Civics 101

I don’t know about you, but when I was growing up in the 80s, the idea of community service was something I thought pertained to kids who did so to escape having to go to juvi. The kids who got caught stealing, vandalizing, whatever. Those kids who did dumb things and had to volunteer their time to help out so that they could keep a clean record.

The only thing even close to helping out my community that I did was joining a”service club” in high school. In reality, it was much more of a social club than anything else. I might have helped paint a sign. I would guess not a whole lot of people were helped by me painting that sign. 

Community service was just not on my radar back then. 

Because my older and more worldly self was not there to guide my younger self with some good old-fashioned 20-20 hindsight, I think I missed out on the thrill of knowing that by volunteering my time, I could do something nice for someone in need. And feel very good about it.

I guess I can chalk it up to that teenage “it’s all about me” philosophy. Sad but true. I had it.

So, now that this older self has some younger beings to mold, I have been making a point to get my kids involved in a few civic activities this year. I am feeling like a very proud mama that they have been taking it in stride.

Earlier this year, I got them involved in making PB&J sandwiches for a shelter in a neighboring city. I explained to my own kids that the kids we would be making these sandwiches for don’t have the same choices as they do. ie — no special treats find their way into their mommy’s grocery cart because their mommy can’t even afford groceries. They looked at me wide-eyed and said “Wow. That is sad.”

So we headed to our church and constructed as many peanut butter and jelly sandwiches we could in an hour. There were giant stacks when we were done lining about 10 round tables. And I was so happy to see a lot of other families with their kids participating in this activity as well.

PB&J Friday

I asked the kids on the way home how they felt about helping out people in need.

And with bold smiles on both of their faces, they each said they felt great and were very happy to help.

So in keeping with that, this past July 4th weekend, I volunteered my family for another project.

To mark our town’s  summer festival, an umbrella organization in charge of our food bank hosted a fundraiser where they sold paper stars. The stars would be hung in the trees that lined our main street and then lit on Saturday night as a reminder that we need to spread the light, so to speak, and help those in need.

The stars weren’t going to hang themselves. 

And since I was asked if my family would like to help out, I jumped at the chance.

So I rounded us up and out and on Main by 9 a.m. on a hot Saturday to help hang those stars. Tree to tree, branch to branch we worked. It really was such a nice way to get my kids out there helping. They hardly even complained. Hardly.

It was a bit hot and the novelty of hanging stars in the trees wore off sooner than I would have liked. I bribed them with some Gatorade and they persevered. We wrapped in  an hour and a half and the kids were ready to go home. 

While it may be small, I think this was a nice family exercise in civic duty to our community. It didn’t really take much. And I think the kids kind of get it. And the man in charge of the fundraiser couldn’t have been more thrilled to see the young kids out there — mine and other’s as well – helping a cause that is near and dear to him.

We even left a July 4th  party in just enough time to head home and drive down Main to see the glittering stars that night. The stars that were sold to raise money for people who need some help.The glittering stars that my 5-and 9-year-old kids helped hang.

If nothing else, I do want my kids to enjoy helping others. I don’t want to make them do it. But maybe by starting them young, at least they can realize early on — a lot earlier than I did — that helping someone in need –whether helping drop bags of food at the Food Bank, donating the proceeds of a lemonade stand to a charity or giving up a summer Saturday morning to hang stars — is part of what will round them out as a person.

So their attempts to go along with me in my quest, well that just makes me proud. And I think it makes them proud, too.