I grew up in Las Vegas, Nevada in the 60’s and 70’s. Summers were brutal. The heat on most July and August days would soar to 125 degrees and would drop to a chilly 100 degrees at midnight. Central air conditioning didn’t exist. If you were lucky you had an attic fan, and if you were really lucky you had a swamp cooler. Swamp coolers were water-cooled, loud contraptions that usually covered only one room – your parents bedroom. Looking back we learned to endure, knowing that God made swimming pools just for us and we generally lived in them all summer.
Vacation Bible School was always a highlight of the summer, and mom was always the first to volunteer to teach a class. As a young child, I learned how to be an expert picture cutter for mom’s flannel board stories. When I was 10 years old, I got to lead the hymn singing – the praise and worship part of the VBS service. I’d search the hymnbooks for the loudest toe tappin’ songs that I could find and then encouraged everyone to clap as loud as they could. It was my first introduction to ministry and I had lots of fun volunteering which made those hot summer days more tolerable.
As a child, VBS taught me that volunteering could be rewarding, and it’s something that I passed on to my two (now grown) girls. Their summers in California were packed with going to the library where they would read to the younger kids, volunteer for VBS or Awana, or pass out snacks after softball games. Sometimes, in the summer, the music school they attended would perform at retirement homes for the elderly. We had lots of fun as a family participating in all those activities and it never ceased to amaze me that what seemed like a chore ended up as one of the highlights of the summer. (Like the time an elderly woman in her nightgown stood up out of her wheelchair and started dancing around the room at the retirement facility.)
Finding the fun in giving and volunteering should be taught early and often and can be one of the most important lessons you teach your child as a parent. Here’s a couple of suggestions to get you going:
1. Create a group with parents and children whom your child already knows. Then, look for places to volunteer that would fit that unique group’s personality. A responsible adult will need to step up and take the lead to create and organize the activity, but set up shared responsibilities so one parent is not left with all the work. It’s easy, and it allows the adults to grow friendships as well. For our family, some of these friendships continued long after our children went off to college.
2. Focus on the interests of your child. Christian organizations are always looking for volunteers but look for the opportunities that match your child’s passion. Sometimes they may need someone to play with babies, fold flyers, or set up chairs, but find ones that might fit their personality. Then, once they’ve volunteered for something and found it to be rewarding, challenge them with more unusual situations. The goal is to teach your child to care for others and see beyond their normal environment. Playing a musical instrument in a retirement home was intimidating at times for my girls but they were more comfortable when they had to visit their grandparents later on in life. The Salvation Army has centers in almost every town in America and they’re always needing an extra hand. Moving outside a child’s comfort zone opens up their eyes to the larger world.
This summer, as you schedule family times together, plan to volunteer. It may be one of the most memorable times you experience all summer and it may create a family tradition that endures for generations to come.