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Summer Serving: Beat Boredom While Teaching Your Kids to Make a Difference

May 23, 2016 02:59PM ● Published by Melanie Heisinger

By Cindy Brown

We’ve all been there. The kids are barely out of school before you hear those two little words, “I’m bored!” But instead of just heading to the waterpark, movie theater or mall this summer, why not find family activities that are also “life lessons”? Summertime is a great time to show children how they can make a difference in the community in which they live. And serving together as a family will create memories they are likely to remember their whole lives.

Start by gathering the family and brainstorming ways — big or small — that you can serve your neighbors or your community. Try to think “outside the box.” You could bake cookies for your local fire station as a special thank you, or help weed an elderly neighbor’s yard. You and your family’s imaginations only limit the options.

Need help getting started? We’ve assembled some great options to consider. Whatever you choose to do, it’s important to make it a teachable moment that is fun and engaging for your child!

 

Donate to a local food pantry

During the summer, local food pantries often see a sharp decline in donations just when it’s needed the most. When children are home for the summer, some are missing out on the free and reduced-cost breakfast and lunches they receive during the school year. This puts a greater burden on the family budget. The Mansfield Independent School District reports that 41 percent of the children in the district — over 13,800 students — are approved for free and reduced meals.

“We’ve seen food insecurity increasing in Mansfield,” says Carmin MacMillan, executive director of the Wesley Mission Center. “Food pantries in our city fill an important gap so that neighbors don’t have to make the tough choice between staying in their home and providing food for their family. In 2015, we served 2,464 families. We provide more than 200 food bags each month, with more families coming during the summer.”

It’s easy to engage your children in the process. Step one, have them help you collect all the loose change around your home and car. Then task them to count and roll the change (bonus: they get to polish up their math skills!). Next sit down with them to go through the current week’s grocery ads. Tell them that they are “food detectives,” and they need to look for specials on items most needed by food pantries:  dry pasta, canned spaghetti sauce, canned tuna in water, tuna helper, canned vegetables, canned fruit, boxed breakfast cereal, peanut butter, jelly, macaroni and cheese and canned soup. Help them plan out their grocery list, making the greatest use of the money they have. Go as a family to the grocery store to shop, then have them accompany you to the food pantry of your choice to drop the items off. Throughout the process, have them think and talk about how it might feel to go to bed hungry each night. Ask them, “How would it make you feel to know someone in our community cared enough to donate food so you could eat?”

 

Help bag food for Feed the Kids for Summer program

Common Ground Network is an organization of churches and other non-profit assistance agencies working within the Mansfield ISD. Their goal is to assist families in need throughout the district. Their Feed the Kids for Summer supplemental food program provides bags of child-friendly food throughout the summer to students who receive free and reduced meals during the school year. The bags contain food that doesn’t require a stovetop to cook so that children can prepare their own meals. Each Wednesday evening, volunteers meet at a central location to bag the food for distribution from area food pantries. 


Children of all ages are welcome to help (children age 10 and under do need to be monitored by a parent to make sure the correct items and quantities make it into each bag). Working alongside and interacting with other volunteers will help them see the importance of working as a team as they make new friends. Afterward, have them talk about the kinds of foods that were going into the bags, asking them which ones they thought the recipients would like best. For older children, you might talk to them about how some of these bags may be going to a classmate they know. 

For more information about this serving opportunity, go to www.commongroundmansfield.org.


Make cards for Meals on Wheels clients

Have you got a budding artist in your family? If so, making cards for Meals on Wheels clients is a fun and creative way for your child to serve. Meals on Wheels is a lifeline for the elderly and disabled in our community who are unable to provide meals for themselves. These same clients are often isolated.  The volunteer who delivers their noon meal may be the only person they may see or interact with that day.  

“We encourage children to make hand-drawn cards to cheer up our isolated clients,” says Carla Jutson, president and CEO of Meals on Wheels, Inc. of Tarrant County. “These cards can be for a special holiday, or they can be simply saying someone is thinking of you.”

Finished cards can be dropped off at the Serving and Outreach Office at First United Methodist Church Mansfield, the meal distribution site for Meals on Wheels in Mansfield (777 N. Walnut Creek Drive, across from Super Walmart).

Or, take it a step further. If you have the time during the day, sign up to be a Meals on Wheels sub to fill in when regular volunteers are on vacation or out sick. Subs are especially needed during the summer months. A regular route takes approximately 1½ hours to deliver and children are welcome to ride along to help and to visit with the clients. Learn more at www.mealsonwheels.org.

 
Volunteer at Mission Arlington/Mission Metroplex

Mission Arlington/Mission Metroplex serves those in need in the Arlington area. Located in downtown Arlington, they offer a variety of programs for under-served children and youth, medical and dental care and crisis intervention including financial assistance, a food pantry and clothing room.  They have several opportunities for families to serve together, including sorting donated clothing, helping in their food pantry to stock shelves, unloading donations and working in the clothing room. Their volunteer hours are Monday through Saturday from 7:00 a.m. to 7:00 p.m.  Anyone who wants to help can show up during those hours; no schedule or appointment is needed.  Just ask for the volunteer office. They also offer tours of their facility if you would like to learn more about their work in the community. Go to missionarlington.org for details. 

So let the summer serving begin! They may be small, but kids are mighty when it comes to making a difference in their community!


The Importance of Teaching Children about Service

Our culture tells us that we will be happier or more successful or more popular if we just have “more,” whether that “more” is a bigger house, a fancier car, designer clothes, or in a child’s case, the latest and greatest video game, toy or sports shoe. But what if we as parents turned the “I want” into “I will”? That’s where teaching our children about serving others comes into play.

One of the main benefits of serving others is that it will help your child develop empathy for others at an early age. Understanding others’ points of view can help with peer relationship and can reduce bullying and some parenting issues. Serving also helps build self-confidence and self-esteem, hones leadership skills, helps children discover their talents and gives them a sense of purpose.

Local counselor, Jeffrey Gallup, MA, LPC, NCC, of Mansfield Counseling concurs. “I’ve done summer serving opportunities with my own children. Exposing your child to serving others makes them more cognizant and aware of their world and their surroundings. It makes them world citizens,” says Gallup. “Taking part in a service project teaches children that helping others doesn’t have to be a pocketbook issue. They can say, ‘I accomplished something, I changed someone’s day for the better,’ and that’s a good feeling.”

But he also emphasizes that if you want your child to develop empathy and improved self-esteem, you have to “process” or talk them through the impact of their service after you’ve completed the activity. This will help them understand how their actions made a difference in someone else’s life. In addition, it’s important for parents to lead by example, so let your children see your enthusiasm about a service project and talk to them about how serving others makes you feel too.

“As parents, we do have to gauge and understand how much exposure to serving is appropriate, though,” says Gallup. “Do it as long as it is fun, and keep it upbeat. When it’s no longer fun, it’s time to move on, otherwise, it begins to feel like a chore.”

Teaching your child to serve now can lead to a lifetime of service that, in turn, can help with both college and career. So what are you waiting for?

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