In the winter of 2017, I went through a hard time in my personal life. I felt helpless, out of control, and I couldn’t stop dwelling on what was going wrong. I decided that if I couldn’t help myself I should shift my focus to helping others. I searched the internet for ideas that I could realistically do with a full-time job and a small child and stumbled on cooking a meal for a local shelter for women and families experiencing domestic violence.
I love cooking and feeding people- this seemed like a natural area for me to give back to others. I signed up to donate a meal and began cooking. Volunteering with my child wasn’t my initial goal, but she had other ideas.
One day, when I was preparing a meal for the shelter, my daughter, Violet, then nearly 4, asked me what I was doing. We had a good talk about families not always having a safe place to live. She asked if she could help me cook and my heart nearly exploded. She pulled her stool over and picked up a wooden spoon and began stirring. By the time we finished and wrapped the meal up for delivery, both of us felt happier and more connected. She asked when we could do it again so I immediately signed up for another slot.
Between the end of January 2017 and March 2020 when COVID first hit, we delivered meals to the shelter every other week. A few months in, people around me saw what we were doing and this created a wave of others wanting to help. My friends, family, and co-workers joined forces to help me create new and interesting meals for the families living in the shelter. We made sure they never got bored and always had delicious and healthy meal options.
As I began giving back to my community through volunteering with my child, I craved that feeling more and more.
I am a helper by nature and as my love for volunteer work grew, my personal life also got back on track. I was happier than I had ever been. I began looking for other opportunities to help my community. I also wanted to make sure I could involve my child since she was expressing interest on her own to continue volunteering.
I reached out to the Director of Community Life at our local memory care housing center. We were welcomed with open arms and invited to participate in craft time with the residents. I brought Violet over one Saturday and she sat in the dining room with a group of elderly residents and immediately began chatting and making art with them. From that day forward it became a regular thing- we went once a month on a Saturday morning to spend time with the group there. They loved seeing my daughter and she loved being there. She even got a birthday card from the residents when COVID hit and she couldn’t spend time with them anymore during lockdown.
Our next endeavor was a coat drive. A local restaurant announced that they were collecting coats for people in need and my friend asked if I wanted to join forces to gather coats in our area and drop them off at the drive for others wanting to donate. I posted in our local community forum, on my social media pages, and reached out to friends and family. People began dropping coats off at my house and Violet and I took evening trips to pick them up at people’s houses. With every coat we collected, my daughter would cheer and get excited thinking about another person that would be able to stay warm during our cold Vermont winters- she especially was moved by children’s coats that were sent our way.
I could see her genuine love for helping others growing with every coat she helped load into a delivery bag. In 2020 we brought 233 coats to the coat drive and in 2021 we got 172 coats. Violet is already talking about how she wants to beat our 2020 record this coming winter.
In January 2021, we were introduced to Sleep In Heavenly Peace– a nationwide nonprofit that builds and delivers beds for children in the community who are currently sleeping on the floor. I reached out and asked if this was something a child could participate in and was given an emphatic “YES” as a response. We both showed up ready to work and immediately fell in love with this charity and all the good that they are doing. My daughter was able to feel useful and appreciated for the work she was doing and she loved knowing that at the end of the day she was helping other children. We have gone back to build more beds several times over the last year and a half.
Since 2017, Violet and I have worked as a team to find several new ways of giving back and I have learned over these past years how important it is for kids to participate in volunteer work. It is also so important for me to be volunteering with my child.
Helping our community has reaffirmed our family’s core values, has shown my daughter the value of commitment and responsibility, has taught her appreciation for all she has, and helps her understand her worth. The smiles on the residents’ faces at the memory care housing center when they see her walking in the door, the cheers of the crew from Sleep in Heavenly Peace when she shows up to help carry wood and vacuum (her 2 favorite jobs there), and the look of surprise from the staff at the coat drive over the number of coats we delivered. This has introduced her to more social interactions and world perspectives than she gets at home. I also love seeing her develop her sense of purpose.
If you are interested in volunteering with your children there are so many different ways to give back. You can check out www.volunteermatch.com to get you started or reach out to the people you know and find opportunities within your community.
Volunteering with my child has been an incredible experience for both of us. Have you done any charity work with your kids? Drop a comment below and let us know how you were able to involve them!
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