Too many times I’ve heard my husband call out, “Honey, I can’t find the (insert object here)!” Even after telling him exactly where to look, I still end up having to go and show him myself. Usually it is right where I suggested it would be, just that it required lifting or moving something else slightly out of the way to see it.
I find that sometimes seeing opportunities for service is a similar process- it might be right there in front of me, but I haven’t adjusted my focus or changed my filter to see it that way. I’m going to suggest five realms where service opportunities can be discovered. Overall, these might seem fairly self-explanatory, but perhaps there’s one category here you hadn’t considered or you hadn’t thought about how well it fit into your family’s daily life already.
Over the course of time, I’ll expand on these categories and use them to help organize the ideas, tips and resources shared on Philanthroparent.com . Hopefully this list gives you a fresh perspective on what opportunities are already there in front of you. Maybe you’ll discover something you didn’t even know you were searching for. Take a look. There’s a good chance you’ll be able to find it quicker than my husband can find the things he’s been looking for in his closet.
- At Home. Here is the place to build a culture of social consciousness within your family. It can start with leading by example and building the character traits that are conducive to social and environmental awareness. Philanthropy allows you to put your family values to good work. Think about what values you stand for that you haven’t had an opportunity to expose your children to in a tangible way yet. Reflect on your daily routines at home. What can be shifted to encourage avenues for community service? Is there a way to conserve more, save money to be pledged to an organization, collect unused items for a donation? Ask your children to reflect on these ideas too. All of a sudden, your dinner conversations (even if not your menu) got a whole lot meatier.
- At Heart. What pulls at your heartstrings? Something you can’t seem to get off your mind or your child can’t seem to stop talking about that’s concerning him/her? When it’s on your mind, it might also be on your heart. If something has impacted you significantly in your life, acting upon it might not just help others but could be therapeutic for your family, as well. Also consider what your family is interested in already. Perhaps one of your family members’ passions can be put to good work- adding that extra motivation to get out and give.
- At School. Some form of community service or civic engagement is present in most schools. This may seem like the realm of the teachers, the administrators and the curriculum. However, many educators see their relationship with parents as a partnership, akin to the saying “It takes a village to raise a child.” Ask your child what volunteer opportunities are available through their school or if there are any expectations for students to do service. At parent information nights, plan on asking about the community service program or what service learning is being adopted to connect with the classroom curriculum. There may be opportunities to volunteer alongside your child in service programs provided by the school. Find out how the PTA supports the school’s community service efforts and inquire about what partnerships the school has with local organizations that revolve around service.
- In the Community. If you asked your child how they define their world, they might say it is just outside their front door, or they could mention other continents and countries. Maybe they’d discuss animals and the environment. The great thing about this category is that you can build service opportunities around your children’s notion of the world, especially if they’ve noticed a social issue in the community lately. There are so many ways to define your community. Asking your child what the world means to them might give you insight into what they know and care about. When their definition of the world expands as they grow, the exposure you give them to different types of service can become more sophisticated too.
- In Our Virtual Reality. News travels fast, and our children are exposed to a wide variety of people, places and ideas that generations past had less access to. With the influx of technology and media in our lives, it really can seem like a small world after all these days. Terms like “global citizen” and our “global village” make sense when you can connect virtually with communities all over the world. With technology, social change doesn’t always have to start in person. Kids can feel helpful by “getting the word out” via social media tools they already use (and are probably more familiar with than us), like Facebook or Twitter. Community organizations can use media for exposure too. While the answer to society’s issues won’t be addressed when you “google it,” the organization or volunteer opportunity you’re looking for might be uncovered that way.