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December 2021 Newspaper Holiday Meals and Slow Down & Teens Develop Empathy for Others

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Well, the holiday season is upon us. Whether you celebrate Christmas, Kwanza, Hanukkah, or something else, we are all affected by the change of seasons and the holiday rush. Living during pandemic times seems to have increased our understanding that life is short and has increased our need to gather with family and friends. Its a lovely time, but also a stressful time for many.
Here are some ideas for more family time, gift giving, and slowing down this year.

Family Meals
Research shows that eating more meals together as a family is important. This can be difficult to accomplish between sporting events, after school activities, and work but worth the effort if you can figure out a way to do it. A 2012 publication from the Cornell University College of Human Ecology shares that the positive outcomes of sitting down to eat dinner together as a family may not have as much to do with the eating as we think. Instead researchers conclude that this time together helps develop “empathy, family cohesion, communication skills, and family attitudes.” Here are some recommendations from the report for weekly scheduling but
they can also be applied to the holidays:
1. Set a goal to have regular family meals at least three times per week, if possible. Can you gather everyone around a table for the holiday meal? Can the tv and digital devices be turned off to encourage conversation and sharing of family traditions?
2. Remember the benefits of consistent family mealtimes. Maybe everyone can’t be there but go ahead and have the scheduled meal anyway. It will become a habit. Have set meals during the time when you gather for the holidays rather than just snacking all day.

Gift Giving
Ok, so I may be a little biased but I think giving the gift of summer camp is a terrific idea for kids! Suggest to grandparents that they can give money to your child to go toward camp next summer. Maybe the gift could be “wrapped” in a water bottle that can be used at camp. Or, start a savings account and encourage your child to add their own money to it for camp expenses. Or, maybe you can give the gift of time to a friend or relative by giving them the gift of creating a day of “day camp” for their child. Contact me if you’d like to learn more about 4-H Summer Camp for 2021.

Slow Down
Go for a winter hike. Wander around downtown Sylva or Dillsboro or Cashiers. Check out the lights and holiday decorations. Just breathe.
Find a fireplace or woodstove and sit next to it.
Visit a choose and cut Christmas Tree Farm.

Bake cookies with someone. Either use grandma’s favorite recipe or (ok, take a breath here) use the store-bought ones and have tons of fun decorating them. Isn’t it really about the time that you spend together?Try something different this year. Approach the holiday season with the attitude that it is a time to recharge. Consider carefully what you choose to do this season. Do you need to go to
ALL of the holiday parties at church, at school, and with extended family? Do you need to host the family at your house again this year? What if you had the meal somewhere else? What if YOU weren’t in charge of everything?

Why is it that the holidays seem to bring out the perfectionist is many of us? We have to have the perfect gifts, perfectly wrapped packages, perfect meals, perfect children, perfect outfits, perfect decorations, perfect clean house, perfect clean car before visiting others, perfect candles, perfect cards sent at the perfect time. Where did all this perfectionism come from?
My husband called me on the gift buying one year. I suggested that we just make a donation to an organization in the name of everyone on our gift list and then our shopping would be done. He didn’t think that really met the spirit of gift giving – and he was right. The holidays aren’t just a giant to-do list to check off. I think they should be a time to reflect, spend time with those you love, sip a cup of coffee, and be joyous. Somehow we’ve lost touch with that. How about we all
spend a bit more time around the dinner table with our family, think a bit more about the gifts we’re giving, and find a little more joy this holiday season.

Teens Develop Empathy for Others
Teenagers are amazing. The Jackson County Youth Leadership Council members raised $745 through bake sales at the Smoky Mountain High School Fall musical performances. And then they gave it all away to Jackson County foster children.

Information from Learning to Give, a youth philanthropy organization, states that “Children and adolescents serving their community are given the control and assurance that is needed to build their sense of self-worth. More tangibly, there is evidence that young people that volunteer, write grants, or fundraise, learn life skills, responsibility, and commitment as well as improve their grades and behavior in school” (Safrit 2002; Rosen and Sedonaen 2001).

In December 2021 the 20 members of the YLC practiced empathy. They combined their 2021 bake sale proceeds, with funds raised previously, and donated $1,000 to the Jackson County Department of Social Services Christmas Fund for Foster Children. DSS Director, Cristopher Weatherford, accepted the contribution and confirmed that it would be put to good use.

A leadership skill learned in the Jackson County 4-H Youth Leadership Council (YLC) is empathy – as demonstrated by their decision to donate bake sale proceeds. The teen members learn about philanthropy as time, talent, and treasure and then apply that to fundraising and grant funding for youth-led projects in the community. Each year the YLC members prepare a Request for Proposals (RFP), fundraise for monies to award as grants, evaluate the grant applications and budgets submitted, fund the youth-led grants, and evaluate the impacts from grant reports.

Since 2012, 210 members of the Youth Leadership Council (YLC) have funded 29 youth-led grants totaling $6,080. Much of this money has been raised through bake sales and individual requests from businesses. The youth have funded projects such as building an entrance ramp for a church, books and board games for the public library, an autism education program, a nature club, an Appalachian oral
history program, and a community center food pantry.

For more information about Jackson County 4-H, Youth Leadership Council, or ways you can support this program, please contact Heather Gordon at 828.586.4009 or