Five Lessons Volunteering Taught My Family

May 16, 2014

This post, which originally ran on SaportaReport, is by Ronit Walker, a judge in the Georgia Office of State Administrative Hearings in Atlanta. To explore ways you can volunteer with your family, check out these resources from generationOn

ronit_walker_head_shot.jpgRonit Walker

When my daughter was very young, we visited my grandmother on Fridays. After my grandmother passed away, Fridays felt lonely to us so we spent time delivering Meals on Wheels to residents of a senior living facility. The residents beamed when my daughter would toddle to their front doors, clutching a meal in her tiny hands.

But I soon realized that as much as the residents delighted in visiting with a toddler each week, it was my daughter who was really having a good time. She loved the attention she received and her feeling of accomplishment after we completed our route.

Now I have two more children, and my toddler is on the verge of obtaining a driver’s license. As my children have grown, I recognize that many of our most memorable experiences have been the times we have spent volunteering in our community. Our commitment to engaging in philanthropy, whether through service or charitable donations, has strengthened us as a family. I would like to share five lessons I have learned.

1. Volunteering has helped me to know and understand my children better. My daughter loves to be with younger kids. If volunteering involves entertaining a roomful of preschoolers, she can’t wait to participate. Another one of my children is shy around large groups of people. Packaging food at Project Open Hand, and being able to see the meals that he has helped to prepare stacked and ready for delivery, provides him with a tangible way to measure his achievement.

2. Volunteering creates rituals and traditions for our family. We have committed to providing birthday cakes for homeless children on certain months of the year, and preparing and serving food at shelters on designated Sundays. Although the holidays can be a wonderful time to volunteer in the community, we know that we have dates throughout the year that we will spend time working together as a family – and away from the screens that can isolate us from one another.

3. Being philanthropic generates important and passionate discussions. During the holiday season, we decide as a family that we will pool and donate a portion of our holiday gifts to charity. Each child gets to advocate for a charity that they feel is most in need of the donation. At the end of the discussion, we vote on the winner. Not everyone is always satisfied with the result, but learning that sometimes one has to make difficult choices with limited resources is also a valuable lesson.

4. Volunteering gives my children a perspective on how much they already have. My daughter has been working at a summer program for homeless children for the past three years. Last summer, she was so excited when some of the children remembered her and gave her big hugs – until she realized that this meant that their families had not secured permanent housing. She is reminded how fortunate she is to have a home to return to at the end of the day.

5. Volunteering doesn’t have to be formal. Opportunities to perform even small acts of kindness, such as helping an elderly person with his or her groceries, donating to a local charity or visiting a sick friend, are available to our families almost every day. Moreover, it gives us the opportunity to gently remind our children not only of how much others may need, but that they have the ability to make things better.

For more inspiration, check out what these Family Volunteer Day honorees families did last year to serve their communities. And save the date for Family Volunteer Day 2014, Nov. 22.