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Doing spring evaluations lets me see all the wonderful community service work homeschoolers are doing!
Susan Richman, 5/10/2010

Susan Richman works in the spring as a homeschool evaluator, meeting with families to look over their homeschooling portfolios, and talking with both parents and children-- and has been doing a lot of traveling about the state meeting with wonderful homeschooling families... here's an 'update' on some of the special things kids have been doing in community service-- often as written up by the student or parent.

Yes, I'm in the midst of homeschool evaluation season-- and although it's always challenging to keep up with writing up my narrative reports after seeing students, it's always uplifting to hear about all the wonderful things so many of these families are doing, especially related to community service. I'm going to let you in on some special things I've seen kids doing to serve others-- maybe you'll be inspired... and maybe you'll post below in a comment to share about how your kids are learning to reach out to others in unique ways!

One of my new favorite evaluation students is a 5th grader who is spending a couple of hours most weeks reading aloud for the blind in her area-- along with many other on-going projects like raising chickens (her 'chicken journal' was a delight!), reading over 100 books, making creative sculpy clay creations, learning to weave lovely baskets at a homeschool co-op class, taking part in a local performing arts group with other homeschoolers, playing harp, and going on many field trips with her homeschool group and with her family. Here's Elizabeth's story of her work with the blind:

My name is Elizabeth and I’m 11 years old. At the beginning of the school year, my Mom saw that volunteers were needed to read to the blind. So, we contacted the lady that runs the program. Her name is Geraldine. She’s 71 years old, and blind. She runs the program with little help.

We read the local newspaper for 2 hours. What we read is broadcasted on special radios, that for a small fee, are given out to the blind in our area. About 80 people have these radios in their homes or in nursing home rooms.

On most radio stations, obituaries, store sale flyers, the almanac, along with lots of other things aren’t read. This is why a volunteer reads the paper every week day.

Since Geraldine isn’t able to drive, she can’t find new volunteers. Often, she plays music or short stories that are recorded on tape, if she doesn’t have a volunteer for the day.

You might be wondering how she can run this service without being able to see. Geraldine uses special tools to help her. One of them is a machine that magnifies words so she can read them. She uses this to keep volunteer schedules, read and pay bills, and sign checks.

My Mom thought this would be a good a good reading experience for me, but it turned out to a life-learning experience for both of us.

This has been Elizabeth, and on behalf of WJUN and all of

Our volunteers, this has been your radio reading service of

The Carl Shoemaker chapter of the PA Council of the

Blind, wishing you a very good day!

(this is how I sign off.)

Another family, the Heitzers, works monthly at their local food bank-- and they've been doing this now for several years, so their kids are getting good at this! Here's what Karen Heitzer, the mother, wrote in her year-end summary:

Our food pantry is regarded by the Westmoreland County food pantry administration as one of the best-organized and best-run food panties in Westmoreland County. We first became involved four or five years ago after the director, who is a member of our church, asked our family to help out. This has been a wonderful family ministry opportunity, and every month every member of our family who is available on that Saturday morning goes to the food pantry to help out. Becky and Anna generally hand out dry goods, bread, and potatoes, while Jackie and my husband act as carriers for elderly clients to help carry out full boxes of foods to their cars. I generally help by handing out canned goods and dry goods collected during special donations over the holiday season. Our family almost always stays after the food pantry is completed to dismantle and put away tables, transport leftover canned goods to storage, and help clean and sweep the church basement in preparation for Sunday services the following day. Sometimes we transport cardboard boxes in our pick-up truck for disposal at a local grocery store.

Over the years, our girls have become familiar with many of the elderly 'regulars' at the food pantry, and always have a cheery 'hello!' for them. The operation of the food pantry is so effieceitn that anyone attending church the following morning would have no idea that over 150 families had come into the church to receive a wide variety of foods the previous day. With the downturn in the economy, the number of families serviced by our local food pantry has increased dramatically.

Peter, from a large family in central PA, is just graduating this year-- and last summer he started working hard to train for being an EMT (Emergency Medical Technician). Once he had his certification, he immediately volunteered for his local fire company, going out on all sorts of calls and helping in any way possible for his level of skill. Besides helping so many in his larger community, he's certainly also helped everyone in his family learn more about emergency situations, as he shares about his experiences. He even gave a talk to their homeschool group on fire extinguishers, realizing that one of the real roles of a fireman (and anyone involved in emergency aid) is helping to educate the public on best safety practices. When not busy being a fireman, finishing up his homeschooling work, or studying for a new level of emergency certification, Peter is also active as a dental assistant in his father's dental office in the family's home. Peter's major 2500-word paper to meet his PHAA diploma program English credit was about his experiences. Here's a short sample:

As a volunteer firefighter, when the pager goes off, that means it is time to jump in the car and head to the fire station.... Depending upon where the incident is, though, I may instead go straight to the scene. Because of this possibility, and the fact that I am an EMT, I also will grab my medical bag, which contains basic medical supplies....

Peter is now looking to get a fulltime job as an EMT--his high school volunteer work is leading directly into a career, and he plans to start training to earn certification as a paramedic in the future.

Two sisters in Camp Hill PA have gotten very involved in supporting organizations that work to stop human trafficking and to support victims of this trade-- they've attended seminars, written letters and learned how to lobby, and they've worked to raise funds in ingenious ways. One sister has started a small business called Fun and Quirky, making original stuffed animals with several friends, and selling them to raise funds for the organization Invisible Children. Then just today I met another evaluation student who'd written her major research paper for the year on this very topic-- and I suggested she might want to interview these sisters on their efforts in this field. I love when I can help kids make these sorts of connections!

An Old Order Mennonite family that I evaluate has begun a regular weekly service time of visiting their local homes for the elderly. The mother wrote in her summary of their year:

Every Wednesday afternoon Lily biked with me to the two old people's homes to sing for the residents. Our visits with these new friends have enriched our lives, not to mention enhancing our singing and social skills. I have always been so thankful for Lily by my side, whether it's biking in the snowy cold or filling in with her alto.

This special time of reaching out to others is also a special time for mother-daughter bonding, building meaingful memories.

Another mother, from the Beaver PA area, described how the new homeschool co-op they joined this year involves the older children in planning special activities for the younger ones and for others in need-- developing both leadership and cooperative problem-solving and real caring about others. Here's what she shared in her year-end summary:

'Kid Council' was a kid-based group at the co-op that had to choose projects and organize everything themselves. They organized a Chinese New Year's Party for the younger children. They set up a scavenger hunt, were responsible for a menu, and planned activities. They will also hold a 'carnival' for charity in late May. The kids have to run the whole carnival, and the proceeds will go to a family who is trying to adopt an orphan. They had to work as a team, be organized, communicate-- all life lessons. They really learned a lot and did a great job!

And speaking of older kids planning activities for younger ones... one of my favorite stories this year is of a 10th grade student who took full charge of her little sister's science program for the year. She used the Apologia Zoology text on flying creatures, and worked diligently to prepare engaging lessons that would really hold her little sister's interest. They hatched butterflies, incubated quail eggs (and raised one quail to age 6 weeks, when it was old enough to be released in the wild in a nearby wilderness area), did experiments together, and the older sister planned field trips to several regional sites where her little sister could learn even more-- the Pittsburgh Aviary, Phipp's Conservatory, etc. And this whole huge year-long project also became the subject for one of this student's major papers for the year-- look for it soon here online! I'm really hoping some other teens with little siblings might become inspired to take on this sort of challenge-- a true work of service within their own family. And she also earned a high school elective credit in 'Introduction to Education', too!

Another family, from the Harrisburg PA area, have developed a wonderful teaching 'farmette' at their hillside home, raising a wide range of animals-- miniature horses, angora rabbits, turkeys, a pot-belly pig, sheep, chickens, and more. The three kids have all been very involved in 4H clubs, and they also do little tours of their animal farm for school groups. The kids all help in presenting about animal care, gaining real confidence in giving engaging talks to groups. Look soon for a posting from the son in this remarkable family-- he's just an 8th grader right now, but one of his major homeschooling projects this year was building a log cabin 'sugar shack' for his growing maple syrup operation on their property. This became the subject for a major narrative essay, with photos, describing the whole project-- I'm guessing that next year he'll be adding maple syrup tours to his service work!  

It's been so heart-warming to see the many diverse ways homeschooling families have been reaching out to others, sharing their unique gifts in ways that have really made a difference in their corner of this big world. Thank you to all my evaluation families!


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