Charitable giving rising among the young

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When Jenna, my 13-year-old second cousin by marriage, had her bat mitzvah, her Jewish coming-of-age ceremony, earlier this month, she asked that friends and relatives donate to two charities rather than bring gifts.

Jenna chose Project A.L.S. because her paternal grandfather recently died from the fatal neuromuscular disorder, also known as Lou Gehrig's Disease. She also selected Million Trees NYC because, as a devoted environmentalist, she wanted to improve the city of her birth. It turns out that Jenna is not alone among her age group in putting charity before that cool iPod or Wii.

According to Claire Gaudiani of the Heyman Center for Philanthropy and Fundraising at New York University, today's young people contribute whatever they can to their favorite causes earlier, more consistently and in more imaginative ways than their grandparents did. And of the $300 billion-plus donated last year, more and more is going to charities that focus on international affairs and the environment, according to Giving USA.

I hope this trend continues even as the economy skids into a recession and fears about our families' futures overtake everything else. An international outlook, an awareness of other cultures and societies, is not only healthy but necessary in today's global economy. I certainly plan to encourage my daughter to follow Jenna's example when the time comes for her bat mitzvah. Meanwhile, our family will continue to donate money to our college alma maters, to Housing Works, and Goodwill.
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