As we enter this holiday time from Thanksgiving to New Year's, don't forget to include our next generation in this annual time for self-reflection, gratitude, giving and resolutions.
My holiday season just began with a great kickoff -- Children for Children and Blue Smoke collaborated for a 4th Annual Fall Family FUNraiser. At this free volunteer event, kids and families from all backgrounds across the metropolitan New York area came together to work on projects helping others -- like paper flower centerpieces for a senior center, toiletry care kits for homeless families, scarves for those in need of warmth this winter -- and shared a delicious meal of barbeque, ribs, salad, creamed spinach and mac & cheese. Cupcakes, cookies and brownies for dessert.
Some of our participants in Children For Children's Fall Family FUNRaiser held November 22. (Photo by Zoila Gomez of the Girl Scouts of Greater New York Service Unit West 2/3.)
It's a great happening that could be replicated anywhere in these United States and, for that matter, across the globe.
As I looked around the room filled with homeless families, economically-fortunate families, Girl Scouts and other groups, kids with special needs and many public and private school children all working together on their tasks, I was reminded anew how each of us can do something to help someone else, even as we all, at some point, will need others to help us.
And, as I watched toddlers to high schoolers all contributing in developmentally-appropriate ways from gluing felt shapes onto pre-cut scarves to running student-designed projects, I thought about how we could truly build a national pipeline of educated and engaged citizens simply by making volunteering and service learning a component of every U.S. child's basic education from an early age -- and not just a holiday season event. The kids I observed were learning through experience how to identify and solve problems and how to connect with others and develop their social and emotional skills. And best of all, they were having fun as they learned to give, care and share!
During this season and throughout the year, make time to volunteer side-by-side with your children. There are so many creative ways to give back. It doesn't have to be overwhelming. You can find small, engaging, meaningful ways to incorporate service into your family life and holiday traditions. As it becomes an annual ritual, you are setting your kids up for a lifelong pattern of service. You are also teaching them that kids have the power to take action and make a difference. There is no age too young to start. For example:
1. Bake a batch of cookies and take some to your local fire station to thank your local firefighters for their work protecting you.
2. Volunteer to lead a service project in your child's classroom. Involve the students in identifying whom and how to help. For example, they could make fleece scarves for the homeless. All you need is fleece from the fabric store, scissors, felt to make a fun patch to decorate the scarf and fabric glue.
3. Cut back on your family holiday expenses and donate the savings to an organization needing support which you select as a family.
4. For your holiday open house, ask guests to bring a wrapped gift or children's book for a local shelter or children's hospital and then make the delivery together as a family.
5. Have your children go through their toys and books and select ones they are ready to share with other children.
6. Find a pen-pal campaign for service men and women overseas and help your young ones write letters to send some holiday cheer.
7. Brainstorm with your kids. Let them identify particular needs in your community and help choose where your family can help!
Family volunteering is a hands-on way to teach children the values of kindness, compassion, tolerance, community responsibility and good citizenship. Other benefits to your family include:
•Strengthening family communication and bonds
•Allowing family members to be role models for each other
•Increasing commitment to volunteering and community
•Providing quality family time
•Having fun together!
However you choose to do it, family and youth volunteering can help mobilize thousands of new volunteers to meet community needs and instill a lifelong commitment to volunteering!
If you are looking for youth or family volunteering opportunities, check out HandsOn Network to connect to one of 250 affiliates across the country and its affiliated Children For Children, Family Cares, or other volunteering websites for ideas and opportunities right for your family or child to Grow Involved!