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Community Volunteering Shapes Responsible Kids

10 Feb Mental Health News/Blog | Comments Off on Community Volunteering Shapes Responsible Kids

Residents and local leaders in Clawson and surrounding areas share the keys to raising kids with good character and responsibility.

By Megan Swoyer

Wednesday, Clawson Patch kicks off a new feature called Whiz Kid. Whiz Kids are all around the community, and we want to hear about them and honor them for their accomplishments.

This article explores ways to help your own child become a Whiz Kid in one way: giving to the community. Do you know a Whiz Kid?

Colin just got a scholarship for his volunteer work. Justin is getting a presidential service award for his community service. Robin wants to skip presents at her birthday party and just have the guests bring money for a cause.

Are those your kids? On the other end of the spectrum, one area mom says she can’t get her son to initiate any volunteer work unless it’s with friends and only if required. One dad said his son told him joining clubs is for geeks. For many children, the favorite day of the year is their birthday because of “all those gifts.”

Wherever your child is on the “sense-of-purpose” scale, raising empathetic and motivated children requires a lot of parental guidance, say area counselors, teachers and community activists.

Although it may seem tougher than asking your child to give up television and Facebook, turning out dedicated community supporters is one of the most worthwhile things parents can do for their children. It’s challenging but doable, experts say, and will help you create responsible kids and good character.

Young Givers

“To get your kids involved in community projects, start at a young age,” said Carol Mastroianni, executive director of the Birmingham Bloomfield Community Coalition, which is based in the Birmingham Covington School in Bloomfield Hills. “Find things your kids are interested in, things you can do together as a family.”

Mastroianni cites simple projects such as a neighborhood cleanup or helping at a community or school garden as a few easy ways to get involved.

“If your child is shy, bring them to a food bank and let them sort cans,”  she said. And keep in mind community theater groups. “I used to take my children to Stagecrafters (the Baldwin Theatre) in Royal Oak when they were very young and they’d help quite a bit.”

For the very young, talk to them about how they can help the less fortunate, said Sara Chase, a clinical psychologist at Rochester Hills-based Abaris Behavioral Health. Chase works with children and adolescents and often suggests that her clients get involved in community activities.

“Consider smaller tasks,” Chase said, “like cleaning their rooms and donating things they don’t need.”

Do as we do

Ideally, said Chase, parents teach values, compassion, and a sense of community through their example and by doing things with their children from an early age on as part of what families do.

Grandmother, parent and retired Detroit art teacher Linda Logan says role modeling is essential.

“Young kids are hard-wired to learn the ways of the world, which means copying adults,” said Logan, a Huntington Woods resident who volunteers at the Lawrence Street Gallery in Ferndale. “Older kids, say 8-12, need companionship. They’re learning that they can do things wrong, so ‘fear of failure’ sets in.”

Chad Oyer, associate pastor of student ministries at the First United Methodist Church of Birmingham notes that research shows parents matter most when it comes to their child’s character formation. “Consequently, children are heavily shaped by seeing their parents’ commitment to and involvement in serving others,” he said. “The best is when parents and students are serving others together.”

Bob and Tenchi Wayner of Royal Oak were excellent role models for their children, Lauren and Paul, now 29 and 28 years old.

“When they were young we took them along with us as we volunteered,” Bob Wayner recalled. The family would go to the South Oakland Shelter in Royal Oak, or they were volunteer cooks for a weekend youth retreat with St. Anne’s Church in Detroit. “I took my son with me when volunteering to put up new bleachers for a football field,” Wayner added.

The parents’ guidance paid off — their adult kids now organize family sponsorships during the holidays and volunteer to coach youth soccer in southeast Detroit.

Like the Wayners, Cornelia Pokrzywa also has instilled in her three daughters ages 9, 11 and 13 compassion and community awareness.  “Often, parents believe that children are ‘too young’ or shouldn’t get involved in adult affairs,” Pokrzywa said. “I have always fostered involvement in nonprofits,” she said.

The Rochester Hills mother inspires awareness in different ways, including at her children’s birthday parties. “In lieu of a gift, we sometimes ask guests to bring an item to donate for a selected charity,” Pokrzywa explained. One year, it was dog and cat food for an animal shelter; another year it was Teddy bears for the Oakland County’s  Bears on Patrol. One time, the family rented a dunk tank and raised money for CureSearch National Childhood Cancer Foundation.

“Children can participate in walk-a-thons, too,” said Pokrzywa, a lecturer in the department of writing and rhetoric at Oakland University.

Her kids (all musicians) also often provide music at charitable fundraisers. Recently, her daughters performed with the Oakland Youth Orchestra at the Mercy Bellbrook retirement home in Rochester Hills. The family also is involved in helping the Save Our Symphony group to preserve the Detroit Symphony Orchestra.

It’s Never Too Late

Unfortunately, parents don’t always have the time to orchestrate such family interests and outings when their children are young. It’s all they can do to hold jobs, shuttle their kids to school activities and ensure there’s a healthy meal on the table at night. Many busy moms and dads admit they did not make community work a priority when their children were in grade school.

No worries, the experts sayd. It’s never too late to get kids involved and teenagers are a perfect age group for volunteer service. It’s how you go about motivating them that will determine if they’re up for jumping in.

“Adolescents are at a stage where their interests shift to friends, fun, competition, and belonging,” Chase said. At this age, she suggests considering something like a fundraising car wash or bottle drive where the money is used to improve a local park or purchase items for those less fortunate. This way they can have fun with friends (always a teenage priority) and increase their sense of belonging.

“The result is a compassionate effort, a better sense of connectedness, and belonging to something greater than yourself,” Chase explained.

Associate Pastor Oyer suggests a good way to engage students to serve others and to participate in community service is to inspire them, “by sharing a story of an organization or person(s) in need that grips their hearts.”

Longtime teacher Logan says to always remember that teens need to be respected.  “Whatever you plan,” said Logan, “tell them up front, and let them have some say in it.”

Clawson Mayor Penny Luebs concurs with Logan. “Listening to the kids’ ideas on what would make the group/event a success is key,” Luebs said. “Ask open-ended questions (those that begin with what/why, not questions that simply require a yes or no answer).” Also, she suggests access to food (what teen’s not interested in pizza?).

Logan also suggests taking an interest in the cause yourself — contribute something to show your interest. And always, “let them invite a friend or two.”

Check Out Community Clubs

Another way to get involved is to look into local Optimists clubs, suggests Rocco Romano, president of the Clawson/Troy Optimist Club and a resident of Clawson.

“The optimists clubs are a great way to do help achieve positive qualities in kids,” said Romano, an architect with TMP Associates in Bloomfield Hills.
There are four clubs in Clawson — one each at the two elementary schools and one each in the middle school and high school.

Romano’s sister, Bonnie Homrich of Royal Oak, is working on a college paper for Destiny Christian University in Roseville, MI, about the role of Optimists clubs in a child’s life.

“The Junior Optimists help children get a sense of belonging,” Homrich said. “My brother, Rocco, was initially part of the adult optimist club and then got involved with the kids (junior optimists range in age from 6-18) because he wanted to help them feel better about themselves.”

The Optimist creed includes “being so strong that nothing can disturb your peace of mind,” she explained. “And they want to bring health, happiness and prosperity to all they meet. When you help someone else in the community, you feel good about yourself.”

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