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Learning from Giving
[Reprinted from Issue 104, Fall 2008, of PA Homeschoolers magazine]
The above photo shows Hannah Earhart delivering food
From the beginning of our homeschooling, serving our community was a natural overflow from our many projects we had done with our church. It just made good sense to us, to have our kiddos involved in community service projects as young as possible. There were lots of opportunities. Local churches take turns supplying the volunteers in our community through a ministerial alliance. Helping at the local food bank was one of the areas. Our oldest son and his younger brother filled boxes and handed out food and unloaded supplies- he was in 4th grade, the younger was in kindergarten. We did that several times a year. That was 14 years ago. As time went by, we even took the very youngest along usually in a back pack.. Once when our daughter was just about 2, she sat up on the table with an older lady from our church and helped to put the soup into the boxes of the recipients. Having a young bright face- pacifier and all – handing them their soup and saying ‘tank you’ , brought smiles and laughter to everyone. The volunteers encouraged our children, and happily assisted them, while those in charge of the food bank delighted in seeing " youth’ in their midst- knowing the next generation was learning to serve the needs of the community at such an early age. Our three children helped to serve a thanksgiving dinner at the local Salvation Army. At 4 years old- our youngest was more than capable of delivering a turkey dinner with a huge smile. It made a beautiful difference for the recipients. Many times the recipients have come by to tell me, or the staff, how glad they were to see the kids helping. It warmed their hearts.
Over the years – as an adult observing the "goings on" between the children and the recipients and also working days where for one reason or another, there were no children helping, I saw a significant difference. Walking a food line and – or receiving aid when one is in need, isn’t a comfortable thing. Most folks, although very grateful, have such a sense of pride, and it is a very humbling time when they come for ‘help’. Everyone is friendly – always – but, on the days that the children are there- there is JOY. So not only are they giving sustenance to the body- they are lifting up hearts and souls.
The other delightful thing that occurs when volunteering, are the relationships that are made. In our experience, the majority of volunteers in any of these programs are senior citizens ranging in age from 60 to 96. It is fabulous that so many of our seniors volunteer. I am amazed at their dedication, their work ethic, their generosity, and happiness, their kindness and sincerity, their compassion and willingness to serve with a smile. All traits I want my own children to have The children are benefiting in ways they don’t realize On the days that they volunteered - they each had 4 dozen or so grandmas and grandpas ! They got lots of hugs and laughter. They got history lessons too. They learned about their local community, about what it was like ‘ when they were kids". They tell the stories of what the town looked like, where they played, and where their moms shopped and their dads worked and about trains and trolleys. They learned about national and international history because so many of them remember the impact of the depression and World War II. The older ones love to tell stories. The younger ones learn the value of being a good listener.
One question has come up over and over in the past 14 years in one form or another-
"Why aren’t you in school?"
We explain that we home school and this is part of our school day, and overwhelmingly they respond with supportive, appreciative and encouraging remarks that inevitably lead to great stories. A lovely thing happens when we volunteer. It puts a very positive perspective on homeschooling in general. Those who don’t understand homeschool- get to ask the children and me questions. The kids are sociable, work hard and communicate well. Quite often, our day of volunteering totally dispels any negative opinion someone may have had of homeschoolers. Many say lovely supportive things about our choice to homeschool. I once over heard one women telling another on a project day about us. The first lady inquired why the kids weren’t in school. The second lady explained, " Oh but they are in school- this is school. Besides they can do their math and that later. They can do school when they need to. " One other small but very significant thing happens, All those people- the recipients and the other volunteers- remember the kids and take time to say ‘hello’ when we meet them on the street, at the grocery store or the drug store, library, or in the park. That makes our children so happy !
Many, many opportunities to serve our community have come across our path. I want to list some of them for you, NOT to say " look at our list " but to say look at what’s possible.
Also, listen to your children’s ideas. They usually are very good, and often I have been surprised and inspired by their desire to help make a difference in their own way. Follow their lead, support them the best you can. You will be amazed at what happens. (See note under Red Cross.)
Where to start?
Your church or synagogue community Many of our service opportunities have started here. Ask your chamber of commerce and your state representatives office..
The local Food Bank- You can serve by collecting food, helping on distribution day, delivering and cleaning up.
The Hospital – Our son has volunteered at the front information desk. There are many other volunteer jobs.
Meals on Wheels – we have worked preparing the lunches with our church, and we also deliver meals to recipients several times a month. I drive and the kids take the meals to the recipients. They are so happy to see the kids. Often this and the mailman are the only visitors they see all day.
Habitat for Humanity - There is more than just building the house. Our daughter swam, cycled, and ran in a triathlon that Rep. Tim Murphy and many local businesses helped to promote. All that swimming and sweating helped to raise funds to build a house – locally. What joy also to find out that the house went to a friend’s daughter- who was well deserving of the gift.
Palmer Cancer Treatment Center ( or cancer treatment center in your area) We coordinated a knitting program through our local library to knit and crochet chemo hats. That program has donated close to 1000 hats. Younger children helped by gift bagging and tagging the hats. Also making special short robes for women undergoing treatment for breast cancer.
Faith in Action - This local program matches and trains volunteers to meet needs, such as caregiver relief, driving folks to the store or doctor. Many pair up with one older person, and visit them often, taking them along to special events. We had the opportunity to spend some time with a beautiful lady who would turn 100 in just a few months. We kept her company so her daughter could run to the store. We have also helped to make and create Christmas gifts that Faith in Action gives at Christmas time. This relatively new program has now spread to 4 surrounding communities. Elder care and support is a rapidly growing community need.
Senior Centers - We have participated in many musical performances. Taken our bunnies and kittens to visit through their pet programs. Our church offers opportunities to visit as well.
Crop Walk – this event raises funds on a local, state and national level . It’s great exercise and lots of folks from the community come out for this.
Boy Scouts and Girl scouts- Scouting for food, land and road clean up and many more opportunities.
Men’s and Women’s shelters or mission homes and Young mothers services- Along with our youth in the church, we have made gifts and donated items to assist them in their care giving.
Veterans Hospitals and Associations- They can use simple supplies like toiletries, games, books, cards . Contact them to see what you can give.
The Red Cross- We have volunteered for blood drives, baking cookies and serving as well as donating blood. Our children had a lemonade and cookie stand with a neighbor and raised over $300.00 for hurricane victims that we donated to the Red Cross. I wish you could have seen the faces on the folks at the Red Cross when these small children brought in this huge gift The kids had come up with the idea on their own- We just supported and followed their lead. Word got out and the neighbor responded generously ! Imagine the delight and surprise when they got $50.00 for a glass of lemonade and a cookie !
Look for global service projects as well. This year we will support Samaritan’s purse. They send shoe boxes loaded with gifts and supplies to children around the world. We have also supported the Heifer Project many times. They send animals and supplies to help individuals and communities become more self sufficient. Encourage service outside your local community too.
If you love to sew ( or knit or crochet)- there are lots of projects you can make There are lots of ideas and free patterns on line. Robes for cancer treatment centers, Walker pockets that attach to the front of a walker for nursing homes or veterans homes. Helmet liners for the soldiers. Caps and mittens and socks for local children’s charities. Check out a book called ‘ Knitting for Peace’
Relay for Life - You create a team or join a team and you gather donations and walk to raise funds for cancer research. Check their website for more info. We have walked in honor of many cancer survivors and in memory of those who have passed. This is event is a powerful experience for any age level. It usually occurs in June.
Private endeavors - This is what happens when you or your children are inspired to respond to a need. We knew our local food bank was in desperate need. It just so happened we were sitting on a pile of school materials we would no longer need because the kids are growing up. We were inspired to have a "book give away." Rather than a book sale. What would happen if we gave things away for free? Take what you need, and donate what you can. So we gave it a try. We put all the materials out on the big porch – just like a yard sale, and placed a jar out asking for donations. We sent out emails and phone calls. 100% of the money would go to the food bank. To our amazement homeschoolers responded – generously ! We raised $270.00 in one weekend. The local food bank and the chairman for our church were so amazed and happy, they even made a big announcement thanking the local homeschoolers for their generous gift.
By the way , the Food Bank is still in great need. Our church and community are continuing food drives. A local homeschool support group could do a fabulous job with a cereal drive, or peanut butter or pasta drive. Every little bit matters. Ask the kids what they would like to do.
The needs of our communities are great. The rewards and benefits of volunteering are beyond what you would ever expect ! Every year I look for a new project. This keeps our volunteering exciting- like a treasur hunt. Always asking the question " How can we serve? How can we make a difference?" Every year a need seems to find us.
One day, while working at the food bank distribution, I actually figured out that they had had lessons in every single school subject. Math – calculating the number of supplies to go in the boxes and how much do you think all this cost ? Health – discussion of the nutritional value of certain foods and the lack in others. PA History – listening to the seniors talk about town and growing up. Geography - How does the food get here? Where do they store it? Where do these people live, and looking over the city map to find it. English – reading the box labels and discussing how advertising misspells words and ‘ makes up’ words to sell a product. ( Going home and writing about the day too. ) Science – lots of cause and effect and using simple machines such as a dolly and ramps to move the big boxes. Fire Safety – don’t stack those boxes to close to the heating vent! Phys Ed. – Proper lifting techniques. Loading and unloading, lifting, walking, carrying boxes out to the car for the senior and physically disabled recipients. It was a good day.
One last thought
A little end note. Although I feel they should volunteer for the sake of helping and not recognition, there are some good programs that inspire the kids to do more.
There is a program called USA Freedom Corps that you can find on line that has a lovely certificate and Record of Service you can print out. There are monetary awards given too. You will find similar programs on line.
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