This post is by Ilene and Michael Berson, education professors at the University of South Florida and parents of Marc, a member of the generationOn National Youth Advisory Council, and Elisa, a Robertson Scholar at Duke University.
Volunteerism and community engagement are critical components of our family life. Service experiences promote learning through active participation, provide structured time for all members of our family to reflect, create opportunities to use skills and knowledge in real-life situations, extend learning beyond the classroom and foster a sense of caring for others.
As a family, we discuss what we have learned from each experience about ourselves, the issue addressed and the people involved, including transformations that we each observe. Our children's reflections on their experiences have been powerful, as volunteering has enhanced their awareness of culture, diversity and individual differences.
In our service work, we focus on comprehensive community-building efforts that seek to impact significant social issues by emphasizing the economic, social and physical transformation of an area. In order to build a healthy community, an active citizen base is needed. We believe that through such involvement, our children become empowered and engaged. They learn to build upon the skills, assets, networks, relationships and mediating structures of the community.
This approach teaches our children to value the wisdom of the community and creates shared responsibility and ownership to improve the health and well-being of community members. These hands-on experiences also actively mobilize our children as agents of social change, shifting power to them and recognizing that they have a voice that can be used to call attention to otherwise marginalized or underrepresented issues. They have come to realize that their knowledge as young people is valuable and can affect change.
In raising our children we have focused on building or strengthening existing social networks and support systems for their emergence as agents of community mobilization and action. As parents, we model for our children how to assume an active role in collaborative community-based partnerships that work toward the creation of safety and well-being for all children and their families.
This is based on our belief that inclusive interaction through service initiatives promotes in our children a heightened awareness of available social, emotional and financial resources; a commitment to overcome the barriers of rigid solutions in responding to complex issues; and a determination to participate in the interaction of systems of care that will better inform the development and implementation of policy, planning and service delivery.
Ultimately, this exchange exposes our children to diverse efforts to protect, defend and promote the rights and welfare of others, and challenges them to take action on behalf of those in need.
The Bersons took part in Family Volunteer Day, Nov. 23. Disney Friends For Change, a Disney initiative dedicated to inspiring kids and families to make a positive change in the world, was the presenting sponsor. Embassy Suites was a supporting sponsor. Find out how your family can make a difference this holiday season by visiting generationOn.org.