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Giving a gift to the great outdoors

As we turn our thoughts towards this holiday season here in the U.S., we begin to think about what gifts to get for the children in our lives.

I have several wonderful nieces and nephews that receive numerous gifts from grandparents, parents, Santa, other aunts and uncles, and family friends. Rather than get them the usual toys and clothes which are soon forgotten, I wanted them to have something that would make them feel like they are truly helping to keep the world a wonderful place.

One of my favorite approaches is to do an honorary donation or a symbolic adoption in their name. Every Christmas season, I sit with them and we talk about what can be done to help animals and the environment – which, in turn, helps people all over the world. We discuss what we want to do and how it helps. I ask them what they care about—animals, the ocean, national parks, and other matters. This provides opportunity for discussion with kids about whatever causes you and they wish to target. I try to keep the discussion positive and age appropriate.

Once they decide who or what they want to help, I make the donation or adoption contribution in their names. Many of the organizations involved will send a card, a certificate, pictures of who or what the the target of the contribution maybe and details on how their contribution helps. Wildlife is one of our favorite focuses, and if this interests you and your little ones, read on.

Through organizations like The World Wildlife Fund [] that has global reach, National Wildlife Federation [] with focus on North American wildlife. Among the worthwhile local organizations is the Massachusetts Audubon Society, []. This organization helps preserver bird habitats in my home state.

Through sites such as these, you can purchase a symbolic adoption of wide range of animals. Depending on what level you choose your kit will vary. You could get something as simple as a poster and a certificate of adoption for the older kids, or you could get the aforementioned items as well as plush animals for those that are younger! If you are shopping for younger kids, this is an awesome idea. Many kids usually have some sort of affinity for an animal out there, be it one of the many kinds of wild cats or bears, wolves, all the cool birds of prey, marine life, or something more emotive like bunnies or butterflies.

What do organizations do with the money you give them? One example of what the National Wildlife Federation does is to work on wildlife corridors. If you are familiar with the Los Angeles area it may interest you that the NWF is working with local and state authorities to create the Liberty Canyon Wildlife Crossing located near Highway 101. It will provide safe passage for Southern California’s mountain lions []. The NWF states that once completed it will be the largest wildlife crossing in the world, and a model for urban wildlife conservation.

If you and your family are concerned about protecting other wildlife or even endangered plants, and you are looking for a different and meaningful gift for someone in your life, do a search on symbolic adoptions and see if there is an organization that interests you.

If there are other causes you and the little ones feel are important, there are other symbolic gifts that can be made for people in need too. Organizations that preserve parks or build recreational trails also can use a hand—

Gifts like these teach the young folks in our lives to think about others and the importance of lending a hand. And from my experience, the kids like knowing they can do something to help others. Which I think many of us feel is the true spirit of the season.

One more thing, check with the parents to make sure they are okay with the child’s name being used and with the mission of the chosen organization.

Enjoy the holiday season!

Please note, that neither the author nor her research partner, receive any benefit or compensation from the organizations listed above.

Lisa Grasso is an environmental activist and an advocate for sustainable practices both at work and at home. For more tips and information go to

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