BY MARTA OTI SEARS
Compassion is a quality all parents hope their children will develop. A powerful way for parents to encourage compassion in their children is to engage in community service with them. Follow these simple steps to embrace community service as a family.
1. List your family's strengths and passions
Make a quick list of things your family likes and is good at. Do you love nature and being outdoors? Do you enjoy music, art or dance? Is someone in the family good at organizing or building things? List a few passions and strengths for each member of your family. After you've made the list, look for any themes. Is there one strength or passion that you all have in common?
2. List the needs of your community
Make a second list of needs in your community. This can include citywide needs to needs in your neighborhood. Browse a local newspaper to help identify needs.
3. Compare your passions with the community's needs
American writer Frederick Buechner said that people's callings are found in the places where their "deep gladness" and the "world's deep hunger" meet. Do you see any passions and needs on your lists that look like a match? If gardening is one of your family's passions and you're aware that food banks typically lack fresh produce, this might be a match. Circle any passions and needs on your lists that might be a match. Don't worry if you don't see any potential matches. People often discover new passions as they volunteer.
4. Research nonprofit organizations
Using the needs you circled, do a web search for local nonprofit organizations working on those needs. (If you didn't circle any, choose two needs that stand out to you.) Websites like www.volunteermatch.org and www.allforgood.org make it quick and easy to find a service opportunity in your area.
5. Contact two organizations
Once you have a feel for a couple of organizations, contact them. Call or email the organization to ask about volunteer opportunities for families. Tell them the ages of your children so they can give you the best options for your family.
6. Serve as a learner
When the day arrives, set a fun and positive tone and approach your volunteer service with humility. Pay attention to those around you to see what you can learn from staff, other volunteers and your children. In their innocence and simplicity, children often show love in beautiful, profound ways.
Mother Teresa said, "We can do no great things, only small things with great love." After you volunteer, consider going out for a special treat to celebrate the small things you accomplished. Tell your children what you saw in them as they volunteered that inspired you and made you proud.
Marta Oti Sears is a freelance writer doing her best to nurture compassion in her 11-year-old daughter and 8-year-old son.