News and Opinion from Sisters, Oregon

Volunteer with your kids

In Gretchen Matos’s column, “It’s All About the Little Things,” in the March 24 edition of The Nugget, she talks about the value of volunteering and highlights the many opportunities there are in Sisters. She points out that it’s many little things, that create the fiber that makes up our very special community.

I agree with her and would like to encourage all of us to look for ways we can add to that fiber. One area I hope we don’t overlook is recognizing the benefits of volunteering with our kids. Whether it’s putting together sandwiches for the homeless, picking up trash along a trail, or going through used toys to donate to Habitat for Humanity, much can be learned from the opportunity.

Kids gain so many skills by volunteering, whether it’s learning to give of themselves, time management, empathy, working hard, problem solving, or just the value of decluttering by donating used items. By creating packets to send to servicemen and women, they can develop an understanding of sacrifices others make. These are all important real-world skills.

Research shows that when we (or our kids) learn to master tasks, self-efficacy and self-esteem rise. When solving problems, self-confidence grows creating the perception that we can do things that make a positive difference in the future. This will often have a big impact in how well a child is motivated to continue at a task and work towards completion, such as difficult school assignments.

When a child volunteers at a homeless shelter and discovers that families live with far less than they have, they begin to recognize their blessings, allowing gratitude to develop and grow. Questions will often emerge with conversations about why others have less or more, creating valuable lessons about society. Their brains absorb this type of information, which encourages the ability to make decisions down the road. Research shows that kids who experience gratitude in their own lives often have a greater sense of well-being and happiness.

Don’t overlook the connections that kids develop when volunteering — whether it’s with you, their parent, the people they meet, or realizing they are making a difference in the life of someone in another country. What better way for kids to become aware that all people are important and valued, no matter their ethnicity, the color of their skin, or their gender? Through volunteer experiences they can recognize their role as a team member.

Don’t underestimate the value of volunteering when your kids are applying to a university. Ask anyone who has served on the GRO committee at Sisters High School or has been part of a scholarship selection team about the importance of volunteering. You’re sure to get 100 percent agreement on how much it matters.

People who volunteer are usually happy people. All you have to do is to go to the Habitat Restore and interact with the people behind the counter. Think about your own feelings when you know you are making a difference. It is the same with kids. If you want to see a child light up with a smile, ask them to do something that makes a difference for another person. It works every time, especially when they get a hug or a “thank you.”

You might be thinking, all of this is great, but it’s hard work. Kids would rather be doing something with their friends. That’s OK. It’s worth it. Girl and Boy Scouts have continued over so many years because much of what they do focuses on helping others, and in those organizations, they get to do it with their friends.

You may be wondering, how do I get them interested and motivated? First, model what you are asking them to do; teach by example. In addition to doing, talk about it: what you do, how much you enjoy it and why you do it. The more they see and hear the better chance they will regard it as important.

Ask your kids what they think they would like to do. They may have an idea that is currently beyond them; brainstorm together how to use that desire in a way that is easier for them to handle. Be careful not to discourage an idea. Help them have a growth mindset in assuring that even though it’s not something they can do yet, it is something they will be able to do later.

Find a cause you and they can believe in and get excited about. Use Google to help. Just put in the words “Volunteer to help (with seniors, with pets, at school, at a nursing home, etc.).” By searching you are sure to find something that fits perfectly.

Once you’ve found the choice that you and your kids relate to, figure out how much time you can devote and schedule it in. A small commitment may be best at first.

Be enthusiastic and realistic for whatever you light on. Your mood will affect how your kids jump in. Keep in mind, it needs to be fun for all of you. Otherwise, they will come “kicking and screaming” and that’ll defeat every reason for doing it. What you embrace with enthusiasm they will too.


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