Teach your children the importance of being civic-minded
When my daughter, Maddy, was about five years old, she decided she wanted to “bring cheer” to lonely senior citizens. It prompted a conversation about people in the community who might not have very much and those who are alone. The thought made her sad, but instead of moving on, she felt empowered to make a difference. She decided to make handmade cards for Valentine’s Day for all of the residents of Eger Nursing Home on Staten Island. It was early enough that she could do this, and she did. She made around 200 valentines that were all unique and she handed each one out personally with a smile and sometimes a hug to every resident and some staff. Maddy continued to do this over the next 6 years, and continues to live each day with a strong sense of civic responsibility.
From seniors in need of a visit, food pantries in all corners of the borough, homeless families, to children living with terminal illness, there are countless people- some right next door- that could use some help. We all have the ability to instill a spirit of giving in our children, especially through our own actions. What do your children see you do? Volunteer or lend a hand?
Sometimes it’s easy to think that it’s a school lesson. In our busy lives, we often complain about how bad something is, whether politics, crime, or something as simple as litter or graffiti. But when was the last time you believed change can start with just you? How can we expect our kids to feel empowered in our community, to have a sense of ownership, pride, and involvement if we’re too busy to look up?
Adults often develop interest and passion in things they’ve experienced in their childhood. Think ahead to the person you want them to strive to be – kind, giving, compassionate come to mind for many of us. Here are some ways to build your child’s spirit of giving and help the Staten Island community:
- Pick up a few extra items when you go grocery shopping. After you’ve unpacked, take the kids to a local food pantry and donate the items. You can also help them organize their shelves for a bit. The reward is great and truly hands-on. Right here on Staten Island, there are 26 food pantries from the North Shore to Tottenville. They are in all neighborhoods; you might not even realize there is one close to your home! For a list of food pantry locations and phone numbers, visit www.siparent.com/food-pantries/. Be sure to call ahead since they may not be open every day.
- Go through your child’s books, toys, and clothes. Find some that they’ve outgrown but are still in good condition, and drop them off (with the kids) locally at Project Hospitality (www.projecthospitality.org). It’s important to have them be part of the process so that they feel how good it is to give!
- Help your child’s school engage in a community project. My organization, Brooklyn Home Foundation has launched a project called Smiles 4 Seniors, offering a $500-$1,000 grant to Staten Island schools and afterschool programs who will work to help seniors who often suffer from social isolation and depression. They can make cards, artwork, share a musical performance at a senior center, or have an intergenerational activity. For more information, visit www.brooklynhome.org/smiles4seniors. The idea really came from Maddy’s valentines and wanting to build an “army” of children who can duplicate and multiply these efforts so more seniors in our community aren’t all alone. That smile the children bring out could be the highlight of their week!
- Find a beach clean-up day or other community service activity. You can find these by doing a google search or by reaching out to the Office of Borough President James Oddo (www.StatenIslandUSA.com). From the Conference House Park to the Greenbelt Conservancy, there is a great need for help!
- Staten Island Parent hosts on its website a list of organizations offering volunteer opportunities. Check it out for ideas at www.siparent.com/volunteer-opportunities/
It all starts with you and your actions. You are their role model in everyday life, so be sure to lead by example. With one person’s acts of kindness, we will see the butterfly effect impact so many and inspire others to do good and be great!
By Erika Hellstrom, a Staten Island mom of two, who finds community service a very rewarding part of parenting.