As Martin Luther King Jr. said, “Life’s most persistent and urgent question is: What are you doing for others?” Indeed, although as homeschoolers we have opted out of traditional public education, that doesn’t mean we have opted out of being part of the community at large. One unique but often overlooked benefit of homeschooling is that we have the opportunity for regular, deliberate acts of service.
My husband and I are both leaders in scouting organizations (Cub Scouts and Boy Scouts for him, American Heritage Girls for me) that encourage community service. I frequently get emails from members asking for ideas for service. People want to serve but sometimes don’t know how or where to do so.
Opportunities are everywhere, for every age. But where do you find them?
- Check out your local newspaper. Many papers list volunteer opportunities in your own community. In our newspaper, organizations needing help often have feature articles.
- Visit your local chamber of commerce (or its website) for a list of non-profits. From there, you can contact organizations to see if they have volunteer opportunities.
- Ask at your church’s office. Our church secretary filters through dozens of letters and phone calls weekly asking for help. Some churches keep this information on file or place it on a bulletin board.
- Keep your eyes and ears open. Most of our community service projects have started with someone mentioning in conversation a group that needs help. We all know that word of mouth is usually the best source of information!
So how can your family serve? Here are some specific ideas to help you brainstorm ways to volunteer.
Pick up litter. Grab gloves and a trash bag and take a walk in a local park, recreation area, or through a neighborhood. Even the littlest family members can fill a trash bag.
Visit seniors. Schedule regular visits at a local nursing home, veterans’ home, or assisted living facility. I cannot emphasize the impact that children can have on older people! There are lots of things you can do: take a book of poetry or the newspaper and have the children read to a resident; go with a few friends and sing, or just sit and talk for a while. Remember that lots of groups visit in December, but the patients can get awfully lonely in non-holiday months.
Help an elderly person who still lives at home. So simple but so often overlooked. Kids can do all kinds of household tasks that have become difficult for older people: raking, pulling weeds, washing windows, cleaning baseboards, scouring bathtubs. Be sure to include a short visit and maybe a plate of cookies after working!
Call local charitable organizations and ask how you, as a family, can help. A few ideas:
- provide a meal to families at a Ronald McDonald House
- pack backpacks of school supplies for needy school kids
- collect stuffed animals, craft kits, art supplies, and games for your area children’s hospital (or for the children’s wing at the hospital)
- provide backpacks filled with personal hygiene items for foster kids
- collect hats, gloves, scarves, and socks for local domestic violence and/or homeless shelters. (If you live in an area without a shelter, check out Hats for the Homeless.)
Make blankets. This is a great hands-on project for your family. You can deliver lap blankets to a nursing home, children’s hospital, or homeless shelter, or send to an organization like Project Linus or Warm Up America.
Walk dogs. Volunteer at a local pet shelter to walk dogs or to help in some other way, whether with pet socialization or by having a food/supply drive.
Bake cookies for emergency workers. Let the fire and police departments know that you appreciate their service.
Make cards for Meals on Wheels. Imagine how much a home-made card would brighten the day of a homebound person. Just take your cards into your local Meals of Wheels or other mobile food program and ask them to deliver along with meals.
The opportunities are even more abundant for teenagers, especially 14 and up. If teenagers have opportunities to serve others, they are less likely to fall into the stereotypical trap of being self-focused. Also, community service is extremely important for college and job applications, so be sure to record all service once your child hits high school.
In addition to the ideas above, teens can:
- Serve at homeless shelters/rescue missions/soup kitchens.
- Organize inventory at a food bank.
- Do office or store work for charities or shops like Habitat ReStore.
- Mow an elderly person’s lawn on a regular basis.
- Help out with your local Special Olympics.
- Shelve books and/or hold a story hour at the library.
- Lead a Vacation Bible School or monthly craft/story hour in a low-income housing area.
- Work on Habitat for Humanity builds (may have to be 16) or take a meal to workers if age limits hinder working.
- Go on mission trips that focus on maintenance or repair work in low-income areas, like the ones offered through Group Workcamps.
- Read to younger kids at the public school or help out with a literacy program. Teens can help non-native speakers learn and practice English (and your teen might learn another language, too!) Check out Literacy Volunteers and Reading is Fundamental for locations and ideas or call your local school systems.
Community service is the best way for all of us to look outside ourselves and connect with the world around us. Whether you are participating in community service with your family, homeschooling support group, scouting organization, or church, the opportunities are abundant. People need help everywhere.
How are you cultivating a life of service with your children? What ways have you found to serve in your community?