Top 5 reasons why you should volunteer as a family and ideas on where to start

There's a quote that I heard when I was early on in this parenting gig that says "more is caught than taught" and I think that is true of so many things. Most importantly, I think being a good example for our kids when it comes to how we spend our time is a great model to our children of what is most important to us.

We all have the same amount of time in a day.  The most important decision you make is what you choose to do with your time.

My husband and I think it's so very important to model and engage our children in volunteering in our community and here are five reasons why and some tips on how you can get your whole family involved in helping in the community.

It's not easy to find volunteer opportunities for young children. As a family with small kids, we tried to find food banks or homeless shelters that would let us come and volunteer, but with toddlers, there didn't seem to be any volunteer opportunities that we could take part in as a family. It was important to us that we all serve together and that our children were able to work along side of us while we were serving.  

It took some out of the box thinking but we have been volunteering as a family on a weekly basis for more than a decade.  When my oldest son turned three, we realized we had more than enough toys {thank you garage sales!}.  For his birthday party that year, we asked that all of his friends and family bring a wrapped toy that we could donate to the Toy Rescue Mission.  

The Toy Rescue Mission existed to be a free toy shop with shelves of toys that kids or their parents could come in and shop from and pick out a present for their birthday or Christmas when they might not otherwise receive anything. Aidan and I hand delivered those presents and you would think that a toddler handing over all the things he got for his birthday would be difficult but it wasn't.  

We talked a lot about what we were doing and why we were doing it.  Planting that seed early on in him was important to us, and quite honestly, realizing that he may not need therapy for the rest of his life because we were giving away his gifts, gave us the boldness to continue on in our endeavors to seek out more ways to help out in our community.

We met another family at church with similarly aged children who felt the same way about getting their families involved in serving others. Again, we started thinking outside of the box and we found a homeless shelter that was running a bible study for the women. This bible study required child care while they met, so our families came together to provide an activity, snack time and a safe place for the kids while their moms met. 

Our younger kids were able to play alongside the kids in the program, and our older kids were able to nurture the younger ones in the program. And because we were serving as two families, we got to model what it looked like to have two parents and male role models when all of these children were from single mother households.

When we moved to a new town, I read our local paper and found out about a weekly peanut butter and jelly sandwich making night.  A mom with three kids, saw a need in the community and started serving.  There was no age limit to serve so we showed up. We've been making over 500 pb&j sandwiches every Monday night for almost five years now.  We rarely skip a week.  It's just something we do.

We've adopted families in our community, we've spent hours at our local World Vision warehouse stuffing backpacks and packaging gifts that will go out into the community, we've served food to homeless men, and we've cleaned up parks.  We've sung songs and colored pictures for nursing home residents, we've run summer programs for kids and we've volunteered countless hours at our schools. We've picked weeds and cleaned up gardens for widows and we've written cards to our troops overseas.  

I'm not mentioning these things to give myself a pat on the back or to get recognition.  I'm simply hoping that it will help you realize the opportunities that are in your area to serve when it feels like their are age limits or restrictions to serving. 

You may be asking why exactly do we serve? Jesus came to earth to humble himself as a man.  He didn't come to be served. he came to serve {Matthew 20:28} and we are to use his life as an example of how we should live our daily life. 

I've spent my whole life in church and sometimes it feels like the only way to be a servant is to travel to another country on a mission trip. Sometimes we forget that our mission field is in our backyard!

"But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth." Acts 1:8

You guys, our Jerusalem is right where we are! It's in our homes with our children, it's in our schools, it's in our neighborhood and it's in our community. We are called to serve, not to be served! Because our family has found that serving our community is important, here are the top 5 reasons why you should start serving as a family too!

1. Volunteering helps teach your children to be selfless in a selfish world. 

We live in a materialistic society. We are able to provide for more than our children's most basic needs and yet they continue to want more.  They want the latest electronic gadget, the newest sneakers, the designer jeans and it becomes easy to overlook that some kids parent's can't provide them with school supplies or food for their lunches.
If we weren't actively serving in the community stuffing backpacks, our kids might forget that there are kids just like them that don't get to walk the aisles of Target picking up the trendy composition notebook or the magnetic chandelier for their locker. There are kids that are showing up on the first day of school without even a pencil to put in their desk. 

2. Volunteering helps teach children that the world's solutions aren't black and white.

There are a lot of reasons why people end up in situations that they end up in. Children tend to think in a very black and white way. Kids can think, why don't we just give a homeless person a house or   if we give the kids sandwiches they won't be hungry.  These are all true things but it doesn't give us a long term solution. Volunteering gives kids a greater world view to be able to see that the solutions aren't simple.  We can help this one person right now with the need that they have and in the future, maybe our kids will be the ones with a solution to a larger scale problem.

3. Volunteering opens up conversations you might not have otherwise.

Every year during our cold rainy months, our church adopts a homeless men's and a separate women's shelter. We provide meals every night and pack lunches for the day. Our church families serve a hot meal and spend time sitting down with those we are serving developing relationships with them. I remember the first year we served in this capacity our then ten year old son came home and said that the guy he talked to had a cell phone and a laptop. He wondered why a man who didn't have a roof over his head would have expensive gadgets like that. 

We've been able to have conversations about the problems of this world and the issues people in our community face that we wouldn't otherwise have had if we kept living in our suburban bubble that we have created.

4. Volunteering teaches responsibility.

Our kids struggle to keep their rooms clean and I feel like I mention twenty times a day that they need to pick up after themselves. But when I see them working for several hours at a time throwing away garbage, cleaning up their work space and taking direction from another adult I realize that there is hope for them! My daughter loves doing the dishes every Monday night for the pb&j project but yet can't manage to put her dish in the sink at home. Just when I think my kids haven't learned a single thing and are doomed in this world, I get these glimpses of them and I realize they might just be o.k.

5. Kids are a great ice breaker and conversation starter.

It's easier for me to talk to kids than it is for me to talk to adults. Starting a conversation with an adult can sometimes be uncomfortable but with kids acting as an ice breaker it makes it easier. Have you ever walked into a nursing home with a toddler? The amount of eyes that light up is unbelievable! If I'm talking to a mom and she sees that I am a mom, it gives us common ground. Kids don't see a homeless kid, they see a kid. A child's presence is a powerful thing.

Of course there are more than 5 reasons why we volunteer, but those are a few of our top ones. My hopes are that our service now will turn our children into adults who are serving in their community. That they realize that we aren't existing on this earth to be served but that we need to be seeking opportunities to serve others. I will leave you with this quote from Martin Luther King and hopefully the inspiration to go out and serve!


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