I am one of the lucky ones. I was raised in a loving household and in turn, am able to create the same for my kids with my wife Kelly. I have always had a home to go to, a purpose in life in which I pursue as well as the comfort, support and love from a combination of family and friends. Between circumstances and choices I have made throughout the years, I have a good life. No. Make that an awesome life.
As we turn to the holidays, I have been reflecting on my good fortune and thinking of those who are not so lucky. Those who don’t have a safe and secure place to call home. Those whose sole purpose is survival from one night to the next. And those who are void of love, comfort and care from others.
Kids who volunteer are happier adults
This year, as a family, we have gone out a number of times to the city’s homeless and handed out bananas, bagels and socks. I was introduced to the practice by a good friend, Ken Sim, who co-founded Nurse Next Door, and I thought it would be a great way to show my kids how differently people live in our city. And how a simple gesture, like a warm pair of socks, provides a complete stranger immediate comfort. What my kids didn’t know was how this simple act of giving has many benefits that will last them a lifetime. Besides teaching compassion, empathy, tolerance and community responsibility, studies show youth volunteering is linked to a higher quality of life as an adult. Yes, helping others is proven to make you happier.
Kids who volunteer learn to ask why
The deeper conversations that these walks on the Eastside of Vancouver inspire with our kids have been quite impactful for me. Our last conversation centered around what a fine line it is between the homeless and the rest of us. That we might all just be a few bad life situations or poor decisions away from experiencing the same spot in life. I live my life believing that just about anything is possible. That if I want something badly enough and I have the work ethic, I can achieve it. I try to teach my kids the same, BUT I realize that my view of the world is sculpted by my past. When I look at the homeless, I try to not to think about who they are now, but who they were when they were my kid’s ages, and how they got to this point in their life. With that view, the conversation with our kids took a meaningful turn. We talked about what life was like for me growing up when I was their age. We talked about the simple things in life that our kids might take for granted. And looking back, that I probably took for granted as well. We tried to imagine a child at 6 years old, one who experienced our family life and one who experienced abuse (mental, physical or other). How would that same child view the world and what different choices would they make? From that view, it wasn’t a stretch to see how someone could end up on the streets. It humanized the experience. It allowed us to be thankful for what we have in life and also empathize that not everyone is this lucky.
Volunteer with your kids
I would like my kids to continue giving back to their community as they become teenagers and well into adulthood. I know to do this, I need to lead the way and offer them rich experiences to show the difference they can make, even as kids. Size and age isn’t the key to successful giving, it’s the desire and belief you can make the difference. According to Parents Magazine, successful family giving is about:
- Keeping it simple. Try donating food, joining a walk to fight a disease, visiting a nursing home, picking up litter or helping out at a local animal shelter.
- Using online resources to find the best giving fit. Whether you’re looking for a one-time or long-term project, visit sites like Volunteer Match (in the US) or Volunteer Canada to find the best giving opportunity for you and your family.
- Manage your kid’s expectations. Explain both what you’re doing, and why you’re doing it. Share the work you are about to do as a family and the people you are helping. Try teaming up with another family and remember to have fun to make it a positive experience.
The journey of giving with my kids will continue and not as a tradition, but as a commitment to giving back to the community we call home and helping others so one day they are in a better position to help themselves. If my kids were ever in need, I would hope that someone, a parent, brother or sister or even a stranger – would do the same for them.