Small Acts of Kindness

A Big-Hearted Neighborhood

may day 004 Summer is a great opportunity to build neighborhood memories with a big hearted project or two.

We recently completed the first big-hearted project with our new neighbors. We tackled a small craft project, testing out one of the upcoming Big Hearted Families book club activities.

Big-Hearted Families' activities build great neighborhood relationships for the same reason they build strong families:

  • They give you and excuse to spend time together, for longer than it takes to set out the trash or pick up the mail.
  • They give you something bigger to talk about than the weather or real estate market.
  • Plus, these projects contribute - in ways great and small - to your community.

As new members of our community, volunteering together gives us a great opportunity to build deeper connections more quickly.

During this season of summer gatherings, here are a few simple activities that may bring your neighborhood together:

  1. Make Sandwiches: With minimal preparation and just an hour of time together, your neighborhood can stock local homeless shelters with hundreds of sandwiches for their residents. Put on some fun music, tackle our discussion questions, and fire up the grill or order a few pizzas to make an evening of it!
  2. Make Birdseed Cookies: Decorate your neighborhood with edible treats for your feathered friends! Host a neighborhood gathering and set up a birdseed cookie table as a fun ice breaker. Later you can swap stories about the creatures you've spied snacking on your treats.
  3. Adopt the Local Food Shelf: Has your family set up a food shelf donation station in  your home? For a simple, no-party-necessary option, let your neighbors know when you regularly drop of your goodies and welcome them to add to the collection. Offer gentle reminders just before each donation and let them know of any unique seasonal needs.

Season of Giving Thanks

Jessica Young (2)
Jessica Young (2)

Ideas for Thanking the Volunteers in Your Life

Today's guest blogger is Jessica Young, the Community Manager for  VolunteerSpot’s free online coordination tool helps families, schools and community groups organize quickly and easily to make a difference.

The Thanksgiving table beckons the age-old tradition of going around person by person, no matter how young or how old, and sharing those people and things for which we are thankful. Though brief, this time connects the family to the underlying spirit of the season – to be thankful, in all respects, and to turn that appreciation into action where possible.

Our families’ lives, and especially those of our children, are filled with individuals and groups whose selfless time, talents and resources make for a life worth living.  Inspire your family to embrace this season of THANKS by showing their love and gratitude for the “volunteers” in their life.

  • Clubs – While extra-curriculars can often-times seem like a whirlwind of pick-ups, drop-offs and carpools, it is the leaders, teachers and instructors who make it worthwhile, whether it’s for drama, chess club, band, mathletes, science club, you name it! Commit your family to service by pitching in to help with a holiday event, tournament, or even set up, clean up, or snack time for the weekly gathering.
  • Team Sports – As fall sports wind down and winter sports kick into gear, think about all the time your kid’s coach spent teaching and encouraging your child with soccer, swimming, baseball or dance. Offer to help organize an end-of-season celebration for the team, think treats to trophies, and provide special recognition for the coach who made all the difference!  Tip: VolunteerSpot’s free online signup sheets make it easy for team parents to coordinate quickly snack schedules, end of season parties, and more.
  • Scouts —If your kids are in Girl or Boy Scouts, ask the leader what you can do to help in December with service or holiday themed meetings. Can you shop for supplies, help with a service project, bring snacks or rally parents for a troop potluck?
  • Worship Leaders—From Sunday school teachers to youth group leaders, pastors, and committee chairs, find a way to say thank you this year to the important people in your world of worship. Explore fun technology and record a short video of congregation members or youth saying thank you, or make a slide show with pictures and text to email out with the monthly newsletter.
  • Nonprofit Volunteers—Which organizations and causes are important to you and your family?  Call and ask how you can help – often nonprofits need extra hands during the holiday season. If donating your physical presence directly is not possible, consider baking a treat, writing thank you notes or gathering small gift cards as tokens of gratitude for the volunteer leaders at the causes you care about.
  • Community Volunteers—Think about all the festivals, carnivals, parades, and various holiday occasions where hosts of volunteers sweep in to create memorable events for your whole community!  It might be impractical to thank them all, but you could write a thank you letter to your Chamber of Commerce, or write an open letter with your family to the editor of your city newspaper thanking all the people that help make your community special.

Connecting with Kindness

The fall schedule is bursting into full swing, and the best tool I've found to make our family time meaningful is kindness. I'm not trying to be overly precious, or trite. Or predictably the Big-Hearted Families ambassador you all know I am.

I'm being honest. We (regrettably) still haven't taken on any of the larger volunteer projects on my to-do list: a Meals on Wheels route, a monthly shift at the food shelf, or visiting the local nursing home. Maybe as things settle down, we'll carve out time for that. But here are three simple things we've have done in the last two weeks that have brought our whole family closer together:

1 book + 1 recipe + 1 kindness activity
1 book + 1 recipe + 1 kindness activity

1) September Book Club fun:Spaghetti in a Hot Dog Bun has been a around in our home for a long time. It was fun to dig it out as part of the September book club.  This book lends itself to rich discussion, especially at the start of the school year. Plus, the activity for this month, creating a kindness chain, has made each evening special.

The kids are sharing many small moments of their school day that they might not otherwise bring up, and even us grown ups are sharing more with the kids than usual. It's been a great way to connect.

2) Take and Bake: A few of our new neighbors have had some major life events recently. Baking bread or muffins and gathering a few garden goodies to share has been a great way to get to know our community a little better, share a little homemade, homegrown love, and spend some messy time in the kitchen as a family.

3. Upcycling. Check out our new Pinterest board, Kids Can Up-cycle.  In preparation for next month's book club activity, we've been exploring way to reuse t-shirts, and talking about the importance of keeping everything we can out of the landfill. This has sparked a lot of creativity, and a few notable improvements in our home recycling system.

Even when it seems there is no time for a BHF project, keep in mind that small kindness activities like these can be part of the regular schedule and make family time both joyful and meaningful.

Assembling Care Kits: an easy weeknight act of service

Our resolve to actually put something on the calendar is paying off. Last week, amid gymnastics, piano, packing for a camping trip, and the first true homework assignments for Miss Second Grade, we completed a small, in-house service project last week. We assembled care kits for the homeless.

We actually encountered a few ladies who could have used a care kit last week on our way to a new park. When we saw them, our whole family shared the same sentiment: why don't we have those care packages on hand already.

During our regular grocery store visit, the kids and I grabbed the ingredients. We set aside an evening to assemble everything together.

Does your family want to assemble care kits for the homeless? Visit DGT’s project page to discover how!

The kids and I also printed out a little note, directing people to call the United Way 2-1-1, which refers people  to various services that can help.

Our reflection conversation touched only briefly on how grateful we are for what we have. The kids were more interested in talking about the practical distribution of these kits.

When can we hand them out? Who can we hand them out to? What if we are feeling shy?

These were useful questions. The kids have a history of doling out whatever they have to give to the first person they meet. We decided, for a number of reasons, that these kits are only for adults to hand out. The kids are invited to keep an eye out for someone in need, but actual distribution is a parent job.

I'm hoping extended conversations about homelessness, prompted by the questions in the "reflection section" of this project, will happen more naturally after we hand out a few kits.

I'll let you know.

Have you done a similar project? Share your story or rate the project here.

assembly line

assembly line

Caring & Kindness: Everyday Lessons

Habits of kindness make it so much easier to teach caring in between volunteer gigs.  And lets face it, even with the best of intentions that gap can sometimes get out of control. Establishing these habits of kindness is what Doing Good Together, and our soon-to-be launched website Big-Hearted Families are all about.

Maria Dismondy author of Spaghetti in a Hot Dog Bun and the Juice Box Bully hosts a character trait blog every month: Make a Difference Monthly. Bloggers from around the country link up their own ways to teach that character trait, creating a compendium of expertise on each topic.

This is my contribution, to that worthy effort. Pop over to Maria's site for the linked contributions. They are impressive in their quality, in their kindheartedness, and in their ability to inspire.

In the meantime, here are the three habits my family has adopted that make conversations about caring and kindness happen every day.

Who have you helped today? Who has helped you? Make time every day for this simple set of questions. Ask at family dinner or after bedtime stories. Be sure to offer your own answers. Even the youngest family members will learn to watch for the simple acts if kindness that make each day better, as both givers and receivers of help. In our family, we all watch for opportunities to help so we have an answer next time the question comes up!

Rubbish Race: I posted this year's ago, and it has since become a feature of every walk. I carry a plastic bag and a lonely garden glove everywhere I go, and the kids don't tolerate any bit of trash lingering in their path. We are stewards, caring for whatever patch of earth we happen to be occupying.

Happy Mail: Like Maria in her own "Caring" post, kind-hearted mail is one of our favorite ways to share kindness. Our letters make their way to nearby neighbors, far off family, and strangers in need of a pick me up thanks to Hugs and Hope.

Books: Like most families, we make time to read every day. Our latest favorite caring book is Miss Tizzy. Check it out!