When I taught high school I had the pleasure of sponsoring a few clubs. (Several teachers just re-read that first sentence!) One club that brought great pleasure to me just happened to be a service-oriented one. The previous sponsors decided it was time to hand the reins over to someone new, and the all-call went out for volunteers. I was the only one to respond and, actually, I was okay with that. Being the sole sponsor allowed me to do things, to quote Sinatra, my way. And my way included some “radical” ideas for high schoolers.
The day of our first meeting, students filed into my classroom. I can’t remember the exact number of kids, but knowing the number of desks I had and the fact it was standing room only, I’m guessing over fifty.
Fifty plus teenagers that have chosen to be a part of a service organization! I was optimistic.
Which lasted about five minutes.
I proceeded to explain my “out of the box” ideas.
“We will do lots of service projects,” I enthusiastically exclaimed.
“However, unlike other high school clubs you might be a member of, we will not keep a record of service hours and I will not sign off on hours for things you do in our club for your other ones. We are not doing volunteer work to pad a resume or get a graduation cord.”
Then one young man in the back raised his hand, stood and asked, “Well, if we aren’t getting anything for our service, then why should we do it?”
“Because it’s the right thing to do, you narcissistic, selfish jerk.”
Okay, I’m like 90% sure that last part I said in my head, but I’m 100% positive my facial expression conveyed my thoughts because the young gentleman sunk back down into his desk in rapid slow motion.
In spite of our inauspicious start, we did accomplish wonderful projects. Halloween candy bags for the children in the shelter, stuffed animals at Christmas for the children’s ward at the hospital. We even had counselors and students wrestle in giant blow-up sumo suits as a fundraiser to collect socks for the homeless. And all because it was the right thing to do.
Teaching our children to volunteer is one of the greatest gifts we can give to them.
It is also one of the easiest things to talk about while not actually doing anything. That is why getting our children started at an early age will potentially inspire a life-long commitment to helping others.
And I’m talking young. Pre-school age is the perfect time to model selfless behavior. After making a batch of cookies for the family, take the little one next door to give a few to the neighbor. Help your child clean out unwanted toys and drop them off at a donation center. Take them IN to that store and show them where his or her toys will go and how other children will have fun playing with them. There is no shame in buying second-hand.
By the time our children start school, they are offered numerous opportunities to serve. Joining organizations such as Boy Scouts or Girl Scouts, honor societies, clubs dedicated to service, as well as church or community associations, are all ways for youth to get involved. As a teacher I have even witnessed groups such as band, sports, and art clubs engage in service projects.
Since teenagers tend to be a bit myopic and struggle with identity, relinquishing their time and talents to a cause greater than themselves will not only build character, but it also might guide them into a career direction they may never have considered.
We all know that school is just one piece of the puzzle we call our child. Home is not just where the heart is, but it is the place where the heart GROWS. Families that spend time doing volunteer work will find it highly rewarding. My daughters and I have been ringing the Salvation Army Christmas bell for many years now. We started off a little awkward and not sure what to do, but now we bring a speaker, dress up in festive Christmas garb, and ring and sing! Today they are grown women and one even lives three hours away, but this volunteer tradition continues and we love it. In fact, they ask me around Thanksgiving, “When are we ringing the bell?” Did I mention–Grown. Women. It melts my heart!
Beach or park clean up, food pantry and distribution, even mission trips to other communities or countries…find something that fits your family and make it a tradition.
I sponsored that service club for many years and by volunteering to be it’s leader, I garnered many beautiful memories and friendships with students who today are adults. I hope I instilled in them that we help others not for recognition and not for resume building and not for competition. It is our duty to teach our children to care and help others because one day they may need that very same assistance. We must teach our children to love one another because we have figured out that all life is valuable.
It is not wrong to tell our children to go forth and do well in this world, but it is imperative we also tell them to go forth and do good in this world.
It’s the right thing to do.