An ESME Sister discusses the value of giving
“Volunteering is associated with the development of greater respect for others, leadership skills, and an understanding of citizenship that can carry over into adulthood.” —Child Trends
My daughter is in Daisies (Girl Scouts for young girls between the ages of four and six), and her troop was scheduled to help out at a women’s shelter close by in the neighborhood. The girls were going to shop and put a bag of toiletries together for the women. They were also going to sing Christmas carols to them and help serve dinner.
Initially I thought maybe my daughter was a little too young to understand or be involved in this, but then I mulled it over and decided it was a good experience for her.
Before we go on, I want to share some background on my daughter’s understanding of donating and volunteering : since last year, I have been explaining to her what these two concepts are. When I do my spring cleaning, I have her there so she can help me put things aside that we can donate. She understands there are children and adults who are less fortunate than us and that it is our obligation to help out when we can.
I’ve stressed the importance of helping others and how rewarding it feels to do good and to make a difference in the world. When she was smaller, it was tough for her to donate toys that she no longer cared for or played with, but now that she has a better understanding, she is happy to give her older toys to other children who would appreciate them. She feels good that she is helping and that other kids will have toys to play with, too.
So with this volunteering event, I needed to explain what a women’s shelter is and why we are helping the women who are staying there, and I also had to explain why we are buying things such as shampoo, soap, toothpaste, etc. Needless to say, this talk was a little tricky.
I told her that these women have no home to go to and they are in tough situations in which they may not have things like the items we are buying. Money and food are also an issue, so we help when we can because we do have our needs met and we want to make a difference in the world, even if it’s small. Doing something is better than doing nothing.
She understood and was eager to shop. She picked up everything on the list as well as some cosmetic items such as lip gloss, nail polish, and nail-polish remover (that was her idea). I asked her why she picked these things, and she said that “maybe the ladies also want to feel pretty after they shower and wash their hair.” I thought this was amazing, not only because she’s my daughter but also because even someone so young, at the age of four, can understand that little things such as lip gloss or nail polish can help a woman feel better about herself. I was blown away. (And also, yes, since she’s my daughter, I was even more proud.)
God only knows what these women have been through, and something as simple and small as lip gloss (or whatever enhancement you can find in a drugstore) may actually brighten their day. It’s the little things in life, and I absolutely want my daughter to learn that as soon as possible and to be appreciative for the things and blessings that she has.
When she asked why these women don’t have homes or why they don’t have money or jobs, I explained that some people have gone through extremely tough times and that not everyone has family or a home like us. She felt bad and was surprised to hear of this, since it’s not something that we had talked about much before.
After we had our talk and the Q&A was over, I felt that we were well prepared to go to the shelter. Unfortunately, the event got canceled, but we did get to bring our bag of toiletries there and see the shelter. I wish that we could have participated, but since we didn’t have the chance, this was a good eye-opener for her, and I am currently working on setting up another volunteer service for her and I to attend together.
So my point is this — explaining the realities of life to your child in a way your child can understand enriches your child’s point of view so he or she doesn’t grow up living in a bubble of altered perception. Yes, it can be a tough conversation and seem shocking at first, but why would you want to shelter your kids from reality so much that when they do learn about hardship on their own, they won’t know how to handle it or how to feel compassion for it? Don’t you want them to learn as much as they can from you, before they learn it from outside sources? I sure do.
I have seen way too many kids say ignorant things, act carelessly, and be unappreciative for what they have. They don’t understand unless you make them aware, and who wants to raise a superficial child who can’t show empathy and compassion for a spectrum of challenging circumstances and situations—especially those that don’t involve themselves?
Raising selfless, caring, active people who want to make a positive difference in the world is needed, and they personally will feel an amazing sense of gratitude for the things they have and for the help they are offering to others.
We have enough close-minded, selfish, ignorant people in this world. Raising our children to be better than that should be not only a personal effort but also a parental effort.
We leave the world to them. Don’t we want a better, rewarding place for them to flourish in?
For more statistics on children volunteering as well as opportunities for you and your children to help, please check these resources: