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How to Rear a Child To Care About Community

10 Feb Mental Health News/Blog | Comments Off on How to Rear a Child To Care About Community

Turn off their Play Stations, shut down Facebook, and help your child feel a sense of purpose by volunteering time with community causes.

By Megan Swoyer

On Wednesday, Rochester 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.

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. And 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.

And 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, say experts, 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,” Mastroianni added, “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.

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 hardwired to learn the ways of the world, which means copying adults,” said Logan, a Huntington Woods resident who is a member of the Lawrence Street Gallery in Ferndale. “Older kids, say 8 to 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 that 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.”

Rochester Hills mom Cornelia Pokrzywa 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 tries to inspire 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 that they flat-out did not make community work a priority when their children were in grade school.

No worries, say the experts. 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.

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.”

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.”

Peers and Pals

Craig Kaplan of Bloomfield Hills relishes the camaraderie that goes along with volunteer service. He combined his passion for leadership and the arts and his desire to help the community by starting RAD, which stands for Reinstituting the Arts into Detroit.

Every month, Kaplan, a 17-year-old senior at Lahser High School in Bloomfield Hills, works with other area high schools to organize visits to O.W. Holmes Elementary-Middle School  in Detroit. There hasn’t been an art program at the school for about 10 years.

The teens orchestrate craft-making sessions and read books to the kids.

“I think the kids’ favorite craft was when we made butterflies out of coffee filters,” said Kaplan, who first would visit  the school as an independent study project with  his grandmother and a friend or two. Then the idea grew and he wanted to get his classmates involved.

“Over the summer, I made RAD official and got fieldtrip permission forms, etc. from the  high schools,” Kaplan said. He also is assured that the program will continue once he graduates.  “It can maintain itself now that it’s official,” he said.

The December RAD session drew a record-number of volunteers — 128 high school students from Lahser and Andover high schools working with 14 classes/300 students, all making bird ornaments out of acorns.

“I wanted kids to see that art can be created out of anything,” Kaplan said.

The industrious — and entrepreneurial — teen says one of the best parts of heading up a small program is that he has the ability to run it himself.

“I wanted the autonomy to create something myself. Even though it’s a small program, it’s personal and I care about it and I connect with the kids. I made a connection.”

What’s Your Passion?

Stuck on what cause to get involved with?

“Parents should help their kids find a cause,” said Pokrzywa. “Think about the causes you support and let your child know why you take your own time and money to give to this cause.”

Pokrzywa suggests finding causes that your kids are interested in. “We are music lovers —  my daughters are all budding musicians,” she said. Therefore, her family likes to support musical causes.

Oftentimes, kids want to help other kids who are their same age. The Kids Helping Kids One Step at a Time Walk event, co-chaired by Connie Beckett of Troy and Kelly Shuert of Bloomfield Hills, is a perfect way to get kids involved.

Hosted by The Children’s Charities Coalition  (comprised of  four nonprofit organizations based in Oakland County: CARE House, The Community House, Orchards  Children’s Services and Variety The Children’s Charity), the event requests that each walker raise at least $75, which benefits kids of the coalition.

“We have found that the kids who participate in the walk are members of their school band, swim team, choral group, etc.,” said Gigi Nichols, communications director for The Community House.

“They love volunteering with their friends, and peer recruitment works well.” The walk is May 1 (registration begins at 9 a.m. and starts and ends in Birmingham’s Shain Park).

“With schools and families working hard to instill positive character traits in children, this is a perfect way to teach children the importance of giving back to the community,  Nichols said of the walk, now in its fourth year.

Churches also offer great ways to get involved with the community.

“Many youth today have a passion and a desire to make a difference in the world,” said The Rev. John Harnish of the First United Methodist Church in Birmingham. “They see the news, they know what’s going on and they want to have an impact,” he added. “If we can offer them opportunities that touch their hearts, they will respond.”

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