If you have school-age children, I am sure you have received your fair share of donation drive flyers from your child(ren)'s school or classroom. Sometimes all of the different charity events and drives can feel a little overwhelming. One thing to remember is participating in these drives is voluntary and you can decide with your children which ones you would like to prioritize. But, more importantly, these school-based drives can be a catalyst to begin a discussion about the importance of giving back to those in need.
Why charity work is important. It goes without saying that these conversations are very different if you are speaking with a 5 year old or a 12 year old. That all said, the earlier you get your children involved in service projects, the better. It is through these experiences that children learn and practice empathy and gratitude among many other lessons.
Where to start. The school flyers are an excellent starting point to learn more about the various organizations (local, national, or abroad) that the school administrators deem worthy. It is also a helpful tool to learn how children of different ages can participate in charity work in an appropriate way. You can either pick one or two of these organizations that you -as a family- choose to get more involved with or research other organizations that either support a cause that your family believes in and/or a specific type of volunteer opportunity that is age-appropriate. This is where you involve your child(ren); would they like to work with an animal shelter, a soup kitchen or a community garden, for example. Call the organizations and ask how your children, of a specific age, can participate. After you compile your short list, pick one and get started.
Set expectations. Depending on the age of your children, the frequency and capacity in which you volunteer will differ. Take into account sports schedules and other activities/commitments and start slowly so that it is sustainable. You want this to be a positive experience for all of you including the organization who is counting on your participation.
A word of caution. When choosing a volunteer opportunity for your children, make certain that the experience is age-appropriate and the topic isn't frightening. For example, serving food to the homeless can be scary for some children and make them worry about their own access to shelter and food. It is important to talk about what activity the child will be participating in, expectations, and how their service makes a difference. Before they begin, confirm that they are comfortable and feel safe. Ask the organization for tips, if necessary.
Now, dig out those flyers from your child's backpack and get started! You will be so glad that you did. The lessons learned by volunteering or taking part in service projects are priceless.
Anupa Wijaya, MS, is the founder and Executive Director of The Bag Project, an organization that provides emergency bags for children in crisis. She graduated from University of Michigan with a BA in Psychology. From the Harvard School of Public Health she received an MS in Health & Social Behavior with a concentration in Women's Health. Anupa was previously a Director of various programs at Safe Horizon (NY, NY), including the Anti-Trafficking program and a program for survivors of war torture and refugee trauma. Anupa also spearheaded Safe Horizon’s reorganization of their Hotlines program, as a consultant. Prior to consulting at Safe Horizon, Anupa was the Assistant Director for the Illinois Violence Prevention Authority (Chicago, IL). Anupa began her post-graduate career as the Education & Outreach Coordinator for the AIDS Clinic at New York Presbyterian Hospital (NY, NY). Anupa lives in Princeton, NJ with her two children and her husband. For more information on The Bag Project, please visit: www.thebagproject.org.