Moms Who Make Their Kids Volunteer Are Raising Better People

girl volunteering at a charity drive

It makes you feel all warm and Care Bear-ish to be recognized for being part of something good, especially when most of what we hear from the media, the government — even, heaven help us, teachers when we go to pick up our kids from school — is a laundry list about what’s bad. Living in a world of social turmoil and personal chaos can be a real downer. But, in the grand tradition of silver-lining-finding perkiness, there’s the joy of giving back to others. Yay!

I think we have this idea that to be a volunteer, you have to wear this badge and do some sort of sign-up at the end of your block. But being a mentor is being a volunteer. Walking past a public school and picking up some trash or giving a child — or an adult, for that matter — a kind word or a bit of advice, that’s being a volunteer. Doing good doesn’t have to be a big concerted effort. It just has to be. How are you passing that on to your kids?


The value of digging in and contributing to causes as a family has even more impact than the obvious: it’s a two-fold reward of quality together time (spent away from TV and Playstation) for the betterment of the community at large. The Girl and I don’t have specific requirements for volunteerism. But our lifestyle and the things we’re naturally involved in kind of lend themselves to service opportunities.

We’re heavy into the church, so we find all kinds of things to do to contribute and help others as an extension of our regular Jesus-and-Bible-study activities. Same with the after-school program Young Harris is enrolled in, and even writing has given me some awesome opportunities to do charitable events — like the Komen Walk and the homeless marathon — that I wouldn’t have otherwise heard of or participated in. (See, I do do more than sit on my caboose and wax poetic about whatever comes to mind all day long. As if there was ever any question.)

Martin Luther King Day in our house, for example, is a day “on,” not off. Instead of sleeping in, which I know she’d rather do, I assign her to find one cause, group, or charity she’d like to work with for the day. Homegirl always wants to call the shots and that’s her time to shine. This year, she picked visiting a senior citizens' home and had a ball bonding with Miss Majorie, the lady we spent the day with.

Incorporating community work is as simple as picking up litter while you’re out on a walk or asking your daughter’s sleepover guests to bring a gift for a women’s shelter instead of another toy for the birthday girl. Find a problem they’re passionate about, and work together to right it. It’s great to call somebody and tell them about an issue, but it’s even more fulfilling to do something about it yourself — and it instills in kids who are about to be young adults that they have power to affect change and that their action does make a difference.

Developing your teen’s compassion and interest in their world outside their immediate friends and family doesn’t require an elaborate investment of time or energy. It starts with leading by example, and it helps to have conversations about what you’re doing and why the action is important. But, for the love of all that’s attention-sustaining, don’t make it sound like you should be perched atop a street corner soapbox or, worse, a storefront pulpit. Just keep it simple and make it fun. If they’re into animals, shelters and other organizations are always looking for volunteers. If they’re outdoorsy, there are a gajillion things for them to do to give back and get their nature jollies at the same time.

If their high school mandates community service hours as a part of their graduation requirements, it might seem like they’re being beat over the head with volunteerism as another chore to check off their already long to-do list. You want them to develop a heart for giving, not just a tolerance for it, so that hopefully, as they step into adulthood and become captains of their own time, they’ll squeeze some selfnessness into their busy, grown-up schedules.

How do your kids give back to the community? What’s the big volunteer buzz in your household?

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