HomeArticlesService Learning, A New Twist on Volunteerism

Dear Estelle. We are constantly being deluged with stories and photos in the media describing destitute people who have been victimized by war, natural disasters or dire economic conditions, and racism. The recent tornado in Kansas was heartbreaking and made us realize the thin line that exists between living happily and safely and being wiped out totally. We realize that our children have been the beneficiaries of the “good life” receiving an abundance of positive nurturing and an excess of material goods. Are there ways to seek a balance whereby our children become sensitive to the needs of those less fortunate? We try to be positive role models to our children but are frustrated with their response.
J. & H. Wall, Parker, CO

Your thoughts could go hand in hand with the question “What should I do all summer? With lots of uncommitted time many teens (and younger children) will “hang out” with friends and fritter away a good portion of the summer. Our children frequently take for granted the “gifts” they receive without developing an appreciation of what it means to share those gifts with the less fortunate. Often they assume it as a matter of entitlement. Recent studies have placed some of the blame on technology citing websites like My Space and YouTube which emphasize attention seeking. Many parents, in an effort to promote self-esteem in their children, often fail to build an awareness of those less fortunate.

Our senses are often overwhelmed and dulled by all the tragedy. Some of these events seem so beyond our grasp, that even as adults we tend to ignore them. So, how do we develop an attitude in our children that will make them more considerate of those less fortunate?

In an effort to build citizenship in their students, many schools have incorporated the concept of Service Learning into their curriculum. Essentially it focuses on teaching knowledge and skills in the classroom, which are subsequently applicable into “real-world” situations. Students are required to volunteer either individually or as a class in projects where the classroom- based knowledge and skills are applied to the community. It is not uncommon for children from affluent schools to pair with their peers in less fortunate neighborhoods to provide tutoring. Service learning is a requirement for graduation from several metro area high schools and is considered an important component of a student’s college application.

A fairly new program sponsored by the Colorado Agency for Jewish Education (CAJE) is called B’nai Tzedek. Students become young philanthropists by choosing to earmark funds, which they have earned or received as gifts, to various community organizations.

An added benefit of all these programs is the training of future community leaders who understand the benefits of volunteerism and philanthropy.

As you and your child contemplate productive ways to spend some hours during the coming summer let me suggest a few agencies, with varying age requirements that might provide good opportunities for volunteerism. For younger elementary and middle school children, parent participation may be required. Phone or email the agency to inquire about availability. Some suggestions: Colorado Aids Project, Children’s Hospital, University Hospital, Project Angel Heart, Maxfund Animal Adoption Center, Animal Rescue and Adoption, Colorado Division of Wildlife, Volunteers for Outdoor Colorado, Sewall Child Development Center, Summer Scholars and Warren Village. Log onto the Metro Volunteers Hotline to see other available opportunities: www.metrovolunteers.org.

As parents, it is our duty to teach children the importance of “giving back” to the community and it’s never too soon to start.

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