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Teaching Our Children About Community Service
I’m tired of picking up the same toys at home day after day. Now, I realize my kids are young (5, 3, and 1), but picking up their toys after a day of play isn’t too much for them. We often make cleaning out the toy room (also known as the bomb hit room) a family affair. Honestly, how many times can you pick up the same toy without getting disgusted by it. You know that Febreeze ad where the lady picks up all the toys and sprays the carpet? She turned her back to the toy box for a moment, and when she turned, all the toys jumped out and lay 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 help, because I figured that was enough time to get them off to a solid start, if not done, cleaning up. Let me tell you, no one picked up a toy for 5 nights in a row. On the sixth night, I pulled out a trash bag and started packing. My 5 year old asked, “Mom, what are you doing?” My response was, “Since you two don’t seem to care about these toys, we’re giving them away to whoever will.” So we started teaching our Children’s knowledge about community service.
I brought so many bags of toys to the Goodwill and Battered Women’s shelter that I couldn’t shake a stick. In my struggles with my kids, I realized three things. 1) They have too much stuff 2) They don’t value what they have because they have too much of it 3) They don’t miss a bit once it’s gone.
Our family now commits to 2 community fundraisers a year. In November, we partnered with Toys for Tots (http://www.ToysforTots.org) and begins a toy journey that lasts 6 weeks. My kids and I went to a local store where they picked out a toy they would love to own and put the donation in a box. They were happy to have it the first day it came to our house and then it was left behind. Therefore, we will instead lovingly gift it to someone who will cherish it. My 5 year old gets it and is happy to know she’s going to give kids a happier Christmas. My 3 year old has a hard time giving away toys, but we explained why and he just gave up. I know he understands more as he gets older.
In the spring, we partner with local food banks to raise food for them. This is usually a slow time of year for food banks, but they still have to serve the same number of people. So again, we’re calling out to people in our community, businesses affiliated with the site, my child’s preschool, and family and friends. Buying an extra $20 of food when I go grocery shopping makes a huge difference to the food bank. This is also our challenge to others in the community.
Being part of my community makes me feel good. I want my children to be proud of where they live and to serve the community as it serves them every day. The stronger our communities are, the stronger our children will be. The stronger our children are, the stronger our families will be. Make time to serve your community as a family!
If families were given more opportunities to get involved in helping their communities, I know they would be more willing to do so. Some organizations need volunteers, but there are also things we can do ourselves. Some community service opportunities aren’t ideal for toddlers and preschoolers, but they can get involved too.
1. Adoptive grandparents – Many senior care facilities have programs in place for families to visit residents at the center. Nothing puts a smile on an elderly person’s face like the sight of a child. You just have to visit as often as possible. This will give your child a surrogate grandparent if their grandparents don’t live close by.
2. Help the homeless shelter – There are so many people who need shelter and food. By involving our children in serving these individuals, we can teach them compassion and love. Most kids live in a “bubble”, not realizing that many people are far less fortunate than they are. They will soon find themselves lucky, and through their service, they are lightening someone else’s burden and hopefully brightening their day.
3. Exercise for a cause – I’ve seen a huge increase in the number of people in our community who are walking, running and swimming for a variety of reasons. Many of these have been linked to cancer, but we also use them for hunger, protection of battered women, child abuse, and pet safety. Find a cause you believe in, then get some sponsors, and go for it. Exercising and spending time with your family makes you feel great. (If you have young children, put them in the stroller.) You’ll feel good because your family is making a difference in people’s lives.
4. Military Care Package – As a family, you can make a care package and write to the men and women who have served your country overseas. You can contact organizations such as http://www.operationmilitarypride.org to make and send your own packages. Either way, it’s so important to get our kids involved in supporting the troops. This country is free because people left their homes to fight for it. Thank them! !
5. Christmas gift box – There is a wonderful program called Operation Christmas Child (samaritanspurse.org) that collects shoe boxes to give to children in need around the world. Many churches are involved in this effort, but you can also get involved through a business or playgroup or even on an individual level. I had my kids pack a box each (with recommended items) and we had a blast. They want to know why we’re doing this, and where the boxes are going. We looked at a map and discussed how kids in those countries would love what was in the box. It was a special time for me and my kids aged 5 and 3.
Our family services:
1. Clean up the park – When we get to whatever local park we’re going to, we put on latex gloves and pull out a small trash bag. We spent our first 15 minutes at the park picking up litter. It’s not much, but we use the park, so we should take care of it.
2. Make a phone call – I don’t have much TV in my house, but if I see a TV marathon happening for a cause I believe in, I’ll donate $10 in each of my children’s names. Many people struggle with how much they think they should donate to make a difference. Just pick up the phone and you’ll make a difference. When my kids grow up, I’ll let them make their own calls. Maybe they even want to donate with their own money.
3. Set up a lemonade stand -What kid didn’t ask to have his own lemonade stand? Have your kids make one, but talk about donating some or all of the money to charity. Make up several signs with the price, but include “All funds raised will be donated to charity”. They may find they have a busy lemonade stand J.
4. St. Jude Children’s Hospital – I am grateful that I have 3 healthy children. There are many people who have had to deal with very serious and life-threatening illnesses with their children. I can’t imagine what those families went through. Every once in a while, I get a letter from St. Jude Hospital. Inside the letter was a bunch of address labels with my name and address on them. This letter asks for a donation (of any amount) towards research done by the hospital. Again, it’s not the quantity that counts, but the fact that anything you can offer will help. Have your child write a letter for a sick person or color a picture while you write a check. Encourage them to be involved in the process and who knows maybe they’ll develop a pen pal they can keep in touch with.
5. Help out at your local animal shelter -Most kids love animals and giving them the opportunity to be a large herd of animals as often as possible is often a dream come true J Animals will appreciate the love and attention! At the shelter, children can learn about different animals and how to care for them. So volunteering also becomes teaching our kids life skills.
It seems like every day goes by, our lives get busier and busier. We need to find time to spend quality time with our families. We want our community to be a great place to live, and we want our family to be a strong, supportive unit in our lives.
I want my children to always be compassionate, caring, generous, and thoughtful. I want them to know that their individual actions make a difference and that they should strive to make a positive difference. I believe my role as a parent is to help them realize these qualities. By teaching them community service, being their role model and giving them opportunities to get involved, I hope they will learn to (humblely) take pride in their contributions and be grateful for family and “stuff”. I just hope it doesn’t still get all over the place!
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