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Teaching Our Children About Community Service
I’m tired of collecting the same toys in my house day after day. Now, I realize my kids are young (5, 3, and 1), but putting away their toys after a day of play isn’t much to ask of them. We often make it a family affair to clean out the toy room (aka the bomb room). Honestly though, how many times can you collect the same toys without getting a little sick of them all. You know that Febreeze commercial where the lady picks up all the toys and then sprays the carpet? She turns her back on the toy box for just a moment and when she turns back all the toys have been thrown and are lying on the ground. Yes, that’s how I feel.
So I decided to give the two older kids 15 minutes to clean up their toys without helping to figure that’s plenty of time to start, if not finish, the cleanup. Let me tell you that for 5 nights not a single game was collected. On the sixth night I took out a garbage bag and started loading it. My 5 year old asked, “Mommy, what are you doing?” My response was, “Since you two don’t seem to care about these toys, we’ll give them away to someone who does.” So we started teaching our children about social work.
I’ve taken more bags of toys to Goodwill and battered women’s shelters than I can shake a stick at. I realized 3 things in my battle with my children. 1) They have too much stuff 2) They don’t appreciate what they have because they have too much stuff and 3) They didn’t miss a piece once it was gone.
Our family is now committed to 2 community fundraisers each year. In November we are partnering with Toys for Tots (http://www.ToysforTots.org) and start a game that lasts 6 weeks. My kids go with me to a local store where they pick out a toy they would LOVE to have and make the donation in the box. They would love to have it the first day they are in our house and then leave it. So instead we lovingly give it to someone who will love it. My 5 year old gets it and enjoys knowing it will make a child a happier Christmas. My 3 year old has a hard time putting the toy away, but we explain why he does. I know as he gets older he will be much more understanding.
In the spring we work with our local food bank to collect food for them. This is usually a slow time of year for food banks, but they have to serve the same number of people. So once again we are calling people in our community, businesses connected to the website, my children’s preschool as well as family and friends. Buying an extra $20 worth of food when I go shopping will make a huge difference for the food bank. This is the challenge we are sending out to others in the community as well.
Participating in my community makes me feel good. I want my children to be proud of where they live and to serve the community because it serves them every day. The stronger our community, the stronger our children will be. The stronger our children, the stronger our families will be. Take time as a family to serve your community!!
If families were new to how many opportunities there were to get involved in helping their community, I know they would be more inclined to do so. There are organizations that need volunteers, but there are also things that we can do all by ourselves. Some community service opportunities won’t be ideal for toddlers and preschoolers, but there are things they can get involved with, too.
1. Adopt a grandparent – Many senior care facilities have programs for families to come to the center to visit with residents. Nothing will put a smile on an old person’s face than seeing a child. You don’t have to do anything more than show up for a visit as often as you can. If your child’s grandparents don’t live nearby, this would give them a surrogate grandparent.
2. Help at a Homeless Shelter – There are so many people who need a place to live and food to eat. By allowing our children to participate in serving these people, we can teach them compassion and love. Most children live in a “bubble” without realizing that many people are much less fortunate than them. Soon they will see that they are blessed and by their service they lighten someone else’s burden and hopefully brighten their day.
3. Exercise for a cause – I have seen a huge increase in our community for walks and runs and swims for all kinds of causes. Many of these are related to cancer, but we’ve also had them on hunger, protecting battered women, child abuse and pet safety. Find a cause you believe in, so get some sponsors and then get to it. You’ll feel great about exercising and spending time as a family. (If you have little ones, put them in the stroller.) You’ll feel great because your family is making a difference in people’s lives.
4. Military Care Packages – As a family, you can create a care package and write letters to men and women serving overseas for your country. You can connect with an organization like http://www.operationmilitarypride.org to make and send your own packages. Either way getting our kids involved in supporting the troops is so important. This country is free because there are people who leave their families to fight for it. Thanks to them!!
5. Christmas boxes – There is a wonderful program called Operation Christmas Child (samaritanspurse.org) that collects shoeboxes to send to needy children around the world. Many churches are involved in this effort, but you can also do it on a professional or playful or even personal level. I let my kids put together a box each (with suggested items) and we had a great time. They wanted to know why we were doing this and where the boxes were going. We looked at a map and talked about how much kids in those countries would love the things in the boxes. It was a special moment for me and my 5 and 3 year old children.
OUR FAMILY SERVICE:
1. Clean up the park – When we get to whatever local park we go to, we put on the latex gloves and take out a small trash bag. We spend the first 15 minutes in the park picking up trash. It’s not much, but we use the park so we have to take care of it.
2. Make a phone call – I don’t have a lot of TV on in my house, but if I can catch a Tele-thon happening for a cause I believe in, then I will donate $10 in each of my children’s names. So many people get caught up in how much they think they need to donate to make a difference. You make a difference just by picking up the phone. When my kids are older I will have them make the calls themselves. They might even want to donate some of their own money.
3. Have a lemonade – What child hasn’t asked to have their own lemonade? Let your kids make one, but talk about donating some or all of the money to a charity. Make some signs with the price but include “all money raised will go to charity”. They may discover that they have a busy J lemonade stand.
4. Children’s St. Jude’s Hospital – I am so grateful to have been blessed with 3 healthy children. There are so many people who have had to deal with very serious and life-threatening illnesses with their children. I can’t imagine what these families are going through. Every now and then I get a letter in the mail from St. Jude. With the letter are a bunch of address labels with my name and address on them. The letter asks for a donation (of any amount) for the hospital’s research. Once again, it’s not about the amount but that whatever you can give helps. While you’re writing the check, let your kids write a letter or color a picture for a patient. Encourage them to participate in the process, and who knows, maybe they’ll create a pen pal they can keep in touch with.
5. Help a local Animal Shelter – Most children love animals and being given the opportunity to be a bunch of them as often as possible is often a dream come true J Animals will be grateful for the love and attention!! In a shelter a child can learn about different animals and how to care for them. So volunteering also means teaching our children life skills.
It seems like with each passing day our lives get busier and busier. We need to make time to spend quality time with our families. We want to make our community a great place to live and we want to make our family a strong and supportive unit to live in.
I hope my children will always be compassionate and considerate and generous and thoughtful. I want them to know that their individual actions make a difference and they should strive to make a positive difference. I believe my role as a parent is to help them achieve these traits. By teaching them about community service, setting an example for them, and providing them with opportunities to participate, I hope they will learn to be (humbly) proud of their contributions as well as grateful for their family and their “stuff.” I just hope it’s not all over the floor yet!
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