Friday, October 5, 2012

Service Minded Kids

We're lucky to have Mindy Jensen from her blog "Service Minded Kids" sharing with us today how she has worked to teach her kids to serve! Check out what she's done and comment to tell us some other great ways to get your kids to serve!

Early in 2010, I was invited to be on a morning talk show to discuss how I was teaching my kids to serve others.  Someone apparently thought I was doing a good job and had recommended me.  While it was true that I had done a few service projects with my kids, the experience made me realize that if I truly wanted service to be one of the values instilled in my children, I had to do more.  
That summer, we (meaning me) instituted our first “Summer of Service”, where, as a family, we would do one service project a week for the entire summer break.  I spent many hours researching project ideas and seeking out organizations that needed our help (thank goodness for the internet!) and before summer began I had a calendar laid out with projects for each week.  And although I had to leave the country for a few weeks, my family carried on without me and the summer was a great success!  So this past summer, we decided we needed to do it again and the results were even better.  The more we serve, the more we love it and the more we gain from it.

In 2012, we did an array of projects –some on our own and some with various organizations.  I tried to diversify it and make each one a new experience for my children.  Some were simple and others took more planning or more investment of time, but all were worth the effort.  And the unity we felt and the good feelings generated are hard to come by any other way.  

A Few of Our Favorites Included:

  • Sorting canned food at Community Action Services and Food Bank – They have a family activity night every Monday that you can sign up for where they will give you a quick tour and have a project planned.  I think we liked it because we could all actively participate and it was hard work with a visible result.
  • “Anonymous Acts that Make People Smile (AAMPS)” – We spent the good part of a day doing small things to brighten people’s day – putting change on vending machines at the hospital, leaving a package of diapers and wipes in the changing tables at the mall, taping microwave popcorn to several Redboxes, and other fun, secret acts.  I think my kids enjoyed this because of the “sneaky” factor.  We tried not to let anyone see us, but they liked to hide and watch to see who became the recipient of our anonymous deed.  This is where my boys coined the term “service spies”.
  • Making and delivering 4th of July party crackers to a homeless shelter.  We enlisted the help of friends to stuff toilet paper rolls full of treats, cover with tissue paper and decorate.  Then we got to deliver them as part of our July 4th activities.  Seeing how others live (and celebrate holidays) helps children to be grateful for the things they have and the things they get to do.
So What Now?
It actually felt kind of odd not constantly thinking about our next project once school started, but things get so busy that life soon caught up to us.  So now that school is back in session and we are back to lessons and homework and all kinds of other demands on our time, we have set a goal to do one family project a month.  Here’s a few of the things that we have planned (and hopefully this will also help to spur some ideas for your own family):
·         Planting bulbs for spring in our city’s garden boxes that line Main Street (You can call your city offices to find out about opportunities like this – ours does it several times a year.)
·         Trick or Treat for UNICEF – collecting change on Halloween for other children in need around the globe
·         Weekend Backpack Program – meets the needs of hungry children when school is not in session (this will be with Community Action Services and Food Bank again).
·         Food Box decorating for The Utah Food Bank’s deliveries to seniors (They also have opportunities for families with kids age 5+ to volunteer at the food bank.)
·         Christmas program at a nearby assisted living center (You can find such facilities in your area listed here.)

But enough about us – What can YOU do to start raising service-minded kids?
  1. Decide that this is something that you want in your children’s lives.  Whether you want to instill empathy, unselfishness or just awareness, carrying out service projects with your kids will do each of these.  But you as a parent will have to do most of the legwork, so decide now that it IS important and then you will be more motivated to make it happen.
  2. Do some research.  What kinds of services are available in your area (or how far are you willing to drive)?  Do they have service projects already set up, or is there something you can do from home and then deliver?  As you are researching, think about your children’s interests.  Animals?  Try the animal shelter.  Art and crafts?  Do something where you make cards or letters or have to paint.  Cooking?  Take a meal to a neighbor or serve at a homeless shelter.  There are SO MANY ideas and opportunities out there, and there is something to fit every child, I guarantee it.
  3. Schedule it.  Put it on the calendar!  Our lives are busy and we tend to procrastinate even things we really want to do.  If it’s written down, you are more likely to follow through and perhaps even your children will notice.  Make an appointment with the organization or invite some friends to participate, then you will have the added incentive of someone holding you accountable.
  4. Just do it!  Once you have researched, planned and scheduled your project – follow through with it.  Make sure it happens!  Get your children excited before hand and they will be more likely to make it happen as well.
  5. Discuss the project at all phases with your family.  Help them understand why you are doing what you are.  Discussion is the only way to help young children see the needs of others and relate it to their own lives.  Point out how grateful they can be because they have this or that.  Have them imagine what it would be like without a home or without toys or without a family who loved them – and then discuss the opportunity that we have to give and to serve.

You will learn a little bit with every project and you will see that some are more “successful” than others.  But when you are giving, serving and teaching your children to step outside of themselves, to see life beyond their own little world, you can’t go wrong.  Those you serve will always benefit and so will your children.  I can tell you first hand that it is well worth the effort.         

If you are looking for ideas and inspiration, or want more details on some of our experiences – check out www.servicemindedkids.blogspot.com.  I also welcome any questions and would love to hear about your own family service experiences.  You can contact me at servicemindedkids@gmail.com

Also check out United Way's website for volunteer opportunities available in the Utah County area! You can find specific opportunities based on your interests! Start serving!

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