Most kids (and adults) who lived through the 80's remember the USA for Africa: We are the World campaign of 1985. My siblings and I were obsessed with that video and song. In our young lives, that song opened a whole new world and a whole new set of problems.
Then, on May 25, 1986, I traveled to Wichita Falls, Texas for Hands Across America. I was with my aunt and her friend, as well as my siblings. I don't remember a whole lot about the trip, but it made a lasting impression. The drive seemed to last forever, we stayed in a hotel, we had t-shirts (made by my mom with iron on letters), and my mom & aunt shoe polished the windows of our car. I remember driving to a mile marker on a lonely stretch of highway, ready to take our places with strangers who became our comrades that day to stand up for our nation. We held hands, we sang a powerful song, we stood up for UNITY. What a lasting impression that event made on my life, even if I didn't realize it until adulthood.
What's the connection? These are just two examples of the ways I learned about community service and mission projects as a child. These, as well as countless Angel Tree programs, food drives, opportunities to wrap presents for Brown Santa, Saturday mornings volunteering in the craft room at the nursing home, adopt-a-child programs during high school, and more. These were all wonderful opportunities when I was a teen, but other than collecting goods we didn't have many hands-on opportunities as young kids. Now that I'm a mom, I'm seeing a similar predicament. Don't get me wrong, having a food drive, collecting pet toys, lemonade stands to raise money for the cancer society—these are all WONDERFUL programs that kids can facilitate. However, my own children were asking me for more. "Mom, how old do I have to be to volunteer at the SPCA?" "Mom, can I help sort clothes at the thrift store?" "Mom, do you know if I'm old enough to _____." (There are some opportunities for elementary age kiddos-and younger-to serve, but they're few and far between.)
Last summer, I attended a leadership conference with my siblings. I'm a volunteer mom, so why a leadership conference? Well, I had a little secret. I confessed to my siblings during our trek across campus one day that I had been thinking about starting a group to help young children organize mission projects in my community. I wasn't sure the best way to go about this endeavor, but I had been thinking about it for months. When I learned about the leadership summit I thought it would be a good place to get the courage and find the motivation I needed to take the next step.
I thought about this group a lot: how would it be organized, would I try to work with an established group in our community, what ages would we read. Life got the best of me, and it was almost a whole year later when...about 1/3 of the way through the summer, it came to my attention that we may have an opportunity to have a mission camp at church for elementary age children. I immediately volunteered myself. After all, this was what I'd been organizing in my mind for over a year.
Last week was mission camp. Seventy-five kiddos participated in a variety of projects. We also had speakers from community organizations who spoke to the kids about their programs. It was a wonderfully amazing and exhausting week. :) The kids had a so much fun learning about different opportunities to serve. They gave their time, talents, and energy to others. They learned that the gift of giving benefits everyone involved. They now know, from personal experience, that it is better to give than to receive.
Because so many friends and family members have asked for details about our week, I'm going to include a brief outline of what we accomplished. And, yes, we plan to grow and learn from this experience and have another mission camp next summer! Can't wait!
-speaker from community group who spoke to children about poverty cycles, making good choices about spending money, and talked about "what if this" scenarios
-made spend-save-share banks
-made cards for nursing home residents
-speaker from homeless shelter
-decorated pillow cases for homeless shelter
-made pillow cases with church quilting group for children's hospital in Haiti
-watched video about the works of Eleanor Roosevelt
-speaker from city's public words department about environmental issues
-park clean up day
-sewed pillow cases (group 2)
-speaker involved in Habitat for Humanity program
-made and decorated wooden crosses for Habitat for Humanity
-prepared lunch for church home improvement service group and church maintenance staff
-each day the kiddos had music time, and on Friday we went to a nearby nursing home to sing for the residents and deliver the cards from Monday
-we made a handprint heart (pictured below) to hang on the wall of our children's area
-party to celebrate the kids' hard work