We love doing Spotlight on Service posts, highlighting the good that YOU are doing in the community that you live. Today’s Spotlight on Service post comes all the way from Florida!
I'll let Jodi introduce her family:
Hello! We are the McGregor Family from sunny St. Petersburg, Florida! Opportunities abound in a big, city with year-round mild weather and a lot of tourists, senior citizens and homeless. There are six of us of different ages and genders, so finding service ideas can occasionally be daunting. We have, however, found plenty to keep us busy serving others! Our family consists of Mom and Dad (Jodi and Doug), daughtersAnna (9), Kate (6) and Rachel (3) and son Douglas (17 months).
Here are some of the service “projects” that have worked for my family:
1. Lemonade stand for charity. We donated all proceeds to Alex’s Lemonade Stand for pediatric cancer research. (www.alexslemonade.org) They give you everything you need and even have a way to collect donations online.
2. Visiting nursing homes and independent living centers. You may be able to do a craft project with them, play the piano and sing, or even bring a pet. Call first for their rules- many can be strict about when you can come.
3. Environmental cleanups. We have done scheduled group cleanups at several beaches and Clam Bayou. Even the littlest of littles can help pick up garbage in safe places with supervision! Arrange for some friends to meet you at the beach or just plan to go in your neighborhood. We have made a family tradition of going out on Earth Day each year to clean in our neighborhood. SAFETY NOTE: Teach children to show you the trash before they pick it up. We found a needle in the street once and after that we were pretty freaked out. We give our kids gloves and grabber tools and they point to the garbage first to be sure it’s something we are ok with them picking up. If you are environmentally conscious, consider bringing two bags: one for trash and one for recycling. We tie them to the stroller and push it along in case the littles get tired or they are trying to run off.
4. Scouts! Our daughter’s Girl Scout troops provide them with service activities. We have donated to the Ronald McDonald house and Pinellas Hope, a local homeless tent shelter. In both cases we were given great tours of the facilities so my girls could learn more about who they were serving. The girls went to a church to make peanut butter and jelly sandwiches for the homeless to eat for lunch. My older daughter’s troop has also been helping Pack a Sack to give backpacks of food to at-risk children on the weekends. (http://www.umcmsuncoast.org/programs/pack-a-sack-4-kids/ )
5. Cards and cookies to firemen, police and paramedics. We recently had a bad fire in our neighborhood and the firemen came out quickly at 1am and stayed through the night. Our three girls and I made them cookies and the oldest two and I delivered them to the fire station. The firefighters were very thankful and even took time to show the girls around the station. My daughters were over the moon with excitement!
6. Cards to anyone in need. Teach your children compassion! When my husband’s coworker was sick my girls sat down to make him cards. Grandpa’s birthday? More cards! A friend going through a rough patch? More cards. It helps my kids with their writing practice and teaches compassion.
7. Chores for fundraisers. My girls heard on the radio (the Joy FM, a local Christian channel) that they were raising funds to keep the radio station going and for medication to treat a parasite in African children. We were sad to hear that it only cost 44 cents to give a lifesaving medication. We could do that! My girls and their friend (age 5) got together without me and decided they would ask if I would pay them to do chores and they would donate the money. They washed the dog for $5 and raked leaves for $2 a barrel. At the end of the weekend, they had $20.50 (my 6 year old found extra money in her piggy bank). They donated all they had. It wasn’t a lot compared to bigger donors, but the radio station was so thrilled to get something from children. The Widow’s Mite! The following weekend my girls asked if they could do anything else to raise money for charity. I told them that a friend from church was asking for donations for her Easter project, and set my girls to work scrubbing the kitchen walls, cabinets, and back door. My cupboards were shiny, my kids learned to work, and a charity was helped! My daughter Anna informs me that “raising money” is her favorite service project. Kate tells me that she enjoyed washing the dog.
8. Serving each other. The best service we can do is within the walls of your own home. The kids love to help decorate for birthday parties and holiday dinners. The three girls all help around the house in various ways- feeding our many pets, doing the laundry (even my 3 year old can help put the wash into the washer or dryer, fold washcloths, and can carry her folded clothes to her drawers.) My oldest helps with her toddler brother: changing diapers, giving him a bath, buckling him in the car, etc. The baby is taught to be kind and gentle to animals and give hugs. Every child can be taught to serve at home in developmentally appropriate ways!
After serving with kids for 9 years, here’s the advice (and warnings!) that we have:
1) KEEP IT SIMPLE. Young kids won’t work longer than 30 minutes – 2 hours depending on their age and the activity. If you plan an 8 hour activity, you will be frustrated and angry after 2 hours when your children are playing or whining instead of helping. Plan multiple short activities instead like a lemonade stand, visiting a nursing home, or cleaning up your neighborhood.
2) COMBINE IT WITH ANOTHER ACTIVITY- We recently did a beach cleanup. The kids cleaned for a bit and then were distracted. That’s ok! The adults continued to clean while the children walked along, splashed in the water, and found cool sea animal skeletons. That’s ok! They not only did service, but they also got fresh air, plenty of exercise, and a science lesson. Win win.
3) PLAN AHEAD- Make sure you use the bathroom before you start your activity and try to stay close to one throughout your service. Little ones won’t do anything if they have to pee except make you miserable. Bring extra clothes (for the kids who splash in the water instead of cleaning the beach!) and of course bottled water and snacks. Don’t plan activities just before naptime or lunchtime.
4) USE YOUR TALENTS- My oldest daughter is very friendly and loves going to visit a nursing home with her Girl Scout Troop. She chats away with the residents while perched cheerfully on the edge of their wheelchair like she’s known them for years. Other children in her troop, however, were very uncomfortable around the elderly. If your child is shy, forcing them to visit the elderly will not make them enjoy service. Maybe they enjoy art, and would be better suited to drawing birthday cards for the elderly residents on their birthdays. When my daughter was in preschool, her class made a book of pictures and stories for the residents of a local VA facility. Our family took the book there on Thanksgiving and walked around to show the book of pictures to the residents that had no family to spend the holiday with. They loved it! Every child has a talent. Find your child’s talent and help them to become better at it by using it to help others.
5) MAKE SERVICE A WAY OF LIFE- Instead of just making service “projects” a few times a year, we try to teach our children that serving is a way of life. They should look for ways to serve all of the time. On Sunday afternoon we were taking a family walk, and my three girls saw some neighbors raking leaves. They stopped, grabbed rakes, and began helping. When the family left to take the first truckload of leaves to the recycling center, my two older girls and I stayed behind and refilled all of their bins with leaves to be ready for them when they got back. (My toddler watched from his wagon and my three year old went home with Daddy. She has a very short attention span- see advice #1!) I never asked them to do this, and the girls never asked for compensation. One of our neighbors remarked how unusual it was for children to serve others. Be unusual! You don’t need to schedule a neighborhood cleanup to teach your children to pick up trash. When we take walks and my kids see trash, they let me know. If it is something safe to pick up, they will take it to the nearest garbage can. With little ones, it is just that simple!
Thank you McGregor Family! Thank you for helping others and thank you for sharing your tips with us! I love Jodi's wisdom, " Every child can be taught to serve at home in developmentally appropriate ways!" That's where service really should start. And that tip to find your child's talents, "Every child has a talent. Find your child’s talent and help them to become better at it by using it to help others." Golden nuggets of wisdom, I tell ya! We all want the best for our children and there are so many ways to help our children grow through service. Thank you, thank you, thank you McGregor Family for reminding us of that!
Is your family service-minded like the McGregors or did you do a special service project together recently? We'd love to hear about it. Contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org to be featured in an upcoming Spotlight on Service post.