Let me just brag for a second…my six-year-old is a SUPERHERO! I mean a saving-the-world-one-green-bean-can-at-a-time superhero! Just look at her go!
This past Thursday my oldest daughter and I volunteered at the Chattanooga Area Food Bank’s Family Night. They have these on the first Thursday and first Saturday of every month. I am not kidding you, it was SO MUCH FUN! But let me be honest, I had more than one selfish reason for wanting to do this. It gave me a topic for a blog post (one post in and I’m already out of ideas!); I got to see one of my favorite people in the world, Christa Mannarino, who is the interim director at the Food Bank (shout out!); and I got to spend some quality one-on-one time with my kid who LOUDLY speaks that love language.
Now the one (possibly) unselfish reason (have you ever seen the Friends episode, “The One Where Phoebe Hates PBS?,” where Joey says there is no such thing as a truly selfless good deed?), I want to start volunteering with my kids more, is that I truly believe it will produce good fruit in their lives.
We know that childhood experiences, especially those shared with family, can shape how children learn to view and interact with the world. Hey, I’m no child psychologist, but I did watch the movie Inside Out. We don’t live in Minnesota, so I don’t believe my girls will have “Hockey Islands,” but I sure hope they have happy, safe, meaningful “Family Islands.” And a “Helping Others Island” would be a positive place, too. It’s important to me that my kids develop compassion, empathy, tolerance, gratitude and a sense of community responsibility.
Okay, before we move on, PLEASE unpack your bags, because we are not going on a guilt trip. I am not here to give you one more thing you “should” be doing with your kids. I am the WORST about having schizophrenic ideas of what I “should” be doing with my kids. I typically vacillate between how I should teach them independence by not interfering with their play and “that is seriously dangerous and I don’t want CPS called on me!” Seriously, don’t do that to yourself. As the Pioneer Woman always says, “Don’t be me.” But I honestly didn’t come from that place with this, and I don’t want anyone else to do so either. There are oodles of different ways to teach your kids about helping others, many that aren’t a huge time commitment and that you can tailor it to something your whole family will actually enjoy.
The Food Bank was a great place to start for us. Kids of any age can help grab cans, label them and pack them in boxes. When we go back, which we definitely will (we hope a bunch of our friends and CMB readers will join us!), I’m sure there will be something new and exciting to do. The Food Bank meets such a huge need, so there is always something to do, something that is tangible for kids. My daughter understood the green bean cans she was labeling and packing would be given to people who had no food. She understood that much more than me guilting her to eat her own green beans because “there are starving children in Africa.”
So now for my completely irrelevant number of tips…
6 Tips for Volunteering with Kids
Tip #1 Doing anything is something.
It doesn’t have to be a long-term commitment or difficult. Walking your neighbor’s dog, sending cards/treats to kids in the hospital, even picking up litter around your neighborhood or local park are all fun, easy ways kids of any age can help.
Tip #2 Do your research.
It just so happens that Chattanooga is known not only for being “Gig City,” but also “Give City.” Totally just coined that title. It is true, though. Chattanooga is a very philanthropic city, maybe one of the most when you consider the number of non-profits per capita. With so many great organizations, it could be difficult to choose where to start. You can check out the ihelpchattanooga.com website to search for the perfect volunteer opportunity for your family.
Tip #3 Model caring and generosity in your daily living.
Your kids are watching you. ALL. THE. TIME. Let people in front of you in line at the store. Tip generously. Smile at strangers. I could list a million little things. That’s the point. They watch you all the time, and every little thing you do teaches them something. So, to the best of my imperfect ability, I try to show my kids how to treat others with kindness and compassion.
Tip #4 Kill two birds with one stone.
Having fun as a family is such an important thing to do, so find something you will enjoy doing together that also has a charitable component. If your family enjoys being active, sign up for a bike-a-thon or a Fun Run to raise money for a good cause. If your child adores animals, you can volunteer to walk dogs at the animal shelter (next on our family’s list).
Tip #5 Talk to your kids about the experience.
Hearing kids explain in their own words what they did and how it helped can tell you a lot about the impact it had on them. Bonus, again, because you are showing your child you value his or her thoughts and opinions.
Tip #6 Give them a sense of accomplishment.
A simple thank you can go a long way in making a child feel good about what they’ve done. Mark Schock, the SUPERHERO volunteer coordinator at the Food Bank, really drove it home when he told the volunteers that the hours of work we did valued enough to provide 4,000 meals! My daughter really felt like she had made a difference! Then we went for ice cream, so I could show her I was proud of the hard work she did. Ice cream just solidifies the great experience. She’ll definitely want to do it again!
I’ll leave you with a few amazing facts about the Chattanooga Area Food Bank: through a network of more than 300 partners, the Food Bank covers 20 counties in Tennessee and Northwest Georgia, providing meals for the more than 160,000 individuals dealing with hunger (41% of those are children). Just one dollar can feed a family of four. If you are interested in volunteering at the Food Bank, you can contact Mark Schock at (423) 622-1800 (ext 208) or [email protected]. You can learn more about all of the programs the Food Bank offers and about more ways you can help at chattfoodbank.org.