Monday, June 3, 2013

Volunteering at a young age

My son is 10 years old and is at an age where he lives life on demand. I can see the sense of entitlement rearing its ugly head like a freight train racing down the tracks.  While I would like to keep my son in a bubble for as long as possible, I understand that it is not ideal, feasible, or realistic to do so.  Perhaps doing this so far as led to this, but I’m hoping to undo it.

I have loved volunteering since the day I started.  Knowing that your time can help an organization to fulfill their needs that they wouldn’t otherwise be able to do is a wonderful feeling.  Finding an organization you are passionate about makes your time all that more special.  As Gandhi has said, “The best way to find yourself is to lose yourself in the service of others.”  So I challenged myself with finding an organization that would take volunteers as young as my son.  If the list existed, I couldn’t find it.  Over and over again I would call various places to see if there was anything we could do together, and we ran into dead ends.  Couldn’t he at least be of help sorting food in a food bank?  Stocking shelves?  Doing something??

All I can say is thank goodness for Facebook!  I am still connected with one of my son’s former preschool friend’s mom on Facebook, and noticed that she was posting pictures with her son.  As we all do, I scrolled through the newsfeed half paying attention to things as I look for the pictures or statuses that stand out to me.  One day, I read the caption.  She said her and her son were volunteering together! Holy smokes, here it was.  I immediately contacted her and got all the information I needed, and put my action plan into place.

This past Saturday was our volunteer orientation for Operation Kindness.  The whole session took about an hour and a half.  Midway through, the trainer gave us our t-shirts and gave us a 10 minute break.  My son immediately took off the shirt he was wearing and proudly put on his new volunteer shirt.  After the training session was over, we were invited to stick around and actually do everything we were just trained to do.  My son begged me; how could I say no?  So we walked some dogs, petted some kittens, dried some dishes … wait, what?? My son actually went into the food area to ask if there was anything he could do, and the only task available was drying the food bowls that were coming out of the wash.  He grabbed a towel and went to it.  Um, excuse me, who are you and what have you done with my son?  Once that was done, he went straight to the laundry room to ask if he needed to fold the fresh laundry.  I’m sure the staff that was in there were quite amused at the look on my face.  This child struggles with chores at home, but did not hesitate to tackle the items that needed the most attention.  I was so proud of his attention to detail, and following processes they have in place for the safety of the dogs

On the way home he could not stop talking about the dogs, and their names, and how different they all were.  He then asked if we could go the next day, because according to him, the dogs might miss him.  So there I was early to rise the next day to take my son, volunteer shirt and all, to Operation Kindness.

Perhaps getting him to volunteer is benefitting me more than it is him.  There is nothing greater than seeing your baby boy grow into a young man.

Janet Fragle works in customer engagement for innovative technology solutions at Texas Health Presbyterian Hospital Plano and is Mom to a 10-year-old boy and 7-month-old girl.

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