Thursday, July 16, 2015

Teaching Your Kids the Importance of Community Service

Over the past several years, I have engaged in different forms of community service. Most recently - just under a year ago, to be precise – I started doing some weekly volunteer work with my church. Each Monday evening, we go to a homeless shelter and share some encouragement with people who many in our society seem to have forgotten about.

When I’m there, I’m amazed at the different stories I hear. Some of the individuals have had it rough for years. Many deal with substance abuse issues; others deal with alcoholism; yet others are just there because they hit a rough patch – bad economy, loss of income and before they knew it, they ended up on the streets.

Each week as I arrive at the shelter, I am heartbroken when I see the number of families that are affected by the epidemic of homelessness. And it’s particularly troubling when I see single mothers who have the responsibility of raising kids without the help of the men who helped to bring them into the world. That’s particularly troubling to witness.

As you may know from the different posts I write on this blog, the family is the primary focus of the work that I do. So when I see displaced families at the shelter, it really does break my heart. Still, it gives me renewed vigor to fight for those affected by the circumstances that led them there. I have a certain sense of responsibility to work relentlessly to alleviate the pain that so many in our society deal with on a daily basis. It helps me to fulfill my purpose as I seek to share words of encouragement with them.

When I am there, I cannot help but reflect on my plight 10 years ago. I was newly divorced and newly broke - bad credit, sky high legal bills and really hurting. I lost the house in the divorce and I had no money to even rent an apartment. You can read more about this in The Story Behind the Upbeat Dad.

I’m a professional – a Certified Public Accountant – but my reality was that I was one step away from being homeless. Had I not had loving family members to take me in while I tried to sort myself out, I really would have been homeless and if only for a while, I could have been in that very same shelter.

I recall once, during that dark period, going to feed the homeless – this time, it was under a bridge where they slept. I stopped to get some food for them and my then-4 year old daughter asked if she could have some of the food. I told her she couldn’t because “we’re taking it to give to people who don’t have a home.” She responded, “Then why can’t we eat it – we don’t have a home.” That was a harsh dose of reality because it was very true; we had no place of our own! But like I said, fortunately we had family members who allowed us to live with them while we got back on our feet.

Rodrick and daughter at the homeless shelter
Today my daughter is a well adjusted 13 year old – or as she tells me, almost 14 (she’ll be 14 this coming September). She knows how important serving at the shelter each week is for me. I generally make the trip alone, driving directly from the office. But several months ago she asked if she could come along one evening. I had never really thought of inviting her along. I guess it’s because it’s somewhat out of the way for me to stop home, pick her up and then get to the shelter on time. Plus I figured, as a student, she was occupied enough with homework and wouldn’t really have time to get involved with something like volunteer work. But she really wanted to come along to share in the work that we do.

I obliged and took her along with me. And, to my surprise and delight, she absolutely loved it. The sense of joy she had in serving and just being a part of the team providing hope and encouragement to those individuals was just a blessing to witness. I didn’t have to instruct her about anything. She came along and just fit right in, serving the people as if they were the most important people on the planet. As a dad, I just beamed with pride seeing her so involved in the process.

Since then, each week she cannot wait to go again. I’ve managed to take her along much of the time but there have been occasions on which it wasn’t feasible. But she loves coming along and getting involved. It’s not something I have taught her; I guess she has watched me and has developed a passion for doing her part to make the burdens of life easier for others to bear.

As you read this, you’re likely in a comfortable situation. You’re probably on your own computer. Or perhaps you’re on an iPad or an iPhone. Maybe you’re at work and just came across this while surfing the internet during lunch. Or maybe you’re in the comfort of your home. You probably don’t have to worry about what you and your kids are going to eat today – or tomorrow or the next day. Whatever the case, things are probably a bit better for you than they are for those who we meet and serve at the shelter each week.

I feel that we owe it to our kids and ourselves to ensure that we become involved in community service. It doesn’t have to be at a homeless shelter. It could be anywhere really – just serving others and sharing a heart of compassion with them. Maybe it’s going to a retirement home and helping to brighten the day of some senior citizens. Maybe it’s helping to paint homes in a not-so-glamorous part of town. The possibilities are endless.

We have a huge responsibility as parents to shape and to mold the lives of our young ones. During childhood I was taught the saying, “The boys and girls of today will become the men and women of tomorrow.” Before we know it, our kids will be off to college or on to chart their own courses in life. The lives that they live will be due, in large part, to the lessons that we teach them while they are young.

When we teach them the value of serving in their communities, such lessons add great meaning to their lives. The quality of their existence is greatly enhanced when they learn the responsibility that comes with being good citizens of this world that we share. And part of that process is giving of themselves for the benefit of others.

In my home state of Florida, I love the fact that, in order to graduate from high school, kids need to have a certain number of community hours of service. These hours can be gotten by working at the shelter where I serve. Or they can be done by some other means of community service. I applaud the efforts by our state legislature to help to instill in our young people the importance of such volunteer work.

For adults, however, there’s hardly a requirement. It’s something that, for the most part, we choose to do. And unfortunately, many don’t see the need to make that choice. Sometimes we hear of some who get into trouble with the law and are sentenced to community service. How sad that some only engage in such valuable service as punishment for breaking the law. To me, community service is a requirement to live a successful life. As the old proverb says, “In giving, we receive.” I have found that to be true. I’m tremendously blessed when I know that through some service I render to someone less fortunate, I help to brighten their day. These are the lessons that I seek to convey to my children.

Life is a wonderful, precious gift. When we can teach our kids the value in serving their communities then we can help them to live the fulfilling lives that they deserve. If you’re a parent, please reflect on the words I’ve shared here and if you need to get started in teaching these lessons to your kids, please do so. And it’s not so much about what we say – it’s more about what we do. Let them learn by watching us serve.

It’s never too late to teach them such valuable life lessons so I strongly encourage you to get started today.  Remember, our kids live what they learn from us. Get started and they’ll be well on their way. This is what parenting is all about – leading by example!

Do enjoy your day!

Rodrick and daughter at homeless shelter

The Upbeat Dad