This article appears in the April, 2015 issue of The Modern Gladiator. I am a new columnist for this magazine, and the subject matter seemed appropriate to publish here as well.
Volunteerism is something that Americans do very well. Research has consistently shown the US to be among the most generous countries in the world when it comes to giving time to help make the world a better place.
As we know, however, values are learned rather than inherited. In order for the next generation to continue this tradition of service, it is important that they be taught. Volunteerism, like so many other things, should begin at home.
As I think back to my younger days, my parents taught me about volunteerism even before I was a teenager. It didn’t seem to be another lesson that they were seeking to teach me, it was really just “how we did things.” We would volunteer to help provide food and gifts to people who were down on their luck. We would help out at church potlucks and other events. As I look back on my upbringing, some of my fond memories are of my parents, my sisters, and sometimes a few others making sandwiches and taking them out to feed the homeless on the streets of Fresno.
Volunteering as a family was a great opportunity for us to be together and strengthen our bonds while doing something to help the community. My wife and I seek to share this value with our children. This past summer, we had the opportunity to take some of our kids out to volunteer at a senior citizen event. As I recall, the oldest participant was nearly 100 years old. Our whole family had fun, and the people whom we served had a great time as well. We even took the dog along, as he is a big hit wherever he goes.
Family volunteer projects also help teach children about giving. Some believe that giving time is more valuable than giving money, as time is something irreplaceable. Both time and money are valuable resources that can be used to further the common good.
Again, in order to effectively become givers, children must be taught. Parents have different views about how to handle discussions about money. Some choose to never mention it, as though it doesn’t exist. Others are very open and candid about the family finances and make group decisions. Many of us, I imagine, are somewhere in between.
Regardless of where you stand, the concept of giving should be something that we all model for our children, as well as discuss with them. Children who learn about philanthropy from an early age are more likely to embrace a lifestyle of giving to priorities that they care about. My earliest introduction to philanthropy was when my grandmother would take me to church every Sunday, and gave me money to place in the offering. Now, of course I did not earn that money—I was more of a conduit. But it made me understand that giving is important, and my interest only grew from there. Giving time, talent, and treasure is a means to impact the world in a positive way, and learning this at a young age can give children an advantage as they grow older. They will have a better understanding of how the world works, and how to make an impact.
Many of us hope that our children will someday become leaders. There is a viewpoint that it is better to be a leader rather than a follower. Others believe that a characteristic of a great leader is “the ability to follow.”
Either way, family volunteerism can be a catalyst to developing leadership skills. So many volunteer projects consist of identifying a problem, conceptualizing a solution, developing a plan, and executing the strategy.
Children can be very creative when it comes to figuring out effective and efficient ways to get something done, especially when it’s hot outside or they have been promised a trip to McDonald’s after all the work is done. We had a group of volunteers at Inner City Health Center a few months back, and it was apparent that the man who brought his two young sons had done this before. In no time flat these boys had divided up the workload, recruited a few other people to help, and turned our founder’s garden into a showpiece. Family volunteerism can help develop and showcase leadership and give unique opportunities and experiences that might not be gained elsewhere.
I encourage you to consider making this National Volunteer Month a time to join with your family to make volunteerism a family affair. The benefits that you will reap are likely to exceed what I have described above, and you will be helping others at the same time.
Have a great week,