Random, unorganized, half-formed thoughts on community service.

I was recently exposed to an educational philosophy that has me very excited about my decision to homeschool (more on that later). One of the key tenets of this philosophy is that the primary curriculum of a child’s early years (birth to about age 8) is simply (ha!) learning good from bad, right from wrong, and true from false. These are the impressionable years where you have the opportunity to fully indoctrinate your child into your family’s values. 

Of course, this has me thinking about our family’s values. I am, once again, renewing my efforts at (weekly) daily Mass attendance. I believe that I have found a nice, nearby Mass at a time that almost works for my family (it’s the 8:15 am Mass at St. James for those who may be interested).

I am also, once again, interested in finding some sort of service opportunity to participate in with my children. And this is where I begin sharing my rambling, half-baked, stream-of-consciousness with you.

It occurred to me as I was searching for an opportunity that something as simple as baking cookies for the elderly couple across the street would be a great way to serve with my kids. It also seems the best formalized service available to me with small kids is visiting seniors in nursing homes. I cannot imagine anything I’d less like to do. It seems so awkward. Does anyone who’s done this have any insights on how to do it well?  

I’d like to start modeling service to the community for my kids, but . . . This is hard for me to articulate. I don’t want to create an “other” mindset. Does that make sense? I want my children to value serving everyone – not just those who are officially “at risk” “in need” or “less fortunate.” I want them to serve their father, mother, sister, brother, neighbor, friend. I don’t necessarily think that serving at a soup kitchen has instrinsically more value than sharing toys with your sibling. Does that make sense? I think in many ways it’s easier to spend an evening feeling good about yourself serving soup to the homeless than it is to be nice to the people in your own home. I’m not saying that volunteering in a soup kitchen or a homeless shelter or a food bank is a bad thing. Not at all. These are very, very important things to do and opportunities I have considered. I just want to make sure that I don’t give my kids the idea that spending time with a senior at a senior home is somehow better than spending time with their own grandparents.

And yet, even as I write that I think, “is it really not?” I mean, their grandparents have lots of friends. The old guy at the nursing home may not have anyone who comes to see him. Their grandparents are healthy and vital, nursing home residents generally can’t get out and seek their own adventures.

The Catechism of the Catholic Church tells us that “the family should live in such a way that its members learn to care and take responsibility for the young, the old, the sick, the handicapped, and the poor (2208).”

The Bible tells us that “Religion that is pure and undefiled before God and the Father is this: to visit orphans and widows in their affliction and to keep oneself unstained from the world (James 1:27).”

We are also told “If anyone does not provide for his relatives, and especially for his immediate family, he has denied the faith and is worse than an unbeliever” (1 Timothy 5:8) and “If any woman who is a believer has widows in her family, she should help them and not let the church be burdened with them, so that the church can help those widows who are really in need” (1 Timothy 5:16).

So it seems to me that, yes, we are called first and foremost to “take care of our own.” But this in no way diminishes our obligation to help our neighbor.

Okay. So again, random, jumbled thoughts! I’m not sure what I’m after here. Just thinking out loud I suppose. I welcome your own thoughts on the topic – even if they’re as incoherent as mine!

2 Responses

  • I have two comments… I tried to do nursing home visits with my kids through Rainbow Bridge (http://www.rainbowb.org/index2.htm). The person at the nursing home was less than welcoming. I think she simply saw my children as germ carriers. The couple times that we went, it was really obvious that some of the residents were really wanting that child interaction. I might start that up again this fall when it is just Moira and I. This kind of work would be meaningful to me more than a soup kitchen or women's shelter.

  • I think your best option is to do something that really speaks to you–not what would be "good for the kids." I think children pick up on the motivation and intent behind the acts. Through your passion for the service–whether it be "official" or not, they are going to see how rewarding it is to you. One of the things that I like is making meals. I think the important thing they see is that I enjoy making the meal–they don't need to see how it helps the other person (for all I know they throw it in the trash). I guess what I am trying to say, I think service should be more about the giver than the receiver. In fact there is some service that is valuable that will not be appreciated directly by the receiver–but it is still important. A friend told me a story today about her training at Suicide Prevention hotline. The trainer said "if you want gratitude, get a puppy".


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