In case you missed it, Disney has launched a cheery new promotion called "Give a Day, Get a Disney Day." Individuals and families of up to eight people can choose from one of many participating nonprofit organizations on the Disney website (, do a day of volunteer service and get a free admission voucher for one day.

I appreciate the magic of the Magic Kingdom, even more than I admire its brilliant marketing machine. But tying their small world to the Herculean crises facing our planet is downright goofy.

I speak from experience. When our two big kids were little, their Dad noticed that we had developed a questionable parenting strategy. Likening it to zoo seals, he called it: "Jumping for Fish."

You did your homework? How about ice cream with chocolate sauce?

You returned the trash can to the garage? Time for a press conference!

Helped your grandmother into the car? Stand by for your Nobel Peace Prize!

But parents can be taught and later, much to the chagrin of far younger Child Three, we figured out that certain things are best experienced with no payback at all, things like homework, music and sports practice, and cleaning up after yourself.

Highest on that payback-free list, though, is the human instinct called altruism.

I've seen it in action. I've seen the pride on the faces of children serving Easter meals to low-income seniors. Even better, I've seen the joy on the faces of those seniors who gazed at those cherubs and thought they'd won the lottery.

I've heard kids talk enthusiastically for months about packing food for starving children or donating their allowance to buy malaria nets or picking out gifts to be opened by some other child on Christmas morning.

I have never, ever, heard one of them (in these settings, anyway) ask, "What about me?"

So why start now? Besides, I haven't even gotten to the Disney disclaimers on the Give A Day promotion. Here we go:

Black-out dates do apply. Tickets are non-refundable. Other volunteer activities do not qualify. And, for those of you who plan to stay more than one day at a Disney park (in other words, everybody), rest assured that deals exist for AAA members, convention attendees and members of the military. You may also consider staying at a budget-style Disney Value resort, according to a spokeswoman, "with rates as low as $82 a night."

I know, I know. We're all cranky about winter. If you can swing a trip to California or Florida and dine with darling Daisy Duck, I say go for it, have fun and send me a postcard. Then come home and please consider taking your rested selves to any of your favorite Twin Cities nonprofits, all of whom are struggling in this dismal economy to meet the most basic needs of your neighbors.

Think of this not as an either-or proposition. It's an and-and proposition. But let's not make a day at Disney what we get for doing the right thing.

"We spend so much time and effort thinking about our children's academics and sports, but not that much time thinking about the piece that matters most," said Jenny Friedman, executive director of the nationally acclaimed Doing Good Together ( which has found volunteer opportunities for Twin Cities families since 2004.

"You're modeling empathy and compassion, and you're doing it together in a hands-on way," Friedman said. "There are so few ways for families to pass on the values of kindness and community service. In essence, you're growing the next generation of kind adults. What could be more important than that?"

Gail Rosenblum • 612-673-7350 •