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Giving back as a family: Lessons in empathy, responsibility
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Giving back as a family: Lessons in empathy, responsibility

Volunteering can be an effective and important teaching tool for families who want to teach their children appreciation, empathy and community.

“I feel it crucial to help my children understand the importance of giving back,” said Stephanie Turk, mother of two. “I teach them that everyone in this world is essentially part of one community and that we are responsible for helping one another and lifting one another up. If you have time, money, goods to give, then you should always give back.”

The family has found different ways to participate in community service — from donating to the Ronald McDonald House and Goodwill to participating in fundraising walks and making sandwiches for Primavera Foundation.

Lenny Tadeo, who has been volunteering with his daughter, Brianna at the Humane Society of Southern Arizona for several years, said doing so has prepared her to be a better citizen and to represent her community.

“The lifelong lessons are many,” Tadeo said. “She’s learned to do things for other people without expecting anything in return, which allows her to give her all. She’s always willing to help others, understands that as a community, this is also part of our responsibility, to be caring towards one another. She’s enrolling into college this year.”

One day the two passed a pet clinic, and since his daughter wants to open her own some day, she said “Dad, one day that sign will say Tadeo Pet Clinic Dr. Brianna Tadeo,” Tadeo recalled.

“I think I smiled and cried at the same time,” Tadeo said. “She understands the difference she’s making by volunteering and she encourages her friends as well. She’s amazing.”

It is important to help those in need, whether it is to help out stray or abandoned animals, give water to homeless people around town or provide some education and entertainment for incarcerated adults, says Nikki Edgecomb, a mother of one.

Edgecomb volunteers at the Humane Society of Southern Arizona with her 15-year-old daughter and her housemates’ daughters. She is also the treasurer of Read Between the Bars, a local, grassroots organization that mails books, upon request, to men incarcerated in Arizona’s state and federal prisons.

“We have tried to raise our daughters to become strong, caring, empathetic young women who recognize that they have had opportunities and advantages that many people have not,” Edgecomb said. “And that all people are deserving, regardless of class, race, ethnicity, religion, gender identity or sexual preference.”

The Community Food Bank of Southern Arizona has seen a growing interest in giving back among younger kids. In response, the organization recently developed a monthly Family & Youth Volunteer Day, to give families the opportunity to volunteer together.

“Younger and younger kids are interested to learn how to help others,” said Kristen Quinnan, the food bank’s director of community engagement. “And hunger is such a serious problem that people just want to help out.”

Jill Rich, a local Realtor and philanthropist, began volunteering as a 5-year-old when she heard there were children who didn’t have milk.

“I asked my parents ‘how is that possible when there is milk in the refrigerator?’ Rich recalled. “So, they explained the whole poverty thing to me and they suggested that I could help. My mother made a little basket and my father bought Hershey bars wholesale and I went around the neighborhood selling Hershey bars at a profit. Money went to the “Milk Fund,” a specific fund for underprivileged kids.”

That started a lifelong endeavor to help others. Rich works with the Lost Boys of Sudan, is the vice president of TIHAN (Tucson Interfaith HIV/AIDS Network) and Temple Emmanuel, and works as a meal provider for Primavera, to name a few.

“It’s part of my life, really,” Rich said. “It’s what my family always did. It really drives me. I don’t know where we’d be without volunteers here … There’s a tremendous amount of volunteer driven projects here in Tucson.”

Turk hopes volunteering at a young age will impact her children in the same way, and help them grow into caring, empathetic adults.

“The younger you start to instill these values the more it becomes part of who they are and helps shape them into selfless, caring and well-rounded individuals,” Turk said. “I think it is highly important to expose them to the needs of others in this world and inspire them to want to make a difference.”

Where to volunteer: Page 11.

Contact Angela Pittenger at or 573-4137.

On Twitter: @CentsibleMama

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