said that your kids inspired you to start PGK. Can you tell me more about that?

I always say, I am a mom first and a nonprofit founder second. My kids inspire everything I do in some way, shape, or form.

Wanting to instill certain values, in part, drove me to start PGK. I also realized early on that their childhood, while beautiful, was very unlike most of the rest of the world. Kids only know what they experience, and I wanted to be sure my kids’ experiences were broader than what their day-to-day reality might naturally serve up. Parenting takes intentionality at a lot of different levels, and I see exposure to service and the needs of others as a one of the most important life experiences/lessons I can give my kids. I have to be very intentional about that.

What projects have your kids started that inspired you?

I see all my kids looking for little ways to bring smiles to others – whether a thoughtful card to a grandparent or a lemonade stand to support a natural disaster or sticking up for a kid at school who is “on the fringe” or otherwise being singled out.

But my oldest, Michael, took his concern for the environment to our school which had no formal recycling program when we moved to the area. He put a PowerPoint together on why recycling is so important, frightening stats on America’s waste habits, and ethical concerns about our (in)actions. He pitched the principal, and then the faculty/staff. He is now on his second year of leading the new Eco Club which he founded, and hopefully will live on long after he leaves the school.

I am inspired when I see them taking action because it is the right thing to do, even if it requires work and time and commitment. Those are good life lessons in general, but applying them selflessly to assist others is one of the most gratifying and inspiring things for me as a parent.

How do your kids inspire you every day?

Four kids is a lot! Every day there are a million things to think about and a million things to juggle, but I think having kids – my kids – have taught me, or perhaps reminded me, that the little things we do and can squeeze into the busy moments can be transformative.

I think that extends to something like service. It doesn’t have to be a big service trip to Haiti to be impactful. We raise thoughtful and caring kids through all those little moments – when we put down our phones to say “I love you” for no reason at all; or when we stop to hold the door for someone at a store, and then magically find that our kids do the same the next time around because you’ve modeled that behavior unknowingly.

Having kids quite honestly gives me hope in the future. I believe empathy and kindness are hardwired, and my kids remind me every day that all we have to do is stay connected to that.

How is volunteering good for the whole family?

I got an email the other day from a woman at our church who coordinated a family service opportunity at Christmas. We went into the home of a homebound couple from our church and spruced things up for Christmas. We ended up mostly cleaning - floors, windows, kitchen cabinets, etc. I’m not sure my kids would say it was their favorite Saturday activity, but they all got why we did it, felt good about helping someone and walked away feeling like they had been a blessing to another human being, which was great.

The email said that they couple had called last week requesting us again for this Christmas and recalling with excitement just how much that day had meant to them. I read the email to my kids and they got huge smiles on their faces. Three months after the fact, everyone was thrilled by what that small exchange had meant to all involved. I could have taken my kids to the mall that Saturday. Instead, I have a memory that none of us, or that couple, will ever forget.

As a mom, why is volunteering so important for all kids and teens?

Children have a beautiful developmental window in which volunteering can truly take root in an organic way that changes the way they view themselves and the world around them. And it has been shown that those effects last a lifetime. I want concern for neighbor to trump concern for self for my kids. I want them to know that in helping others, they are not hindering their own advancement, but rather aiding it.

I do not believe life is a zero sum game. We all do better when we help our neighbors and our communities. I want my kids to know they can make a difference, and I want them to actively seek to make that difference long after they have left our house.


Parkland's Teen Leaders

By Amy Johnson, Outreach and Marketing Manager, PGK - Bay Area

I have been working with or for youth my entire adult life. So when the tragic events of Parkland, Florida occurred last month, I was rattled to the core on both a personal and professional level. It was too easy to imagine myself huddled together with students and colleagues at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School.  

Soon afterwards, I found myself consumed by media coverage of the event and its aftermath. I was overcome with emotion. Anger. Sadness. Confusion. But like many others, these feelings quickly changed.  As if in an instant, I was swept up with new emotions. Hope. Inspiration. Pride.  Following the event, Parkland teen survivors took immediate action and began to not just participate in, but lead, a national movement. Over the past month, Parkland teens have mobilized youth from all over the country, arranging marches, protests, and school walkouts, all of which have been captured and shared using social media.

The teens’ work has not just been for show; it has produced legislative changes. After making their voices heard at the Florida capitol, Florida Governor Rick Scott signed a bill raising the minimum age to purchase a firearm to twenty-one and extending the waiting period to three days. Additionally, three major U.S. companies, Dick’s, Walmart, and Kroger, each announced they would no longer sell guns to customers younger than twenty-one and in some cases, no longer sell assault-style rifles. Dick’s CEO, Edward Stack, credited the policy change to Parkland teen leaders, "When we take a look at what those kids and the parents and the heroes in the school, what they did, our view was if the kids can be brave enough to organize like this, we can be brave enough to take these [assault-style rifles] out of here."

Regardless of your political leanings, the maturity and leadership shown by Parkland youth over the past several weeks is admirable. These teens have been able to start and sustain a national conversation about gun reform, a task adult representatives have been unable to do for decades. In considering this, I am once again filled with hope, inspiration, and pride. For if these teens can make great change in the wake of great tragedy, imagine what they can accomplish when given the best of advantages?

At PGK, we recognize - and applaud - the power of this new generation of leaders and change makers. We hope they continue to find their voices, and to use them for good. We only hope that next time, it need not come with such tragedy and sacrifice.



Take A Breath

By Jessica Barga, PGK Contributor

I hate to admit it, those three words that out of anyone else's mouth drive me crazy: I'm too busy.

The days blur by, leaving behind the vague feeling of running around and around on a hamster wheel. Get up, go to work, do chores and take care of other obligations; rinse and repeat. Especially during this time of year, when it's often too cold and dreary to even get outside and enjoy the sunlight, my days and weeks seem to run together into a grey monotony.

There is one respite: No matter how busy I get, I stubbornly force myself, each and every month, to attend the service project at my church. It takes about 30 minutes; you bring some sandwich-making supplies, throw together a few dozen bologna-and-cheese sandwiches, bag them up for the local homeless shelter, and you're done.

I try to make excuses: I'm (ugh) too busy. The smell of lunch meat makes me gag. I told someone else I'd do something. But the truth is, I need those 30-odd minutes a month just as much as the people receiving the sandwiches. It's a time when I can focus completely on someone else, not on myself. It's a time when I am humbled by a community coming together and the difference we can make - typically 2,000 sandwiches, enough to supply the shelter for a few days. And it's a chance to regroup and realize how lucky I am, that my day isn't made or broken by whether I receive a single sandwich to suffice for a whole day.

In today's world, it seems a me-me-me mentality has become the norm. I'm certainly not always an exception. But when the hamster wheel starts churning again, for just a few moments each month - a tiny sliver of my time - I'm able to focus on we, not me. And in these moments, I find a simple peace and stillness that's exactly what I need.


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