About this time last year, I didn’t want the holidays to end. Not that I wasn’t sick of baked goods and endless errands, but the little thrill of thinking of someone else, of picking out the perfect gift, or of dropping off the unexpected goodie was beginning to fade. I was starting to feel that hopeless “what-can-little-me-really-do-to-help-this-big-world” attitude creeping back in. In December you can be a good neighbor or buy a homeless man some mittens and feel good about it. What can you do in February?
Community service makes me uncomfortable. And my kids are naturally shy so forcing them to do something with a bunch of strangers is, well, stomach-turning. So I’ve mostly avoided it or resigned myself to writing an occasional check.
But keeping in mind that “nobody can do everything but everyone can do something” and “every little bit helps” and all those other pat phrases I use to motivate myself to stop being overwhelmed (or lazy?) and DO something, I set a goal last January to do some sort of community service each month for 2012.
We didn’t. But even though we didn’t do something every month we did do five more acts of community service than we had ever done before. So that’s success right?
And that’s what I needed–a little taste of success; a little taste to get over my fear of doing something new; a little taste to see you don’t have to break out the tinsel and warm up the oven to keep that Christmas feeling.
If you’re like me and you are now thinking, Community service with my kids? Yeah, right! Let me tell you–it’s really not as hard as you think. In fact, most of these ideas took little to no prep. Here’s where we started:
- Brotherly Kindness Board We started small and close to home (baby steps). We set up a “Brotherly Kindness” poster near the table. Then each night (or whenever we’d remember) we’d report on something nice that we did for someone in our family or in our circle of friends. I’d write it on a little heart post-it note and stick it on the poster.
- “Entertainment Bags” for the local women’s shelter This was our greatest success, I think. First the kids and I brainstormed some small items that they might want in an overnight bag. Then I enlisted a few friends to help me purchase some very small toys and books. We collected coloring books and crayons, stuffed animals, books, small games, little figures, balloons and paper plates which we cut into masks. We got some big paper bags from the grocery store and let each kid decorate one. Then we, assembly line style, filled them with the goods.
- Happy Spring Cards (because not everyone celebrates Passover or Easter–but everyone loves Spring) This one was fun. We just gathered a bunch of paper and let the kids go crazy–urging them to make the sunniest, happiest, cards they could. Then we sent them to the local children’s hospital. I called ahead and got a minimum number of cards (which was around 25–doable!)
- Steps-4-Change Walk-a-Thon The kids were out of school and to give us a little direction on those first decompressing days of summer, we started a walk-a-thon. I went to Google Maps and charted a rough one mile loop around our neighborhood (which conveniently took us past the library). Then the kids emailed the grandparents and aunts and uncles and asked if they would give them a quarter for every quarter mile they walked. We set up jars to hold the quarters we earned and then got up and walked a mile several days a week. We invited some friends to join us so our funds would grow faster. We donated the $30 we earned to the American Cancer Society (and I have been on their monthly mailing list since).
- Pick Up Trash I was feeling a lot of pressure with the anniversary of 9/11. On top of that, we hadn’t done community service for a few months. So I was paralyzed with indecision (which always happens to me) and my husband said, “Well, I’m just going to take the kids to the park and we’ll pick up trash!” That turned out to be perfect. The kids loved it. They could see exactly what they had accomplished and they got to play at the park to boot.
- Gingerbread Firemen As you can see from the picture, making a gingerbread man into a firefighter is no easy task. But our local firefighters didn’t seem to mind. We brought them a plate full of cookies and walked away with a tour.
See–nothing special. But through these small steps, community service has become a lot less daunting and a lot more inspiring.
For 2013, here’s what I’d like to try–and if you have any other ideas, I’d love to hear them. (Or better yet, join me and tell me what you do this year.):
Volunteer at the library. Cleaning board books, taking down or putting up seasonal decorations, dusting shelves. A friend of mine does this and who doesn’t love the library?
Yard work. Spend a few hours weeding or mowing for Grandma or any elderly neighbor.
Bread and soup delivery. It seems like I’m always cooking. I might as well make a little extra some time.
Making hygiene bags for the homeless. The Power of Moms newsletter gave me this idea. You can find some specific information on it here. I love this idea.
Talent show. This concert idea was another inspiring one from The Power of Moms. I thought an end of the summer talent show might give us a little direction in the summer.
Who knows? Maybe someday when my kids are less shy and I’m less of a scaredy cat we’ll go sing patriotic songs at a nursing home. That would be something. But whatever we do, I know I can teach my kids to help out in small ways and together we can keep that Christmas feeling all year long.
QUESTION: How do you serve your community year-round? Do you have any ideas to share with The Power of Moms?
CHALLENGE: Set a community service goal for the year. We’d love it if you’d share your goal in the comments section below!
Rachel Nielson says
The women’s group at my church always delivers Valentines to the local nursing home on February 14th. We call ahead and get permission, and they are always ecstatic to have us. We bring our kids with us, and the seniors just love it. The kids can make the Valentines, or you can just buy cards and sign them–it works either way.
We’ve also prepared a breakfast for the Ronald McDonald house, which is easy and rewarding. A family or a couple of families could easily take that on. Call your local Ronald McDonald House to sign up to prepare a meal. The best part is, you get to eat and chat with the families (if you want to) and they are so grateful.
I absolutely love this post!! I have wanted (for years!) to do more service with my kids, but I’ve always had this feeling that they were too little to really do many meaningful things. The ideas in this post have shown me how wrong that thinking was. And, now that I think about it, it seems obvious that by giving my kids the chance to serve in smaller ways while they’re young, that will give them a love of service that can turn into larger projects when they’re older.
It’s so important to find ways to being helpful all year – not just at Christmas. It seems that you come up with activities on your own, and I admire your energy and creativity to do what you did.
For me, at this time of life, it’s easier to participate as part of a group, where the planning and organization and implementation aren’t solely my responsibility. The social concerns committee at church regularly has activities. My son attends a parochial preschool, which sponsors age-appropriate opportunities as well. My family does more this way than we would on our own.
And – churches are not the only organizations that do such things. Other civic clubs do – or you could even do it part of a “mom’s club.”