Empathy is often learned, and one of the best ways to teach your children to have compassion for others is by providing them with opportunities to serve in their community from a young age. In this blog, we’re exploring the various benefits that community involvement can provide children and highlighting five ways that your family can make a difference in your area.
How Can Community Involvement Benefit Your Kids?
Although the main purpose of community service is to help others, it can also make a positive impact on the lives of those who serve. Encouraging your kids to get involved in the community offers numerous, long-lasting benefits, such as:
- Teaching them to have empathy and compassion for others
- Encouraging them to be unselfish and think beyond themselves
- Fostering feelings of gratitude and appreciation for what they have
- Showing them that their actions make an impact on the world
- Exposing them to people with diverse backgrounds and experiences
- Building confidence and leadership skills
Getting involved can also help your family members forge stronger bonds with each other as well as with others that you may meet on the journey. Wondering how to get involved in your community? We have some suggestions for you!
5 Ways to Get Involved in the Community
There are many different ways to get involved in the community. If you’re just starting out and would like to ease your kids into serving, consider starting small by helping someone you know. Or, you can decide to jump right into a bigger commitment like volunteering a few hours each week or month at a local nonprofit. Not exactly sure where to start? Here are five community involvement ideas for inspiration!
1. Help Out at a Local Food Bank
Food banks and pantries are some of the most important institutions within our communities, providing nourishment to those in need. And according to Feeding America, 51% of all food programs rely entirely on volunteers to function. There are a variety of ways that your family can serve at a food bank, including:
- Sorting food and stocking shelves
- Assembling boxes for distribution
- Assisting with distribution
- Delivering meals
Click here to find a food bank near you! Note: Many food programs have a minimum age for volunteers, so be sure to check on their website or call. You can also choose to volunteer your time serving meals at a local shelter or soup kitchen. This is a great way to connect with people and show them that they’re valued.
2. Treat the Troops
Our military members sacrifice a great deal to defend our country—one of the biggest sacrifices being time away from loved ones. Getting a care package, letter, or small token of appreciation can really go a long way in lifting a deployed soldier’s spirits.
Do you have any family members who are currently serving? Or perhaps someone in your neighborhood does? Send them some homemade baked goods or a few of their favorite snacks so they have a small taste of home. You can also have your kids add drawings and thank-you notes. This small gesture will surely boost morale, which can be in short supply during long deployments.
3. Visit a Nursing Home
Most senior care centers and nursing homes provide various entertainment opportunities for residents, but the days can still be somewhat long and monotonous. If your local nursing home allows volunteers and visitors, consider giving your time to help the elderly. Here are a few ways to help out:
- Read to residents
- Plan a fun craft or activity
- Decorate residents’ doors and common areas
- Lead a class (such as exercising, cooking, using technology)
- Perform (if you play an instrument, sing, dance, do comedy, etc.)
- Trim/style hair or paint fingernails
- Spend time chatting with them
In light of the pandemic, many senior care facilities have changed their volunteer and visitor policies. Be sure to check their requirements before you make any plans to volunteer.
4. Donate Items to a Women’s Shelter
Many communities have women’s shelters that provide necessary support for women and their children who are overcoming homelessness and/or domestic abuse. Like food banks, these organizations rely heavily on donations to be able to offer their services.
Explain to your children that you will be collecting items to give to women and kids in their community who need help. Then, go through your children’s clothes, toys, and books together to determine which items they would like to give away. Be sure that these items are in good condition and sanitized before you pack them into a box to donate.
If your children are struggling to part with any of their items, model it for them by going through some of your own clothing and belongings first. You can also contact your local shelter for a list of most-needed items (socks, hygiene products, towels, bedding) and go to the store together to pick things out.
Note: You could also take these actions to support a local family you know that’s in need.
5. Help Spruce Up Your Community
Rolling up your sleeves to clean up a common, outdoor area is another great way to get involved in the community. Get everyone to put on some old clothing, then gather some trash bags and rubber gloves and head out to clean up litter. You can even make a whole Community Clean Up Day out of it by inviting extended family, friends, and neighbors to join in!
We suggest choosing a safe area like a local park to spruce up if you have younger children helping out. If you have older kids, you could “Adopt a Highway” by picking up discarded trash along local roadways. If you choose the latter option, be sure to wear brightly colored clothing and choose a time when traffic isn’t heavy.
A cemetery is another place that often can use some TLC. If you notice a local cemetery that’s looking a bit neglected, consider ways that you can help tidy it. Here are some ideas:
- Clean up litter
- Pull weeds
- Scrub mildew off headstones
- Place flags on veterans’ graves for patriotic holidays
- Participate in Wreaths Across America in December
Encouraging Your Kids to Get Involved
Community involvement is a great way to teach your children about empathy and how their actions can make a difference in the world. Encourage your kids to serve by incorporating their interests. For example, if you have a child that’s passionate about animals, consider volunteering with them at an animal rescue center. If you have another child that loves gardening, help them plant flowers for an elderly neighbor.
Additionally, be sure to come up with a community service schedule that works best for your family. Maybe you’re able to serve every other month, or maybe you’re able to serve every weekend. Either way, you’re serving others, and that’s what’s most important!
Finally, consider serving at various times throughout the year, not just during the holiday season. While the holidays are a great time to volunteer, many organizations have an abundance of helpers in November and December, but then struggle to get help during other times.
We hope that these ideas inspire you to make community involvement an integral part of your family’s life.