by Rachelle Tannenbaum
The weather’s turned colder, and Thanksgiving and the December holidays are right around the corner! Many people tend to focus at this time of year on ways to help others whose lot in life is not as fortunate. That is, of course, a wonderful sentiment, but wouldn’t it be better to make volunteerism a year-round affair? In this issue of the e-zine, Barb Holcomb focuses on the benefits of making volunteering a family activity. Barb is the Acting Program Coordinator of The Parenting Center. She comes from Blacksburg, VA, where she was in the nonprofit sector for fourteen years and greatly involved with community service.
BENEFITS OF FAMILY VOLUNTEERISM
by Barb Holcomb
I recently returned from a retreat sponsored by Hospice of the Chesapeake for adults who are grieving the loss of a loved one. One night around the table at dinner, one of the staff members talked about how this camp has been going on for 13 years. In the early years of this camp, it spawned a second camp for bereaved teenagers. He said that some of the children of the staff at the adult camp, who are now young adults, volunteer at the camp for teenagers. The children of the staff are now volunteering to help others. He said, “The old ones among us are now able to pass the gavel and know that these camps are in good hands.”
This is just what happens. Parents who volunteer with their children are planting seeds that will germinate into rich rewards later in life. The reward might be that a program is passed along confidently to a younger generation such as the Hospice example. The reward may be evident in a sense of family adventure, exploring something new together. It may be the sense of self that results as a child senses his or her own strengths and grows to understand how we each contribute to community life. Perhaps it’s just the chance to be around other like-minded or spirited people.
I remember when my son was young and we joined Rotary volunteers to clean up a highway a few Saturday mornings. I was a single mom. These men took my son under their charge. Justin saw men of all ages giving and caring about the environment. He saw their camaraderie. He was a part of group of men (since I was the only woman present on those Saturday mornings). What a wonderful way to develop male role models.
Indeed, volunteering can open the door for those of different generations to form strong bonds. I know one family who went weekly to visit a woman in a local nursing home. This woman was the oldest and only living member of her family. My friends’ family adopted her and she became a part of their family, present at holiday gatherings. A deep bond was created that crossed over many years.
It is important that families find suitable projects. To do this involves a little foresight. For example, if as a parent you know that your children are too often attached to video games just with their peers, perhaps helping at Special Olympics or at an adventure camp will get them outdoors and inspire a sense of wonder at what possibilities exist for physical outlet. There are so many agencies seeking volunteers. Consider what you hope will develop from your volunteerism in yourself and in your children. Have a family discussion and involve your children in the selection of where you volunteer.
Volunteering also gives you an avenue to grow together. It gives you time together. Even if you’re just stuffing envelopes for a political candidate’s campaign, you have time side-by-side doing something and time with your child. Often it is at times like this that significant chances arise to learn about something happening in your child’s life as you listen.
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