Community Service for Kids
By Susan Solomon Yem
Helping in the community can bring great benefits to kids—they'll develop empathy for others, build positive relationships with adults and peers, become empowered to make a difference in their world, and learn valuable life skills.
The 1980s was deemed the decade of greed and selfishness. In its wake, along with disillusionment, debt, and anger came a loss of concern for the welfare of others. As we settle into the millennium, new interest is developing within many families to reach out to needy individuals and worthy causes.
The best way to introduce children to community service is to start at home. Dr. Kalman Heller, a psychologist in private practice in Massachusetts says, "Young children have a natural tendency to care about others. The process of putting that care into action really starts within one's own family, as children become conscious of the needs of their parents and siblings."
Teach children to develop sensitivity towards family members. Help them recognize when Dad or Mom has had a tough day at work and needs a little tender loving care. Encourage sharing and turn-taking, and stress the importance of respect for siblings. Praising and rewarding these actions will establish a foundation for future, broader efforts.
"Community involvement is so much easier if it evolves as a natural process of family growth and values," Dr. Heller suggests. "Create experiences together. Before sitting down to a big Thanksgiving meal at home, serve food to the homeless at a downtown shelter. It's a dramatic, effective way to foster the development of an attitude of concern and caring."
Parents must decide if they want to support their children's independent efforts or work alongside them to meet the needs of others. Families can co-operate together in such worthwhile activities as a town or beach clean-up, a school beautification program or a charity fund-raiser.
Organizations such as the Muscular Dystrophy Association offer many suggestions for children to try on their own to help raise contributions. Bowl-a-thons, backyard carnivals, and bake sales have all been successfully organized by youngsters.
Children can begin to undertake personal community outreach right in their own backyards. Parents may feel more secure about their child's well-being if they deliver freshly baked cookies across the street, carry groceries for the young mother next door, or even sweep the steps for elderly neighbors. Venturing farther than the corner may be more suitable with an adult companion.
School-aged children may enjoy visiting nursing home residents who may not have many guests. Contact the Recreation Director at a nearby facility to ask whether there are any patients who would enjoy the company. Playing board games together, working on puzzles or even just chatting can brighten the day of a lonely man or woman.
Local senior centers may be helpful in locating shut-ins who would welcome an occasional phone call or visit. Older children may even be able to do simple chores and errands for those who find it difficult to get around. Parents should always accompany their child on the first few visits to make sure the environment is safe.
Parents might also consider asking their child to become pen-pals with a long-term pediatric patient in a hospital. Check with the volunteer office before you begin as this may not be a common practice, or locate a pediatric residential program out-of-state which may appreciate the correspondence.