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Doing Good Together Newsletter )
Helping strengthen kids and communities through family volunteerism... July 2007
in this issue
  • Prompt a Discussion About Issues
  • Reflect on your Volunteer Experience
  • Inspiration
  • One Family's Story
  • News From DGT

  • We've all heard the saying, "Practice what you preach," but you can do a world of good if you also preach what you practice Talk to your children about why you choose to treat others with kindness and compassion - whether it's holding the door open for the person behind you or serving a meal at a homeless shelter. Ask them to remember times they've helped out or have been helped by others and how it made them feel. These conversations make us more mindful of how our actions impact others.



    Jenny Friedman, Executive Director

    Prompt a Discussion About Issues
    Homeless man

    Make a Difference... Begin a conversation in your family about an issue that matters - poverty, human rights, the environment, caring for the elderly. To spark discussion, you might:

  • Read a book together about a social issue. See our resource list
  • Take cues from your surroundings - for example, when you see a man with a sign on the corner saying, "Homeless. Please help," or notice how much litter has collected near the edge of a river.
  • Draw on current events, such as a newspaper or magazine article.
  • These conversations can lead to thoughtful action for your family, whether it's writing a letter to your congressperson, cleaning along the river, or raising money for a local program that advocates for the homeless. Photo: www.medadvocates.org

    Reflect on your Volunteer Experience

    Talk About It ... When you serve others, reflect on your family volunteer experience. This helps children to grapple with the range of emotions that can arise, plus learn about important social issues and apply what they've learned to future experiences. Here are ways to jump start those reflections - before, during and after your family's volunteer project.

    • Before: Talk to your children about their expectations and assumptions. What do you think you will do and what will it be like? What community needs will your job fill? Is there anything that makes you nervous or uneasy?
    • During: Notice behaviors, issues or concerns that you might want to discuss later. Take photographs (if appropriate) to use for a photo album or book. Provide assurances and explanations. ("I like the way you spoke with the elderly woman." "These kids don't know how to cut their own meat. Can you help?")
    • After: Encourage your children to reflect on their experience in various ways: draw a picture, create a collage, write a letter, create a scrapbook or keep a journal. Have conversations and ask questions about your experience. (How did you make a difference? Did anything surprise you? If so, what? Did anything happen that made you feel uncomfortable?)

    Inspiration

    "Many people have taken action, but if their state of being is not peaceful or happy, the actions they undertake only sow more troubles and anger and make the situation worse. So instead of saying, 'Don't just sit there; do something,' we should say the opposite, 'Don't just do something; sit there.'"

    Thich Nhat Hanh

    One Family's Story
    Tha Macris Family

    A lot of kids host lemonade stands, eager to make a little summertime spending money. But when four of the Macris children sat outdoors one hot Saturday in July selling cold drinks, it was for a different purpose. The family donated all their proceeds ($78) to United for Reading®, an organization that helps connect military parents and their children during long deployments. The parents are videotaped reading stories out loud, then DVDs of the readings-plus the book itself-are sent to their children.

    Interestingly, these kinds of volunteer family "projects" aren't the norm for this Annapolis, Maryland, family of five children, ranging from 8-year-old John to baby Jesse. The Macris brood is simply too young and too large to take part in most typical family volunteer jobs. "I think it's wonderful when families spend time cooking at a homeless shelter," says their mother, Jenn. "But our children are still at ages where we'd be more of a hindrance than a help." Still, that doesn't mean Jenn and her husband, Jeff can't find ways to teach their children to reach out. They have discovered simple ideas for integrating service into their lives and teaching the lessons of compassion to young children. A few examples:

  • Take a moment to be kind. An elderly woman the family knows has always been especially considerate to the Macris children. In turn, they occasionally leave a small bouquet of flowers (anonymously, of course) to show appreciation for her thoughtfulness.
  • Talk about poverty. Jenn says that at first she used to rush her kids away when they saw someone who was homeless or in need. Now she talks to her children about the fact that some people don't have a place to live or enough to eat.
  • Help neighbors. When a neighbor was ill, the Macrises made it a point to help with his recycling and other chores. The family also delivers event flyers and newsletters for their neighborhood civic association. Jenn talks to the children about what it means to be part of a community and how "many hands make light work."
  • Read stories. Jenn often reads multicultural children's literature (she recommends Barefoot Books) with her kids to spark conversations about tolerance and global citizenship.
  • Clean up. Before leaving the park after playtime, each family member spends a few minutes picking up litter, always trying to leave each place a little better than how they found it.
  • Emphasize character. Occasionally Jenn cuts out a "character" word from a magazine ("courage"), or simply writes it out for the kids to decorate, in the hope that it will stimulate conversation about values. Right now the word "honesty" is taped to the bathroom mirror for everyone in the family to consider and discuss.
  • Finally, the Macris family reads the family story in the Doing Good Together newsletter together each month for added inspiration. "Hearing about how other families are making a difference has planted the seed for us," says Jenn. In turn, she hopes her simple solutions will show others with young children that you can indeed start small and still have a big effect in your world.

    Photo: The Macris family

    News From DGT

    Many of you have written to say you like our newsletter and website not only because you get inspiration and practical ideas for serving others, but also because of the simple, uncluttered format. No advertising, just content. But that means we need to rely on you, our readers, for our funding. Once each year we ask you to help out. You can make your secure, tax-deductible online donation right now here. We can't do it without you. Please give what you can so we can continue ALL programs - in schools, faith groups and neighborhoods - that encourage families to make a difference in their communities. Thanks, and have a great summer!

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