School sends stewardship message with 'birthday bucks'

Brooklyn Hollander just turned 11 and appreciated an invitation to a Birthday Gifters' Foundation meeting at St. Justin Martyr School.

He decided to take the $11 in "birthday bucks" that he received and $11 of his own money, and donate it all: half to one group about which he learned at the presentation, the Knights of Columbus and their Meet Life campaign; and half to the other group, The Crew parish youth group and its yearly trip to the March for Life in Washington, D.C.

"If you have a baby, you have a gift of life and that's a beautiful thing to have," Brooklyn said on a video recorded by the school in which he reflected on the reasons he donates to each cause.

The effort is part of the Apostles of Peace at St. Justin, an offshoot of the Virtue-Based Restorative Discipline program in schools of the archdiocese, which is designed to give school children a habit of reconciliation and decrease antisocial behavior by engaging children more in their faith.

Beth Bartolotta, principal of St. Justin, noted that a couple years ago the school sought an alternative to the traditional way of celebrating birthdays with sugary snacks and cakes. A parent shared a book, "The Opposite of Spoiled: Raising Kids Who Are Grounded, Generous and Smart About Money" by Ron Lieber. The author's child attended a Jewish school where instead of giving gifts for their bat mitzvah, the children contributed to a foundation they formed. Each time, the children would learn about various charities and the group would vote on where to donate the funds.

At a St. Justin Parish Council meeting, the parish's focus on stewardship was discussed, and Bartolotta realized elements of the Jewish school's practice would be a good fit with helping her students learn about parish organizations. The practice also fit with the concept of stewardship – recognizing that everything we have is a gift from God, being grateful, developing our gifts and generously sharing time, talent and treasure with others.

Each time St. Justin has a group of birthdays, those students are invited to a Birthday Gifters' Foundation meeting at which representatives of two parish organizations give a presentation.

The students celebrating a birthday receive an invitation to the meeting, held before school. Attending is optional, Bartolotta said, but students have been faithful in coming. They receive a special notebook to take notes about the organizations and a name tag for being a foundation member.

At the meeting, students can donate their "birthday bucks" and any other money they'd like to contribute in gift boxes for one of the two organizations making presentations or to a third charity of their choice. An erasable oversized blank check is used for a photo opportunity with the organizations. Each child receives a thank-you note.

As a bonus, the students return home and tell their parents about the works of the parish. The stewardship message is clear, yet the word "stewardship" is never mentioned. "We plant those seeds," Bartolotta said. "It goes back to what motivates people. When they feel a connection to something, they're motivated. We want them to connect to their faith and their parish."

Bartolotta noted that the students are celebrating the gift of life on their birthday, and "there's no better gift than paying that forward to help someone else's life."

Stewardship Sunday

Stewardship Sunday is celebrated in the Archdiocese of St. Louis on the weekend of Sept. 26 and 27. Stewardship works when it becomes rooted in a parish. Once a stewardship plan becomes a reality, a vibrant parish community follows.

Critical elements of a stewardship plan involve:

• An active stewardship committee that has attended training in how to carry out their plan.

• Support of parish leaders.

• Promotion of a vision for the future of the parish.

• Accountability on how gifts are making a difference.

• Warmly welcoming every parishioner.

• Presentations on how parishioners have embraced a life of stewardship.

• Commitment to prayer.

• Introducing and inviting people to participate more fully in the work of the parish and its ministries.

• Commitment to generosity.

• Appreciation.

• Communication.

• Parish-wide education, including children, couples in marriage preparation programs and families in sacramental preparation programs. 

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