As you’re planning your child’s summer break from school, you may be facing some challenges. Options for keeping kids entertained for the summer sometimes come at a cost — and that cost may not be worth the investment. And for your teenager, finding a summer job may be impossible.
You might consider encouraging your child to volunteer. You could even plan a volunteer vacation and involve the whole family.
My family recently returned from a volunteer vacation to Los Angeles, California. We worked with a Christian ministry that offers short-term, free health clinics in inner-city locations around the United States. Instead of visiting Disneyland or Universal Studios, we went to serve people unable to get the health care they need. Some were homeless, others jobless, and all were hurting in one way or another.
The Bible teaches that true religion includes helping widows and orphans in their times of trouble (James 1:27). For three days we took that teaching to heart. We helped deliver hope and healing to over 8,500 people.
Matt, my 13-year-old son, chose to help by escorting patients to the various services they’d requested. He was able to interact with people of all ages who came from diverse cultural backgrounds, and who had much less to be grateful for than he.
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I wondered what kind of response Matt would have to his first volunteering experience. I knew by the smile on his face while he worked that he enjoyed it. He impressed me with his eagerness to get to his job on time and not stop until his shift ended. His experience seems to have had a lasting impact. Since he’s been home, he’s taking initiative to be more helpful.
When my daughter Megan was Matt’s age, my wife and I worried that she lacked appreciation for how good her life was. She was interested in nursing, so I took her to Kenya on a two-week mission trip to provide free medical care to the Maasai. We hoped it would make a positive difference in her attitude.
The Maasai live on the hot plains of central East Africa. They make their homes in huts constructed of grass and manure. The men herd goats and cattle. The women walk miles in the scorching heat to fetch water, and forage for food to feed their families. Children’s toys are homemade dolls, sticks of wood, and used bicycle tires. Modern conveniences are rare.
As Megan worked among the Maasai, dressing their sores, cuts, and scrapes, she saw their way of life. She saw their lack of TV, toys, and good health care that she had access to. Her experience led to a positive change in her attitude. She came home with a stronger sense of gratitude for her blessings and sympathy for people who have less.
Megan’s 20 years old now. On our volunteer vacation to Los Angeles, she chose to contribute to women’s health. She’s working on becoming a certified labor doula. She likes to interact with patients, so it surprised me when she didn’t complain about being tied to a task that didn’t match her interests. Megan was assigned to prepare Pap tests for delivery to a lab.
When I asked Megan how she liked her task, she told me she didn’t mind it. “If that’s where God wants me, I’m happy to do it,” she said. “Someone has to do it. If it doesn’t get done right, the women won’t get their test results.”
I felt proud of my daughter when I heard her say that.
As a dad who experienced hardship growing up, I’ve worked hard to provide my children with a good life. But I worry sometimes that they lack appreciation for how good they have it. Advertising and peer pressure urge kids to get a lot of stuff. Children seldom receive encouragement to savor what they have, and give to those who have less. I’ve used volunteerism as an opportunity to show my children that not everyone gets to live a good life — and to teach the importance of gratitude and the value of generosity.
With the choices and challenges you face in planning your child’s summer, consider opportunities for your child to develop positive character traits, learn new skills, and do good for their community, country, or planet.
Start by checking with local faith and community service organizations you know about. Ask about volunteer activities for kids. You may also try these helpful resources to find volunteer activities near home and abroad:
Start by checking with local faith and community service organizations you know about. Ask about volunteer activities for kids.
- VolunteerMatch.org connects “good causes with good people.” Enter your city or ZIP code into its search tool to identify volunteer opportunities in your community. Organizations in its directory include a variety of causes from which you and your child can choose.
- Together for Good is a directory of volunteer opportunities near United States, Caribbean, and Central America resorts and cruise destinations. Founded by travel journalist Nancy Schretter, it provides a helpful starting point for planning a family volunteer vacation.
- Maasai Development Project is the organization my daughter and I worked with in Kenya. This group travels to Kenya three times a year, and although the focus is on providing medical and dental care, medical skills aren’t needed to participate. Safari tours of the Maasai Mara National Reserve are part of the package.
Jon Beaty, a life coach and father of two, lives near Portland, Oregon.