It feels like a carnival at Nicollet Island Pavilion. There are games, crafts, a photo booth full of fun props, live performances and the smell of popcorn wafting. Anna Petosky and her 9-year-old son Dmitri have waded into the middle of it and are coloring works of art on cotton. Their creations will be sewn into handmade quilts for needy newborns.
“It’s fun!” said Dmitri. Fun it is, but his mother hopes her two children take away something else, too.
“I want to model my values of giving back by coming to this event,” said Petosky, of Richfield.
The Petoskys are among hundreds of families who have flocked to the pavilion for the first-ever Festival of Giving. The national, Minneapolis-based nonprofit Doing Good Together organized the festival to give families an opportunity to volunteer together and, its founder hopes, spur talk about the values of generosity, service to others and basic kindness.
A variety of nonprofits have been tapped to run the activities which are mini-volunteer projects tied to their missions. Participants can make toys for orphan cats or craft reusable shopping bags out of old T-shirts.
“We want to help people have those conversations with their children,” said Doing Good Together founder and executive director Jenny Friedman.
“We know these conversations are a powerful way to instill those values.”
In today’s pop culture world that celebrates social media personal branding and materialism, many parents are looking for tangible ways to model their values shoulder-to-shoulder with their children, Friedman said.
“A lot of parents are worried their kids are growing up entitled.”
The Festival of Giving, specifically, and Doing Good Together, more broadly, create opportunities to do what Friedman calls “big-hearted parenting.”
“It’s the idea of growing your child’s heart as well as your child’s mind,” she said.
Children are eager for those lessons.
“Most kids have this strong idealistic and generous spirit about sharing,” Friedman said. “That can often be the catalyst for families to get involved. It’s a nice way to support those instincts.”
Friedman, who has a background in education and child development, started Doing Good Together in 2004. As a professional and mother, she realized there were ample opportunities and organizations focused on childhood achievement and helping parents raise star students and stellar athletes. But few focused on helping families raise kind, generous, empathetic people.
And she observed that organizations that traditionally instill values, including churches and service groups, often separated the kids and adults. Friedman wanted parents and children to share those meaningful moments.
“In some ways, families have always done this. They just didn’t label it,” said Friedman, who has expanded her nonprofit’s reach to cities across the country, including Boston and San Jose.
“We are lifting up what people have already done and inspiring them to do more.”
The Minneapolis Foundation was among the festival’s sponsors. The foundation launched the Family Philanthropy Resource Center four years ago in response to rising demand. Parents and grandparents were seeking ways to share their values with their children, said Robyn Schein, director of the Family Philanthropy Resource Center.
“Our kids are being exposed to so many more external influences than a generation ago,” theorized Schein, who helps families figure out ways to include younger generations in philanthropy.
“We have to be a lot more intentional to break through some of the noise.”
Schein’s work ranges from suggesting hands-on volunteer opportunities for families, to facilitating meetings with three-generations of a family to discuss how to best give away assets allocated to charity.
“Doing Good Together is a really wonderful partner to find those volunteer opportunities,” Schein said. “You can touch them. They are really tactical and they reinforce the values families want to pass on to their kids.”
Kids just get it
Back at the Festival of Giving, children and parents line up for the sock toss. They use balled socks they plan to donate, instead of beanbags, to compete in the carnival-style game. At the next booth, families use colorful duct tape to decorate cloth bags, then fill them with donated storybooks for needy kids.
Nearby, families cut up and knot old T-shirts to make reusable shopping bags at a booth run by Minneapolis Climate Action. They can keep or donate them.
“Kids instinctively get it, even if they don’t understand all the intricacies of greenhouse gases and climate change,” said Kyle Samejima, executive director of Minneapolis Climate Action.
Kathleen and Andrew Cannon, of Vadnais Heights, have brought their three kids to the festival.
“It looked like good family fun and a good service opportunity,” Kathleen Cannon said.
“I always try to spice up our lives and get outside ourselves,” she said. “Our lives get so full of stuff. You can get self-absorbed.”
One little boy agreed. After spending two hours at the festival, he told his grandmother, “That was the best day of my life so far!”