10 Skills Kids Learn Through Community Service
I have been moved to tears by the actions and inspiration of an 8 year old boy. Recently, I witnessed my son William complete his second food drive to benefit hungry kids in our community. This was a project he conceived on his own last year and asked us to help him make it a reality. Last year, he collected 1,400 pounds of food and $305 in donations to benefit his school’s Backpack Buddies program. This year he decided to expand it, and at the age of 8, he organized a food drive coordinating over 50 volunteers and collecting over 3,200 pounds of food and over $3,200 in donations. That’s enough to feed 17 kids for an entire year. When he first came to us with the idea, we didn’t think he would really go through with it so we called his bluff. Next thing we knew this 7 year old “shy” boy was telling a grocery store manager how he should think “win-win,” and we had dedicated a week to his food drive. Since then, he has continued to worry about the hungry kids in his community and around the world, and at he says one of his life goals is, “no hungry kids.” As I step back and look at what he has done, I have seen skills emerge in my son that I have never noticed before this experience. These are skills that will serve him long into the future and these skills are worth cultivating in all children.
10 Skills Kids Learn through Community Service
- Self-Esteem: The key to lifetime mental health and social happiness is building positive self-esteem. Leading a community service effort is a fantastic way to build a child’s self-esteem. When they can see and quantify the difference they have made, they feel like they can do anything. Kids learn best by doing, parents constantly tell their kids, “You can do anything, if you put your mind to it.” Making a difference in the lives of others shows them this.
- How to ask for something: A child asking an adult for something can sometimes be a challenging task. Through planning the project, William had to have many conversations with store and restaurant managers, as well as others from whom he needed support. Additionally, he and all of his volunteers also had thousands of interactions with people asking them to purchase and donate food. Through these interactions, he learned valuable lessons and gained experience in communicating with adults and kids.
- Organizational Skills: Kids have more going on in their lives these days than ever. These demands only get more intense as they get older. It is more important than ever that kids learn to manage their time and organize projects. Whether a child is doing a lemonade stand or organizing volunteers for a food drive, there are lots of moving parts that will need to be managed. Let your kids experience what it takes to pull off their project. Helping them learn how to organize themselves through real-life experiences will take them far.
- Speaking: Everyone has heard that the number one fear of Americans is public speaking. Whether that is actually true or not, it is VERY intimidating. Through organizing their project, kids will have the opportunity to talk to groups about what they are doing (maybe to their church, scout group, school, or civic organizations). If they can begin to get comfortable in front of groups at an early age, the sky is the limit as they get older.
- You can’t judge a book by looking at its cover: Many of the assumptions we make about people and the world around us are based on our visual perception: how they look or what they wear. This holds true for people of all ages, so teaching kids about this can sometimes be hard. During the food drive, we all witnessed that many times those who had the least gave the most. People may pull up in a nice car and totally ignore the kids asking for donations, while someone with tattered clothes would walk over from the bus stop to empty their pockets into the donation jar.
- Emotional Intelligence: Wikipedia defines Emotional Intelligence (EI) as “the ability to monitor one’s own and other people’s emotions, to discriminate between different emotions and label them appropriately, and to use emotional information to guide thinking and behavior.” This type of intelligence may even be more important than a child’s IQ. Emotions are a difficult thing to read and manage, especially for children. Because of the interactions with people during their community service project kids go through a wide range of emotions, and have to learn to understand and manage those emotions real-time. As William was going through his food drive, he and the others volunteering with him had to learn to handle their own emotions when they got a “no” from a perspective donor, or worse when people walked by them as if they were invisible. It was tough at first, but all the volunteers, even adults learned from the experience, and in the end, everyone was more encouraged to keep trying than discouraged.
- How math really is used every day: How many times has a kid said, “When am I ever going to use this?” Well here you go, a real life opportunity to put their math skills to the test. They get to handle money, manage time schedules, plan out a budget, and manage expenses. All of a sudden they realize how important numbers are in our world. They also get a nice introduction to personal finance as well.
- The power of action: When I have asked William what he has learned from his experience, one of the first things he says is, “That one person can make a difference.” This lesson is key to helping a child to understand that they can make a difference in the world. No matter how small their action, it can snowball into something that affects others in a powerful way. The effects go much further than those whom they are trying to help. A child working to help others is incredibly inspiring to others, and will ignite a spark in others that can last for a long time. This will allow them to feel confident as they work to helps others as they go through life.
- Empathy: Working to help others already requires a certain amount of empathy. Going through the process of developing and executing a service project gives kids the opportunity to connect with what others are going through on a deeper level. The interaction with people that want to help because they may have needed help once enhances the ability for kids to develop empathy during their community service.
- Leadership: All of the previous skills roll into building the leaders of tomorrow. Giving kids the opportunity to take on a leadership role in their own community service project helps them put everything together and prepare them for the future. With all of the problems facing or world, our future leaders must have a sense of service ingrained in them, to give them the skills and abilities to care for those in need.
Families have very busy lives. There are so many things that demand attention like school, sports, and other activities. These activities all help kids develop many skills that will help them throughout their lives. It is really easy; however, to overlook teaching our kids to do good. The skills they can begin developing will be some of the most important arrows in their quiver as they move into adulthood and are faced with challenges that will be even more magnified than they are now.
Kids may feel like they can’t do much to help because they don’t have the financial resources that adults do, but I would argue that kids have more raw resources to do good than anyone else because of their youth and innate compassion for others, and because they have the ability to inspire adults to wake up and take action with their financial resources. What they need is encouragement and support from their families. Through my son’s project, I have grown and learned as much as he has, and am thankful every day that I have been able to be moved and inspired by my child. It is comforting to know that as this world gets more challenging, he will be equipped with the skills necessary to succeed.
If you would like to learn more about the food drive, you can visit the website at www.thefooddrivekid.com.
If you would like to apply for a grant to help fund your kids’ service project, click the button below.