Guest post by Karen Pearson
In 1999, when a mandatory community service program was introduced into the high school curriculum, my heart sank a bit. All students would need to complete 40 hours of public service in order to graduate. That’s a good thing though, right? Why wouldn’t I be 100% onboard?
I started volunteering with the Heart and Stroke Foundation when I was in my twenties, because my dad suffered a massive stroke at a young age and I wanted to do something to help. Later, when I had a young family and wanted to build a sense of community in my neighbourhood, I started an annual street party with a neighbour. I still remember the early years, with our kids running around under foot while we had meetings and figured out the details. It was at one of our street parties that I met someone who introduced me to the Halton Fresh Food Box program, and I’ve been volunteering with them ever since. That involvement lead to a contract position doing community outreach work with the organization. I’ve also worked with Habitat for Humanity, climbing scaffolding and wielding a hammer tacker, (FUN!) and a friend and I are already looking forward to donning green vests and volunteering at the local hospital in our retirement years!
I’m a huge believer in the importance of volunteering but I really felt that making community hours “required” in order to graduate took away a young person’s intrinsic desire to be of service. They’d be doing it just because they HAD to. I always hoped that our kids would see us getting involved and would naturally want to volunteer. We’d be good role models and of course they’d want to be engaged citizens instead of watching TV! Ha!
Maybe the motivation doesn’t matter. Some kids might need that expectation and structure more than others in order to seek out volunteer opportunities. As adults, the knowledge of this requirement means it’s on our radar and we may be more apt to brainstorm with our kids about their interests and help them figure out what they’d like to do. It’s an opportunity to open discussions about what they’re passionate about and where that passion might fit in with making the world a better place, even in a small way.
Our 17 year-old, who has an interest in Early Childhood Education, has decorated and chaperoned at elementary school dances, washed dishes at a church Valentine’s Tea, and helped with the kids’ activities at our community street party. Our 16 year-old, who attends an art school, helped curate a photography exhibit and assists me each month with the food box program. Our 12 year-old, who loves animals and is a bit of an environmentalist, is on the Green Team at school and hopes to volunteer at the animal hospital up the road when he’s old enough.
This week is National Volunteer Week. It’s a chance to recognize the people in your community that are making a difference by being involved. Maybe it’s the lunchroom monitor or person that comes in to sort the scary Lost and Found at school. What a great time to start a conversation about helping others!
What are your kids interested in? Where do you think they might like to volunteer in the future?
About the Author:
Karen Pearson is one of the friendly voices you’ll hear on the other end of the phone when calling Customer Service at Mabel’s Labels. She enjoys writing about her family, which includes a husband, 3 kids and a rescue dog from Greece.