makayla alaquiva

Guest Editors: Sharing love can be a year-round activity

Kidsburgh created our Guest Editor program to share the ideas and wisdom of the many people lifting up our community. We have brought you educators, community leaders and inspiring mentors, as well as nonprofit groundbreakers and changemakers. This month, we are excited to add youth voice to the mix. We’re bringing you an essay jointly written by a mother and daughter — the Greater Pittsburgh Community Food Bank’s Beth Burrell and Makayla Alaquiva, who at age 10 is a recipient of this year’s Junior Achievement “18 Under 18 Award.”

Here, they share their insights on cultivating joy at home and spreading love to others:

Valentine’s Day naturally makes us think about spreading kindness and love with those closest to us. While making sure that our families, friends and classmates know how much we appreciate and love them, why not use the holiday as a perfect excuse to start sharing the love year-round?

Getting involved in your community and helping our neighbors can be a fun and easy thing to do with family members of all ages. Some of our favorite ways to share the love are:

  • Help a neighbor weed their yard.
  • Write a note or color a picture and leave it for the mailman or in a neighbor’s mailbox who could use cheering up.
  • Deliver hot chocolate packets and candy canes to neighbors in the cold months.
  • Collect food donations and deliver them to a local food pantry.
  • Donate gently used clothing, toys and household items to organizations like the Free Store in Braddock.
  • Make friends with a new student at school or someone different than you. Including new students makes them feel cared for and included.
  • Do random acts of kindness when at a store.

From the time that Makayla was very young, we would talk about sharing toys, books and clothes that we were done using with people who needed them. She would also help encourage donations through Greater Pittsburgh Community Food Bank’s Fall Food Share in partnership with Giant Eagle. Standing in the grocery store lobby she would ask people if they would consider donating to the Food Bank and accept donations of food when they were done shopping.

Makayla’s favorite part of working at the food drive events was helping people and seeing the donations pile up. It was something that was so easy for her to do as a small kid that still made a difference and helped build a better Pittsburgh.

As we learned more about what was meaningful to us and how we like to share the love, we slowly made the activities more involved. This past holiday season we made little bags of hot chocolate and candy canes for the entire neighborhood and the girls went door-to-door delivering them. Our three-year-old loved it and felt so accomplished after she worked so hard to make and deliver the bags. We also created a ‘giving tree’ activity where every day for the month of December we added one grocery item to a Christmas tree understanding that it was to give away. The girls each chose some of their favorite foods to share. After the holiday, we collected all the items and delivered them to North Hills Community Outreach.

Makayla Alaquiva
Diaper and grocery donation at North Hills Community Outreach. Photo courtesy of Beth Burrell.

Start small and have low expectations

Spreading love and kindness doesn’t have to start with a grand gesture. Reading together is a great way to get the conversation started. Some of our favorite books highlight a character being kind and having compassion. Books featuring a diverse set of main characters can help kids feel more confident in making lasting friendships with people different than them.

Makayla’s favorite books about compassion and kindness have been “I Am Love: A Book of Compassion” by Susan Verde and “I Am Enough” by Grace Byers. There are a ton of wonderful books highlighting a wide range of characters. Most recently we’ve read “The Proudest Blue: A Story of Hijab and Family” by Ibtihaj Muhammad and “El Deafo” by Cece Bell. Your local library is a great resource to find selections your family will love.

Follow your reading up with a small project or activity that reinforces the book theme. Again, it doesn’t have to be something large. Do a random act of kindness and offer to help a senior or someone with little kids load groceries into their car at the store. Make a get-well card for a neighbor or family member who is ill.

If you’re still not sure what makes sense for your family, look for ways to get involved in activities offered by local non-profits. While some may have age requirements, others love engaging people of all-ages. Our local library for instance offered kids the opportunity to make valentines for seniors living in senior centers.

The more we’ve talked about kindness and compassion the more we’ve each discovered the things that really meant a lot to us. Makayla loves focusing her efforts on helping people struggling with homelessness and hunger so we give her all the space and support we can to let her explore those interests. I’ve always had a passion for animals and over the years have developed more of an interest in the environment and equity, diversity and inclusion.

Wherever you are on your journey, remember that every little act of kindness and compassion makes a big difference and doesn’t have to require a large time commitment from you and your family.