- Associated Press - Sunday, January 3, 2016

MEMPHIS, Tenn. (AP) - In January, Louis Brownlee and his wife, Kewanee, had a thought.

What if we charged our three daughters $5 each per month in rent? And what if we don’t tell them, but plan on using that money to (hopefully) teach them a Christmas lesson?

Well, as you might expect, that didn’t go over so well, at least not at the beginning.

“Why do we have to pay? We’re kids! We’re kids!” Lauryn, 11, Kaitlyn, 9, and Victoria, 7, howled.

“I told them you’re kids, but you have to pay your weight as well,” said Brownlee, a Memphis police officer and spokesman for the department. “You have to be responsible in life. They have to earn their keep. They have to pay their rent. Five dollars per kid, per month.”

Kewanee agreed: “I thought it was kinda odd, but it was a good thing to teach them that nothing is free, that you have to work for everything you have.”

Brownlee pointed to his childhood as the origin of this experiment. He was one of six kids, and his parents worked hard to provide for such a large family. But during the holidays, they still tried to share what little they had.

“My mom always tried to make it her business to bless a family during the holidays when we growing up. We didn’t have much, so it wasn’t anything big. She always put it into us to try to give back,” he said. “If it wasn’t for somebody looking out for us, we wouldn’t have the things that we have. So I’m trying to do that with my kids.”

So the girls paid, grudgingly at first, but less so as the months wore on. They set aside $5 from what they earned doing chores, or from what their doting grandparents gave them. Some months, the girls made their payments on time. Other months, they were a little behind and had to catch up. Sometimes, perhaps if their grandparents were extra generous, they paid in advance.

The money added up over the months. By the time December rolled in, the pot tallied $180. The kids didn’t know how the money was going to be spent.

“I thought it was a great amount of money,” said Lauryn, a sixth-grader at Mt. Pisgah Middle. “I thought it was going to be used for groceries or something like that.”

But a few days before Christmas, the Brownlees sat their girls down. The young ladies didn’t know it, but they had a decision to make.

“Here are the fruits of your labor,” Brownlee said, pointing out the accumulated total. “Here’s your opportunity. You have a chance to do something positive with it. You can bless somebody … or you can spend it on toys for yourself. I’ll let each kid decide for themselves.”

Before that speech, Brownlee laid odds on how his girls would react. Two of them, he was sure, would give money. The third, he wasn’t so sure about.

Kewanee, though, was sure she knew how it would go.

“He thinks two will do it and maybe one a little bit. I think all three will give,” said Kewanee, a registered nurse. “(Recently), we were on our way to the beauty shop. Coming off the Ridgeway exit, there was a homeless guy there. All three of them were like, ‘Mama, we need to give him something.’”

So after their father explained what was going on, the girls made their choices.

And it went just as their mother predicted. Lauryn and Victoria agreed, and then came Kaitlyn.

“Kaitlyn looks down. She looks back up. She had tears in her eyes,” Brownlee said. “She wants to give the money to the less fortunate.”

Kaitlyn admitted that, yes, she first thought about keeping the money. But then she thought some more.

“I thought that it would be helpful,” she said, “to give the money to people to buy stuff they didn’t have.”


Information from: The Commercial Appeal, https://www.commercialappeal.com

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