By TMoM Team Member Sydney D. Richardson, Ph. D.

I once volunteered my time constantly to different organizations. I never really had a particular focus, but I knew that I wanted to help make life better for others. Whether it was calling people for donations or setting up a venue for a special event, I was happy to do it.

When I had children, I wondered how I would get them interested in volunteering. How would I talk to them about the importance of volunteering their time to help others, and when would I do it? While I was taking my time figuring that out, I spent the next few years dragging them to one volunteer event after another. Because they were small, they pretty much stayed in their car seats and watched me load and unload boxes of whatever that specific organization needed. I was often nervous that all they did was see me complete little tasks here and there for organizations and people they knew nothing about. I was scared that I wasn’t taking time help them understand why I was doing what I did or why was important.

That all changed almost two years ago when my family got a dog from a rescue place.

Our dog (Kenzie) was cute and playful and the kids really took to her. After the foster dog parent dropped Kenzie off, my daughter had a lot of questions. Why was Kenzie with the woman (foster mom)?  Why do we get to “try out” the dog before we decide if we want her? Where did Kenzie come from? That’s when my husband and I explained what adopting pets meant and why there were shelters and rescue missions. Needless to say, my daughter was happy that we had Kenzie, but sad for all of the other animals that hadn’t been adopted. Later, she decided that she wanted to help animals. This led to her joining the Humane Society and donating items. She’s too young to volunteer there, so this was the next best thing.

Fast forward a few months later, and my children are watching a news special. Long story short, the news special led to them asking why there were homeless people in the world. After a lengthy and honest conversation, the kids said that we should do something. I knew of a homeless shelter in the area, so we all decided that we’d provide a meal.

We had no idea what we were getting into!  My son was in charge of getting the pans out, my daughter helped make the spaghetti sauce, and my husband and I monitored and cooked in shifts. After multiple hours, we loaded the car with the food and I took the kids with me to drop the spaghetti dinners off at the homeless shelter. One the way home, I listened to my children talk about making volunteering a monthly thing, and then they talked about more things that they could do to help others in need.

That’s when it dawned on me.

I had been so concerned about when I’d have time to talk to my kids about volunteering in order to get them interested. I never realized that having them watch me all of those years might have contributed to their interests. From the time that they were babies until now, they’ve watched me make crafts, create event sheets, donate food, clothes, and toys, and run down call lists all in the name of volunteering.

That was the lesson for them and that’s what’s important as parents: making sure our children see us act. That’s better than any lecture I could give them. Now they are finding their own causes to be a part of, and I’ll be there hauling boxes, calling potential donors, and doing whatever they need me to do.

If you’re looking for ways to volunteer with young ones, here are some ideas:

~ Donate to a food pantry.
~ Cook or buy meals and deliver meals to a homeless shelter.
~ Donate clothes.
~ Donate toys.
~ Buy pet food or pet items for an animal shelter.
~ Clean up a park.
~ Make cards for seniors in a nursing home.
~ Buy requested items for senior citizens.
~ Save coins and donate to a special organization each month.
~ Donate to a pop-up library.
~ Make cards for children in a children’s hospital.

Plus, click HERE to see TMoM’s list of local nonprofits and ways you and your family can help them today!

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