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Getting Started


For Parents:

For Young Volunteers:

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For Parents:

Introducing the Idea of Service

Introducing the idea of service can occur at any age, even at a very young one. Children have a natural curiosity and you can take almost any activity and add a service component to it. For example, while teaching your child how to bake cookies, you can emphasize how there are others who are in need of even the basic foods. You can then take the cookies that you baked together and find a suitable place to donate them to (not before having some yourselves of course!).

Create avenues through which you can get your children to start thinking about the larger community. Even just watching television about underprivileged children or reading a story with such themes can prompt awareness, and could very well inspire your child to donate or collect toys for needy children!

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Finding an Appropriate Service Opportunity

The service opportunity should ideally match your child's interests and personality:

  • Is my child the active type, who's happier when on the move? Planting bulbs in the park or delivering meals to home-bound elderly may be a better choice than sitting and reading to younger children.
  • Would my child enjoy a one-on-one encounter, such as a visit with seniors in a nursing home, or is my child a bit more shy, and would prefer working with groceries at a church food pantry?
  • Would my child enjoy performing a service for people in need, such as collecting items for homeless kids, or would reflection on the plight of kids without a home be too upsetting?
  • Would my child like to share a talent or skill with others? Play piano at a nursing home? Deliver storybooks and read aloud to children at a shelter? Matching your child's interests and affinities to the service makes the experience that much more satisfying.

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Different Ages, Different Perspectives

The type and level of your involvement with your child's service activities depends on your child's age.

  • If your child is 11 or under:
    The volunteering experience will probably be more meaningful if you and your child work together. In fact, most service agencies will insist on it. It can be a wonderful opportunity to share observations and feelings, with you helping to create the framework for your child's reflections on the experience. The thought you put into this ahead of time will pay off in a much better experience for your family.
  • If your child is ages 12-14:
    The middle school years present a dilemma: your child may wish to perform community service without you, but the service agency may insist, with good reason, on having adult supervision, whether that of a parent or teacher. Balancing your child's desire for independence with an appropriate level of responsibility can be tricky. Ideally, the supervision becomes a helpful, enabling part of the experience, and both parent and child walk away feeling satisfied.
  • If your child is 15 or older:
    Many high school students get suggestions for community service opportunities from educators at school. Sometimes, students are asked to take an active role in the investigation and performance of the work, rather than relying on a parent. The school may have suggestions on how parents can be helpful, and may want parental involvement when it comes to checking out a service opportunity that is unfamiliar to the school. It always adds meaning to the experience when parents talk with their child about their service work, no matter the age of the child.

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Working with the Organization

  • When approaching an organization, make sure that you have identified one that accommodates younger children. Most likely the organization will offer an opportunity that can be done at home or school and then finished on location, such as baking and then bringing the finished goods to the location. It will depend on the age of the child.
  • Go prepared with tools to keep everyone busy during the time you may have to wait. For instance, take with you a bag of colorful pipe cleaners, or crayons and paper, and have your child create something that she can leave behind, such as placemats for a soup kitchen, a drawing for a nursing home bulletin board, or a pipe cleaner sculpture for the front desk at the organization.
  • If you are going to work on-site at an organization, prepare your child for the expectations of the adults in charge. "We will work hard for half an hour, then take a break. We'll go back to work for another half hour, and then celebrate a job well done over pizza for lunch on the way home." Even kids as old as 11 are well served by this kind of preparation. A plan of action, communicated before your family arrives at the agency, might cut down on the "when are we going home" whining or "how much more do I have to do" complaints that can sour the experience for everybody.
  • Other kinds of casual preparation may be helpful, such as having your child think about questions to ask when visiting a senior citizen's home. "What was life like in the year 1942?" "What was it like to grow up without computers and TV?" These ice breakers can make all the difference.
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Reflection: Getting the Most out of Your Experience

Begin the "reflection" process before the project. Prepare your child for the experience - what does your child think the place will look like, smell like, etc? What will it be like to actually volunteer? After the project, review these initial thoughts and be sure to talk about what your child has accomplished. This can be as simple as a just-before-bed chat about how your child felt about performing the service. Reflection beforehand and afterwards adds considerable meaning to the service experience.

If you want your child to see pictures of the children enjoying the books he collected, or the seniors enjoying the cookies he baked for them, leave behind a disposable camera and a stamped, pre-addressed envelope. Make sure that someone at the agency agrees to take photos and drop the camera in the mail. In some cases, the agency may encourage you to leave a "neutral site" address, such as your child's school address, rather than your home address.

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For Young Volunteers:

What is community service?

Community service is giving your time and effort to make a positive difference, large or small. Community service is finding a way to help a person, group, or organization that works on behalf of people or places in need. Community service is offering a hand. The instinct to offer a hand is regarded as one of the highest and best that we have.

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Why is it important?

Contributing to your community is important part of your development. It can help build your leadership skills and pave ideas for future career paths. It gives you perspective by helping you think about others and how other's lives differ from your own. It can change the way you feel and think about things! Sometimes, it makes you feel incredibly fortunate at the end of the day, even though you might have started the day feeling rotten about challenges of your own.

One of the best things about community service is that you get while you give. Expect a feeling of satisfaction, or a moment's pride, as you reflect on what you did to help someone else. When it comes to doing something that will make you feel good about yourself, community service does just that!

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How do I get started in community service?

Reading this is a great first step!

  1. Think about how you want to help. What are your interests? Do you like being indoors or outside? What ages do I like being with? Older? Younger? Do you have a specific talent or skill to contribute?
  2. Consider how much time you want to spend on service. Once a week? Once a month? It's okay to start with something small to see if you like it. If you don't end up liking it, don't be discouraged. Sometimes it takes time and patience to find a good fit.
  3. Talk to an adult about a plan. Will you need supplies? A ride somewhere? Or, if your school requires community service, there's probably a service director or coordinator who can help you find a place. Adults can also share their own experiences and give you great suggestions.
  4. Ask questions. Once you have an organization in mind, call and ask for the volunteer coordinator. This person probably doesn't have much time to sit by the phone, so be prepared to leave a detailed message. When you do make contact, have your questions prepared ahead of time, perhaps along the lines of the "four W's":
    • Who do they need for the work they do?
    • What kind of work is it?
    • When do they need help?
    • Where would be you be expected to do this work?
  5. Check it out. You're not obligated to volunteer just because you called to ask about the opportunities. Before committing, check with a parent, teacher, or other adult who can help you evaluate the information you've received. Another good idea is to make an appointment to drop by the site to see for yourself if you would feel comfortable volunteering there: can you picture yourself in that setting? If it seems right to you, chances are you have found a good fit!

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Whatever you choose, we'd love to hear from you! Tell us about your service project and we may feature it in our Community Spotlight.

 
     

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