(Teaching) the gift of giving

Volunteering at a young age paves the way for a lifetime of doing good for others

Many parents are discovering that one way to introduce children to the concept of gratitude and help them build empathy is through volunteering.

Volunteering doesn’t have to be formal, regularly scheduled, or associated with an organization. Volunteering can mean shoveling a driveway for an elderly neighbor or donating to a food drive.

Parents can model what volunteering looks like so that it becomes part of a child’s life, said Gretchen Stallings, executive director for Volunteer New Hampshire. The organization’s mission is to ensure that people of all ages, abilities, economic situations, and walks of life have access to volunteer service.

“It’s never too early. If you live a life of service, they follow along, and we can include them there with us,” she said.

More Americans than ever are volunteering, according to a recent federal study released by the Corporation for National and Community Service (CNCS), the federal agency that oversees AmeriCorps and Senior Corps.

The 2018 Volunteering in America report found that 77.34 million adults (30.3%) volunteered through an organization last year. Altogether, Americans volunteered nearly 6.9 billion hours, worth an estimated $167 billion in economic value. Millions more are supporting friends and family (43.1%) and doing favors for their neighbors (51.4%), suggesting that many are engaged in acts of “informal volunteering,” the report said.

Make it a family affair

Amanda Weeden of Rochester involves all four of her children, ages 12, 8, 7, and 4 in regular volunteer work. A homeschooling family, the Weedens have the flexibility to lend a hand as part of their day. It was two years ago that the family first volunteered to help with a Sunday church service at Rochester Manor, a Genesis Health Care assisted living facility for the elderly, through True Memorial Baptist Church. Their first visit to Rochester Manor included gathering and wheeling residents down to a religious service. Since then, the family has visited regularly — making cards and delivering them to residents during holidays and bringing gifts like teddy bears, fresh socks and chocolate.

“One dear one has become like family, and introduces me as her best friend,” Weeden said. “A lot of them don’t get visitors at all, so we are all they see. I’ve met some family members who are very grateful that we care. Most of them just want to talk, which we do.”

Volunteerism also allows Weeden and her children -— one of whom has a disability — to practice their faith in the community. She heads up a small group of homeschooling families that help cut and portion baked goods in preparation for her church’s Thanksgiving Day meal and meal delivery to homebound families, which collectively feeds more than 500 people. Her other volunteer activities include gathering food to bring to Gerry’s Food Pantry and bringing dresses to Lydia’s House of Hope.

“For us, the reason why we do this is that I feel it’s important for children to be helpful and involved,” Weeden said. “We believe that Jesus set that example for us. He broke all kinds of barriers.”

The elderly hold a special place in Weeden’s heart. Many older adults feel like they have been cast aside and are not valued anymore, she said.

“I’m able to have these powerful conversations with them about how you treat people,” she said. “To me, that’s good parenting.”

For other parents looking to volunteer with their children, Weeden suggests being mindful of other people in need, no matter where they might be.

Engaging in developmentally appropriate conversations with your children can help them understand that there are things they can do to help others less fortunate. She remembers one of her children noticing a child at a playground eating food off the ground and explaining to him that the child might be hungry, before asking: what can we do to help?

“We’ve gone up to people who are obviously hungry and given them bags full of food that we’ve just bought,” Weeden said.

She also suggests directly calling organizations that touch your heart. If they have space for you, they’ll let you know, she said.

Do what you like and believe in

Sarah DeLitta of Derry is a single mom with a full-time sales job who spends her free time on the field cheering on athletes with intellectual disabilities as a volunteer for Special Olympics of New Hampshire.

She does not have a family member who participates in any of the events, nor does anyone close to her live with an intellectual disability. DeLitta said she was drawn to volunteer for the organization after shadowing her mother, who was a home health nurse, and later, after working with special needs students in Arizona.

When she moved to New Hampshire several years ago, she reached out to SONH and has been volunteering at their events for the past decade. Her 6-year-old daughter Elizabeth stays by her side as they help pass out awards at bowling tournaments, basketball tournaments, and the annual SONH Summer Games.

“I kind of had this urge to do it. Maybe it’s because my mom was a home health nurse and would visit disabled children. She would bring me along sometimes,” she said.

“SONH is contagious, and if there is an event going on, I can’t pass on it and sit at home. I feel like I need to be there to help in any way I can. It’s my one small way of helping — I don’t have a ton of money.”

Families who volunteer at SONH events are never split up, which supports parents bringing their children along. DeLitta suggests that families pick something that they all enjoy — whether it’s golf, football or skiing. That way they can volunteer at an event in which they have an interest. Families can volunteer for as little as two hours to test the waters, she said.

“It’s hard to look outside of our own world sometimes, and if you do that as a family it shows the kids that parents are willing to dedicate some time even though they are busy,” she said. “It also gives the family something different to talk about and reflect on…and I think that the kids just get a sense of…I just did something awesome today.”

Volunteer at any age

Julia Tilton, 17, of Amherst was introduced to volunteerism through her involvement with the Girl Scouts of the Green and White Mountains. A senior at The Derryfield School in Manchester, Tilton recently earned the highest Girl Scout honor, the Gold Award, for creating a program called A Mindful Girl. Tilton dedicated about 200 hours of volunteer time to conduct research and create a curriculum that educates girls about how to navigate social media.

Tilton was recognized in November by Volunteer NH at its annual Spirit of NH Awards event, where she received the Outstanding Volunteer Service Award in the Youth/Young Adult category. Awards are given to one recipient in each of category to highlight the volunteers and champions who exemplify the power of volunteers in New Hampshire.

Through creating and presenting A Mindful Girl — which is now a Girl Scout patch Girl Scouts in New Hampshire and Vermont can earn — Tilton has been able to visit leaders in both states to talk to them about how they can help girls in their group have healthy and happy experiences with social media. To earn the patch, girls complete age-appropriate activities that address the concepts of self-worth, mindfulness, healthy friendships, and avoiding negative thinking. She’s even presented her program at Sangam, a World Centre operated by the World Association of Girl Guides and Girl Scouts in India.

“There wasn’t anything out there preparing girls for this totally uncharted world of social media. As girls enter middle school, they start to join Instagram or Snapchat. I felt like there wasn’t anything preparing them for what to expect, how to act online, or how to deal with the stress caused by online factors,” she said.

Tilton extends her service to the council by serving as a Girl Scout representative on its Board of Directors. She also finds time to volunteer at Girls, Inc.

Her “gIRL: Girls In Real Life” program was developed as a weeklong after-school curriculum for second- through fifth-graders. She ran that program twice at Girls Inc. in Manchester. It is now being used at Girls Inc. centers throughout New Hampshire and during after-school programming throughout the state.

“My advice (for teens) is figure out one or two things that you are interested in and look at those a little deeper. You should think of it as an opportunity to do something you like while you are helping out your community,” she said.

Krysten Godfrey Maddocks has worked as a journalist and in marketing roles throughout the Granite State.


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