Looking for a great educational opportunity for your kids? Look no further than volunteering. Whether it's a one time volunteer opportunity or a long term commitment- the lessons learned will be invaluable. My children began volunteering at our local YMCA and at our church when they were still young. I believe learning to "give" and not just "get" is an important life lesson. Meeting people that aren't in your comfortable circle of friends also goes a long way toward preparing young people for college and the workplace. Most of all, they gain an appreciation for the fact that happiness is not dependent on money and education goes far beyond books and lectures.
This year my 17-year-old son Paul is volunteering every Wednesday night at church teaching 8th grade boys. Well, often he's just hanging out with them having fun, but he also studies the weekly lesson and leads a discussion. He had to make a commitment to be there every week, even if other opportunities arose that he would really like to do. Second, he's had to learn to be organized and plan ahead which is not something that comes naturally to most teenagers. Third, he's realized that these boys look up to him that he is a role model and he needs to think about the impact his actions, attitudes and words have on these kids. As a result, he's probably learning as much if not more than the kids he is teaching.
Paul also volunteered with Courage Center as a snowboard instructor/assistant with physically challenged kids and young adults. This has been an amazing experience. It's hard physical work and he's had to learn to teach something that comes easily for him but that is a very big challenge for his students. He has also gained an immense amount of respect and understanding of what having a physical limitation really means. Last, but not least, he has found that he has more in common than different with these students. They all like to laugh, they all want to try something new and they are all proud when they can accomplish something they initially didn't believe was possible. Going down a ski slope with the wind in your face is quite amazing when you're used to spending your day in a wheel chair.
I'm unapologetically proud of the contributions my children have made over the years through their volunteer efforts. More importantly, I am so grateful for the lessons they have learned through volunteering and how these experiences will continue to help shape their characters throughout their lives. Through these opportunities, my kids have received much more than they had to give. How often does that happen when you sign them up for a camp or a class? The irony is that these invaluable lessons don't even come with a price tag.
Have you or your children had similar experiences volunteering in your community? How have these experiences changed you, your children or their outlook on life?