Health & Medicine

You're never too young to be altruistic

Heather Tucker, like most of us parents, has watched as her children ripped open a gift, examined it briefly, and then set it aside for the next unopened gift.

"We didn't want that," she said.

So, when the time came for her children, Ryan Oster, 8, and Lauren Oster, 6, to have the large birthday parties their friends and classmates enjoyed, she and her husband, Bill Oster of Georgetown, came up with a way to make the day even more special.

Instead of a new toy as a gift, she encouraged her children to request items they could donate to a charity of their choosing. The children have sent supplies to a food pantry, a horse rescue operation and the Humane Society, she said. This year, they decided to send supplies to a hospital in Haiti.

A nurse practitioner and wound specialist at the Veterans Administration Hospital on Leestown Road, Tucker spent a week in Haiti, providing medical care to the wounded survivors of the Jan. 12 earthquake. She volunteered with University of Miami Project Medishare for Haiti, Inc., which was founded in 1994 to provide medical aid to that nation.

While in Haiti, Tucker noticed that Haitian patients and their family members supplied their own bed linens, toiletries and food.

"Sometimes we were scrounging around to find sheets or something to put on top of the cots," she said. "With the temperature around 90 degrees, they didn't need blankets."

And, she noticed that the children had to be sedated to change the dressings on their wounds and that the medicine "tasted horrible." The volunteers handed out lollipops to help alleviate the trauma, she said.

So, for their birthdays this year — Ryan's on April 4 and Lauren's on April 15 — the children asked for new or clean used bed sheets, suckers, clothing and shoes.

They received more than 200 pounds of goods which were sent to Miami and put aboard a freight plane to Haiti.

"We also received donations from Roxana Blevins' fifth-grade class at Garth" Elementary School in Georgetown, Tucker said. "They contributed money for the project in Haiti, so it was a community effort."

I love it.

Far too often, I hear people lament how self-absorbed children are nowadays, wanting more things for themselves rather than considering the needs of others.

As loathe as I am to blame parents for everything children do wrong, I think this self-centeredness is something we parents have nurtured.

We need to make a concerted effort to make our children more altruistic. That means we have to make them aware of a need, teach them we are socially responsible to help fill that need, and then allow them to work out a way to do their part.

They will become more aware of their places in the world, and we will give them the gift of empathy.

That's what Tucker and her husband have done with their two children, and what many other parents are doing.

"I am proud of the children," Tucker said. "So many children want to use their birthdays as a way to collect more for themselves, and Lauren and Ryan have always used birthday parties as a way to do good for others.

"Maybe this will give other children the idea that they can help their community as well, and that helping is not just for adults."