Volunteering with a Little Kid
I pontificated recently about that beautiful small amount of time that we are allotted to live in the innocent bubble of our children’s childhoods. It is a place where we are free to entertain crazy ideas about the world. Ideas like anything is possible. Or like helping other people is an unequivocally good idea, one that no good-hearted person would ever be against. Or, when you are sick you should be able to go to a doctor, no matter how much money you have or what company you work for. We can think about morality, right and wrong in stark black and white terms, unhindered by cynicism or depressing realities.
That is what it means to be a child.
As I watch my children grow, I am conscious of harnessing their natural kindness and empathy so that it can become a lifelong thread. Like starting little ballerinas at the age of four, goodness is a natural strength in children and something worth strengthening and preserving. Thus for months I searched for ways to volunteer with my older son so that he could begin to get little tastes of the satisfying feeling that comes from putting good into the world.
Finding a place to volunteer with a little kid sounds like something that should be easy. But in reality, I found it anything but.
My quest began with the ubiquitous drawn-out, useless, brain-sucking internet search. Yes, there were millions of stories on the topic. But ultimately, the vast majority were only appropriate for teenagers and up. One of the few useful things I found were those outdoor related opportunities – civic sweeps, park events and such. We volunteered to help put down mulch at a nearby park last spring. It was nice. Kids got a sticker. Not earth shattering, but it was something.
Then this year, a cataclysmic event took place.
The truth about Santa Claus was heart-breakingly revealed. And to our surprise, it came as a terrible blow to my son, who was not yet ready to part with this bit of magic. Trying to alleviate his sadness, we talked a great deal about how the magic of Christmas is very real. How there is a goodness and kindness and a spirit of helping others that is the real power behind that holiday magic. We told him that that is why we all really love Santa, and that we can actually be the ones who spread that spirit. With that, my search for volunteer opportunities took on a new urgency.
I really wanted to do something in our community.
I knew there was a food pantry that my church runs, but there was no easy way to find information – no email address, no website. For whatever reason, whatever character flaw, this small obstacle rendered it an immediate dead end for me. In a comical twist of irony, I am a publicist who can’t stand picking up the phone. But, thankfully, the universe intervened when I needed to meet with the pastor at our church so I could get a form signed for my husband to be my nephew’s confirmation sponsor. I asked the priest about the food pantry. That was all I needed to do.
We were invited to just come and set up, or to stay and help hand out the food, if we wished. It is a modest operation, but truly lovely. Last weekend my son was finally able to stay for the distribution and it was wonderful. He really wanted to man one of the tables – so the juice station became his domain. He had fun organizing the juices and handing them out and he chatted politely with every person who came by. Without question some of the people that come to the food pantry do so for that small bit of social interaction. It was immensely satisfying to see my son, only 9, chirpingly attending to that need.
Children want to please. They want to make others happy.
We walked home as it gently snowed and my son was on cloud nine. The people running the food pantry fawned on him, gave him candy, complimented him, which children love. But mostly he felt proud for helping, for doing something good. It turned out to be the perfect place for us to volunteer together.
We were not out working with traumatized refugees or rebuilding houses after a natural disaster. But this small act of volunteering ignited that little fire in my 9 year old son, that desire to make a difference, to do good. It is a small thing. But small things grow through the years into bigger things. If the experience of volunteering, in whatever which way he can, informs his thinking as he grows, even if he doesn’t realize it, I will have done my job.
Finding volunteer opportunities for small kids really requires some legwork.
We still keep our ears open for opportunities. It’s not like volunteering as an adult or a teen. You need to think about your own community, ask around, make suggestions and improvise. School, parent groups, religious institutions and other local organizations are the places to reach out to. It helps if you’re not a phone-averse like me.
I follow all our local shelters on social media because they do sometimes make call outs for help packing up supplies, etc., which anyone can do. We follow our local parks as well because there is a place for those outdoor volunteering events. My son is a Cub Scout, so some opportunities and ideas often materialize through our excellently run troop.
Our children are being raised in a world where “slacktivism” casts a negative shadow. Teaching my kids to step out of their comfort zone to do a little work for the greater good is something I would very much like to accomplish.
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