Helping kids be a force “4GOOD”

November 20, 2012 

Even the youngest volunteers can pitch in at the SOVA food bank.

Maybe, as the ‘80s bestseller says, everything we need to know we learned in kindergarten—but for the Athanas and Goldman families, it turned out that wasn’t nearly early enough.

The San Fernando Valley couples, close friends since their children were in preschool together, wanted to find a way for even the youngest members of their families to taste the joy of generosity.

“We’re both civic-minded families, and we wanted to involve our kids in giving back,” says Erika Athanas. But there was a problem: most of the volunteer opportunities they encountered were geared to high school students and adults. Even the best-intentioned little kids weren’t a good fit for dishing out dinner at a homeless shelter, for instance.

Katie Goldman, left, and Erika Athanas

So an idea was born and, this being 2009, that idea came with a Facebook page. The goal, initially, was just to reach out and see if there were other people searching for child-friendly volunteering events and causes that make it possible for families to unplug and spend time together while making the world—or at least a small corner of it—a better place.

The answer was a resounding yes. And today, the nonprofit organization the families created, 4GOOD, has grown into a social networking success story and home-crafted online resource center. Athanas, who co-founded the group with her husband, Peter, and their friends Katie and Jeff Goldman, estimates there are now 2,500 “4Gooders” involved with the organization.

“I cannot tell you how many people have reached out to us to say, ‘Why don’t organizations include children? Why is it so hard to find them?’ ” Athanas says.

Responding to the demand, 4GOOD’s first annual “Family Day” earlier this year attracted hundreds of participants (look for the next one on April 7, 2013.) Kids got a hands-on taste of volunteering by making placemats and flower pots for seniors who receive Meals on Wheels and by crafting cards for military service members as part of Operation Gratitude.

The calendar on the 4GOOD website links to dozens of activities, ranging from helping out at the Baby2Baby Warehouse distributing “gently used” gear to needy families to cleaning cages and handing out hay to rescued bunnies at a shelter. This month, 4GOOD is asking its members to take part in a pre-Thanksgiving food drive sponsored by Jewish Family Service’s SOVA program. And on December 2, they’re joining forces with the group Friends & Helpers on an Adopt-a-Family/gift wrapping event in Tarzana.

The Athanas family in storybook form

Last year, Scholastic’s Parent & Child magazine recognized the group’s work by selecting the Athanases as its Family of the Year.

That brought a cover photo shoot, an appearance with Hollywood stars William H. Macy and Felicity Huffman, and even an online storybook populated with illustrated versions of Erika, who works part-time in product development, Peter, a business consultant, and their sons: Izak, now 12, and Eli, who’s about to turn 8.

Along the way, 4GOOD hasn’t just made a difference in the lives of others. It’s also been a transformative force for the founders’ own families.

“I really feel my kids will be better human beings and better adults because I’m showing them the way,” says Athanas, who “never volunteered in my life until I was in my 30s” but wanted things to be different for her children.

“A lot of these things that we suggest to do are fun. We want them to have fun and to enjoy it,” she says. “My own kids drag their feet sometimes, of course. That’s the nature of being a kid. But at the end of every single thing, they end up saying ‘You were right, Mom. That was really incredible.’ ”

A youthful 4GOODer at last year's Friends & Helpers event. This year's takes place Dec. 2.

Posted 11/20/12

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