What Kids and Teens Learn from Community Service

Lisa Larsen, LPC
It's never too early to expose our children to the rich experiences of community service. Instilling  ideals such as the responsibility of giving back, being part of a larger community, citizenship, mercy, and sharing our special gifts and talents to make our world a better place helps build character 
and compassion toward others. But where to begin and how? Annie Wright Schools, from the Seattle Times, shares that there are 5 ways to connect our children to service:

Expose them to a variety of community needs and skills:
Most children will gravitate toward community needs that strike a chord or relate to concepts discussed at home or in school or even related to something they have seen in their own neighborhoods or towns. Simpler projects for younger children help them begin to make the connections between social issues and ways they can make a positive impact such as food drives or donating old toys and books. For older children and teens, utilizing skills and talents such as design work, hands-on building, or problem solving real life social problems can create a lasting impression on how true service works. 

Cultivate Stakeholders:
Fostering empathy and developing creative thinking and problem solving by understanding the goals of local non-profits can establish why an organization does what it does and its necessity in filling a gap in the needs of our communities. As children begin to understand the mission, they understand the road-blocks and obstacles that create those service gaps and how by using their own skills to problem solve and provide hands-on work contributes to the solution- true citizenship and involvement. 

Measure the Impact and Not the Hours:
Instead of insisting on a certain number of hours needed, focus on the impact of the work - what is needed to complete a project? What does it look like to make a measurable difference? This truly fosters learning around what a positive impact looks like and how a child can create change. 

Discuss Community Involvement Around the Dinner Table:
Open the door to questions and discussions around what problems they observe in their community. What solutions do they see? What programs or projects can they directly participate in? What feels important? How does it feel to be part of the solution? 

Create a List of World Problems That They can Help Solve:
Spend time together researching important global issues and how they can take direct steps to solve them in their own community. Global Warming? Poverty? Inequality? Homelessness? Protecting the Planet? Which ones pique their interest? Finally, brainstorm how you can take that goal and apply it in your community. 

St Gabriel's continues its commitment to community service by participating in our Archangels Day of Service next Thursday, September 29, 2022 with St. Michael’s Catholic Academy. Our students will spend the day in partnership with St. Michael’s students participating in grade-level and school-wide projects along with time to reflect on how their service impacts others as well as their own personal growth and development. This is a perfect opportunity to begin the community service discussion with your family. Ask your children to share what their experience was like and ideas on how your family can become part of the community service commitment to positive change! 

Lisa Hellmer, LPC
St Gabriel’s Counselor
St. Gabriel's Catholic School is an Independent Catholic school in Austin TX, educating children in preschool, kindergarten, elementary, and middle school.