Joining an organization, participating in community service and donating time and resources to a charitable cause all contribute to the greater good. Without volunteers, many non-profits would not be able to offer their invaluable services. Community engagement is a learned responsibility and can be taught early. Becoming civically engaged can help shape children into compassionate, well-equipped members of society.
Youth can become service-minded if parents help instill the importance of giving-back at an early age. The easiest way for children to grasp the significance of service is for parents to role model it for them. Children imitate and place value on activities their parents deem important.
Summit County resident Debbie McKinney and her daughter have been volunteering together for years. Bake sales, mitten drives, community clean-up days, mission trips — the list is extensive.
“Getting involved with your kids doesn’t mean you have to plan a large, time-intensive event,” McKinney says. “Look for needs in your neighborhood and utilize your church, company or scout troop to accomplish them. Small things can make a big impact when people come together.”
McKinney’s daughter Dana has done just that. A junior at Revere High School in Richfield, she has organized outreach activities to help families not only in Northeast Ohio, but in Boston too. Last summer, she created the “Bath Loves Boston” event, which raised funds to support the victims of the Boston Marathon bombing.
“I just want to help,” Dana says. “I’m thankful for everything in my life and I just want to give back and help others be happy too.”
For her birthday, she asked family and friends to donate gift cards or money so she could purchase Christmas gifts for the students in need at Findley Community Learning Center, an Akron Public School.
Benefits of Service
Service helps children focus outside themselves and more on the world around them. When they see that not everyone has what they have, they realize everyone has something to offer. It’s an important part of growing up — realizing what they can contribute as a member of the world.
“Volunteering allows them to identify their strengths and weaknesses,” says Margaret Finucane, an associate professor at John Carroll University, who has served as the director of the Center for Service and Social Action for the past eight years. “When young people experience another person’s journey and invest themselves in the opportunity of getting to know someone who lived experiences different than their own, they flourish.”
Finding the right volunteer activity is easy. Talk with children to find out what’s important to them and find an organization or project that aligns with those interests. It can be as simple as collecting food for the foodbank or serving Thanksgiving dinner at a local shelter.
Parents can get involved, too, with many different activities around the region.
For example, Tom Wolfe of Painesville Township has been volunteering with Project Hope, an emergency shelter serving men, women and children in Lake County, since 2008. The non-profit group seeks volunteers to greet guests, help serve dinner, homework assistance and more.
“This is where I learned what it means to be without, to have no food on the table, or roof over my head,” he says.
Project Hope Volunteer Coordinator Missy Knight says many volunteers like Wolfe are able to see their time and energy make a difference.
“It’s during their service that they can encourage those who are feeling hopeless, and within weeks see these same people walk out with hope for a better future,” she says.
For Finucane, service has been a part of her life as far back as she can remember. While her children were growing up, she and her husband chose projects their kids could take part in. Before and after each activity, Finucane would talk with her kids so they understood what they were doing and who they were helping.
“Volunteering became a part of what it meant to be a member of our family,” she says. “We would choose activities developmentally appropriate for their age, and would create simple, fun projects that would resonate with them.”