“How wonderful that no one need wait a single moment to improve the world.” – Anne Frank

Think for a moment about someone you know who is a whiz at math or puzzles. You might also know someone who can whip up a meal from a jar of pickles, Cheez Whiz and some stale potato chips. Then there’s that neighbor who can listen to the strange noise your car is making and diagnose the problem within seconds. We all have gifts that God has given us. Some are visible, such as a talent for playing soccer or painting a picture. But some are not as visible, such as showing compassion for others.

I truly believe that God has gifted some with a heart for volunteering. There are some people who live to help others, whether it’s packing lunches for the homeless, mowing a neighbor’s lawn or just listening when someone is having a bad day.

Sometimes the volunteering we do is “formal” or organized. This might include joining others in your city to clean up the local river or helping at a 5K race on a Saturday morning. But other times volunteering isn’t “formal,” although it certainly takes place! When a family watches another family’s house while they’re on vacation, that is volunteering. When someone helps a stranger change a flat tire, that’s giving of yourself as well.

When we volunteer as families we not only make the community a better place, but we give our children the wonderful feeling of making a difference. When families work together and they see mom, dad or other adults helping others, they learn that this is normal and natural. When we make service work a normal part of our lives, we don’t simply teach our children strong core values, we also demonstrate these values in action.

If we want our children to have good table manners, we model those manners when we eat together. If we want our children to be great readers, we read to them, take them to the library and make books a priority. If we want our children to give back to others, we need to teach them how, both with “formal” volunteering and “informal” volunteering.

I think some feel that there must be tangible proof for our actions to be considered “real volunteering.” And while picking up litter off the side of the road is a wonderful thing, we must also work at volunteering in ways that stretch us as children of God. It’s easy to help with the same volunteering projects over and over, but giving of yourself outside your comfort zone can be a wonderful thing too.

My daughter is now a senior in college and will be graduating this year. When she was younger she would be “volun-told” to help teach Sunday School, work with younger Girl Scouts, or, as a home-schooler, help younger children with their schoolwork. Over the years she has developed a passion for children and will be graduating with her teaching degree in a few months. She often tells me that her passion for children came from all those “forced volunteering jobs” I made her do. I’m pretty sure she would have rather been playing with her friends or watching TV, but volunteering outside her comfort zone opened up her eyes and heart to her career pathone that might not have been formed otherwise.

As a family, try to volunteer together at least once a month, but also stretch yourselves in new ways. One month you could help others learn a new skill. The next month you could collect items to be donated to an organization. Another month you could donate your labor at a park or school. Whatever you choose to do, just do something. And do it together.

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