You’ve probably heard the famous words of St. Francis of Assisi, “For it is in the giving that we receive.” But how do we translate that to real life for our children?
When we encourage siblings to share with one another, they often do so begrudgingly. When we offer opportunities like a school supply drive or holiday toy donation to our family members, it is usually Mom or Dad footing the bill for the donated items. If we really want our family to reap the rewards of service, we are going to have to put on our work gloves and lead by example.
There is an abundant amount of scientific evidence for the benefits of altruism. There are many examples of how focusing on others not only feels good, but does us good. Of course we all want to feel happier, less depressed, and better able to regulate our own emotions. One way to grow in these areas, is by serving others.
Depending on the age of your children, there are so many great opportunities to lend a hand. Some investigating and a few phone calls will land you the volunteer opportunity of your dreams, and bond your family in a unique way.
When considering what type of volunteer work you wish to engage in, you could ask your family members “If you could change one thing in our community, what would it be?” or “What breaks your heart?” Family dinner discussions around these topics will start to peel back the layers of your family onion, where your hearts meet and will have a chance to make a difference.
Some of the possibilities to serve with your children include:
- Volunteering at a shelter. Homelessness is often something children see that they don’t understand but want to help. Different shelters have age requirements, but even young children can come with parents to sort clothing or toys for distribution.
- Spending time at a nursing home. If you have a heart for the elderly, how about setting up a time to stop by the closest nursing home and play an instrument or read books out loud with the residents.
- Offering services to tutor others. This is a great opportunity for older kids. Whether volunteering to tutor or just doing homework together at a shelter or after-school program, teens can learn much about other cultures and socio-economic backgrounds as they make friends with kids their own age who need a leg up. Be sure to confirm with an organization their age limitations and whether or not a parent needs to be present for a teen to volunteer.
- Going on a mission trip. The ultimate family volunteering opportunities can be experienced in a week long mission trip or project. Organizations like Blue Skies Ministries, which puts on camps for families who have a child with cancer, encourage families to volunteer together. You can also browse the internet for camps around you that cater to children with disabilities, diseases, or are trying to give urban kids a chance to be in the woods for a week. These organizations appreciate families who are willing to roll up their sleeves and dive into a week of service.
- Involvement with group organizations. If you have a child involved in Scouting, there are lots of service opportunities through your local troop. Of course churches are another excellent resource for good ways to serve as a family.
- Helping the environment. If you love nature, organize a family or neighborhood group to pick up trash in a park or public space that needs some love. If you live in a city, you can spend some time helping out on a local urban farm. What a great way to get a nature fix or all ages.
Chances to do good are all around you. Pick what best suits your family and find a way to give back. You might find that you are the one who reaps some of the rewards.