Last year, one of my friends told me about their tradition of sitting down as a family every year to decide what charities to give their time and financial gifts. That same day, my husband came home from work and told me that his company matches any charitable giving we do as a family and that we should start giving more to charity.
As a parent of two young kids, I want our family values to not only be shared with our children but also to be shown. I want my husband and myself to be an example for our children. I knew I wanted to give more of my time to charitable organizations but felt stuck since most organizations don’t allow children to volunteer until they are older. I also felt hiring a babysitter so I could volunteer meant I couldn't give as much financially to charities.
Then my family attended a service at our church. As we sat cuddled in the pews, a video about Mary’s Place was shown to the congregation. The video showed how the public could assist Mary’s Place with their mission to help homeless families. I contacted them the next day to see how my family could get involved. I specifically wanted to volunteer somewhere that I could also have my children volunteer. After a brief volunteer orientation without my children, my family was ready to volunteer. I signed up online and prepped my children for the experience.
We decided to volunteer at the North End shelter in the Kid’s Club area. While children can volunteer at Mary’s Place, the areas they can volunteer in are limited. My kids were thrilled that their volunteering was playing with other kids. I spent my time reading books, helping set up games, putting together puzzles and playing with the kids. After a few hours, I will admit to being completely worn out but my kids were still roaring to go!
(PHOTO: REBECCA MONGRAIN)
The first time we went, I noticed that the snack selection in the Kid’s Club was limited. The kids didn’t have any fresh fruit or vegetables as many of the donated snacks are foods with longer shelf lives. The second time we visited, I stopped at the store with my kids. I told them to pick out their favorite snacks so we could share them with the kids at Mary’s Place. While my kids picked out gummy fruit snacks, goldfish and granola bars, I added a few bags of apples to the cart. When we arrived, I gave our bag of snacks to the coordinator. He said he was excited to have some new, fresh snacks to give the kids. I’ve since then made it part of our volunteering routine. We pick up snacks and bring them to the shelter to share.
Our times spent volunteering haven’t all been roses. My oldest who is 4 and a half has refused to play with some of the kids while my youngest has tried to fight with the other kids. There have been some awkward questions from my eldest too. I’ve tried my best to explain that the kids living at the shelter are in a tough situation and that we are there to brighten their days (and honestly our days too) just a bit.
Our time spent at Mary’s Place has taught me and more importantly my children a few important lessons. One is that not everyone gets to choose what they want to eat and some people don’t have enough to eat. The snack box is passed around the table and sometimes the snacks run out or there are only goldfish left when someone was really hoping for a granola bar. Secondly, not everyone lives the same way that we do. Not everyone has a house to live in. Some people live in apartments, or tents or in a shelter. Not everyone gets to have their own room full of brand new toys. Some people don’t have toys. This was a huge lesson for my kids who have slowly been making a “Give” pile of toys to give to Mary’s Place. It’s a small pile but they are working on making it bigger. Our third lesson was that having gratitude is important. Life without gratitude is not a life worth living. On our way home from one volunteer session, my oldest said, “Mom, I’m so lucky. Not everyone is as lucky.” That is when I knew she was absorbing the lessons I was trying so hard to teach her. My youngest still thinks she is going to a playgroup and for now that sounds just fine to me.
My 4-and-a-half-year-old also gets a weekly allowance. She has to put a third of it into a “Giving” jar. Last time her jar got full, I asked her where she wanted to give her money. She quickly said Mary’s Place! I admit to being very proud of her as I gathered her money to give to Mary’s Place.
If you are interested in volunteering with Mary’s Place, you can find more information on their website at www.marysplaceseattle.org/support-us/volunteer/.