Week 15: Little Volunteers, Big Hearts: Engaging Children in Community Service
One of the superpowers of children is that they dream the impossible and believe with certainty it will come true. They are full of inspiring aspirations, wonder and hopeful thinking… that’s part of the magic of childhood. When focused on volunteering, this spirit flourishes!
I experienced this when I worked alongside some children of Wiss employees in a volunteer activity for Caitlin’s Smiles, a non-profit organization that distributes cards and arts/crafts kits to children with life-threatening illnesses who are in hospitals. Our goal was to create as many handmade “kindness” cards as possible to donate to the organization.
The children spent 4 hours in a frenzy of glue, glitter, stickers, rainbows of color and endless imagination, creating an impressive array of cards. From paper airplanes that opened to reveal messages of kindness, to traditional folded cards with buttons as flowers, to cards shaped as ladybugs and origami butterflies, each creation was beautiful and every message heartfelt.
Volunteering is a powerful way children can enrich their lives and prepare for the future. Some of the benefits of volunteering include:
- It teaches children about gratitude.
- It helps children realize small actions can make a big difference.
- It teaches tolerance, compassion and empathy by putting children in touch with people from different backgrounds, ethnicity, ages, abilities, education and income level.
- It teaches a sense of community responsibility and challenges them to take action on behalf of others in need. They become contributors and problem-solvers in improving their communities, a perspective they’ll carry to adulthood.
- It helps develop/strengthen self-confidence.
- It’s a great way to feel closer as a family and have fun together in a meaningful way.
- Studies show that children who serve others are less likely to become involved in at-risk behaviors as teens and young adults.
- Children feel a sense of satisfaction and pride when helping others.
As our group created our artwork, I shared photos of some of the hospitalized children and read some of their stories to the group. I was worried at first about how the volunteers may react to some of the information since many of the stories were about children with terminal illnesses, but the group was very open and curious. They asked insightful questions and shared stories of friends and family members who faced illnesses (and were very open about their feelings during those times). I was inspired by how much the group enjoyed volunteering!
Finding time for volunteer activities can be a challenge in today’s world full of school, scouts, sports, dance, etc., but here are a handful of super-simple volunteer activities you can mix into your daily life:
- Color pictures for a local retirement home.
- Create cards for sick children like we did! (information on connecting with Caitlin’s Smiles appears at the end of this article)
- Help the local food pantry: when grocery shopping, pick up extra canned goods and drop it off at the local food pantry on the way home (many supermarkets also have bins to collect donated food on site). Your child can help make a shopping list, or they can contribute a small portion of their allowance to purchase an item.
- Make a birthday box for a child whose family can’t afford a party. Fill a gift box/bag with birthday candles, a box of cake mix, a container of frosting, a small gift or book, a small gift card, some candy or snacks, etc.. You can donate the items to a local homeless shelter (you can find local ones on line by searching for “family shelter” in your county).
- Clean out your closets and donate gently used clothing to a local donation box.
- Donate used children’s books to a local school or daycare.
- Bake cookies for the local firehouse.
- Write thank you postcards to local police officers and bring them to the station.
- Write a letter or draw a picture to send to military troops.
No matter what you choose, be sure to talk about your family’s volunteer/service experience. Discuss what you did, why you did it, how you felt and what you learned. You may even want to have your children choose the next activity for the family to do together!
Keep an eye out for a future blog post with a listing of great organizations to connect with when looking for volunteer activities for children. You may want to start with Caitlin’s Smiles!
In 2016, Caitlin’s Smiles delivered 14,366 bags of smiles to children in hospitals throughout PA, NJ and NY. Cards just like the ones we were making were included with the gift bags.
To find out more check out: http://www.caitlins-smiles.org/