“Volunteering” has a permanent place on every list of resolutions I’ve ever made. Now that I have two daughters, I’m even more interested in finding ways to expose them to the concept of ‘giving back’. In this day and age when our kids want for very little, and a bulk of our time is spent entertaining them in one way or another, I feel the need to show them how important it is to donate their time to people and causes and be more aware of those who are somehow in need.
Having said that, when I have searched, I’ve had a hard time finding such opportunities for young children and was delighted when I recently heard of an event at the Junior League.
Last weekend, we headed to their Headquarters on the Upper East Side to attend a program called G.I.V.E. (Get Involved, Volunteer Early) Love Course. A Next Generation Philanthropy Course. This event hosted by the Junior Junior League committee and geared for 4-9 year olds.
We were greeted by several members of the Junior League who went out of their way to welcome us and make us feel right at home and excited about the event. They began with a short interactive discussion about what it means to volunteer and why it’s so important.
The children were then read a book called the ‘Littlest Volunteers’, which told the story of Annie the ant and her experiences with volunteering. After the sweet story, they moved on to writing and decorating cards for residents of a nearby nursing home. With plenty of markers and stickers, the kids had a ball using their creativity to make beautiful and touching cards. Once the last card was signed, they placed them in gift bags containing colorful scarves supplied by the Junior League, and we all headed over to the nursing home.
The children had the chance to personally give out the gifts and cards to a large room of residents, and the reactions all around were priceless. The elderly men and women were delighted to see young smiling children and went out of their way to thank them and engage them in conversation. The children were giddy as they hand delivered their gifts and proudly told anyone who asked, their names and ages.
With some extra gifts in tow, we had a chance to visit some of the private rooms and meet more residents. The kids were in awe to meet a beautiful lady who revealed to them that she had just celebrated her 102nd birthday! There was a gentleman who’s walker was not only fully decorated with flowers, but had a bucket full of lollipops attached, which he graciously gave out to our group of little volunteers. We met a former actress who made it a point to ask each child about him or herself and raved about how their beautiful shining faces had made her day. Another lovely woman proudly showed off her artwork from her younger days. The kids oohed and aaahed over her masterpieces, while she beamed with pride. I stood on the sidelines and watched my daughters fully engaged in a wonderful experience.
While for many adults, nursing homes can conjure up images of aging parents, grandparents and even our future selves, it was refreshing to see the children’s take on it all. They’re clearly too young to think about their mortality or that of their loved ones. They were fully in the moment, so enthusiastic to meet the residents, hear their stories and of course, bask in the adulation and smiles they generated simply by virtue of their youthfulness, generosity of spirit and smiling faces.
On our way out, we stopped to chat with a friendly couple who told us over and over again how they wished that more children would visit them. They spoke of how kids had a way of brightening even their loneliest days and we readily promised to go back and visit again soon.
Afterwards, I listened to my girls tell my husband all about their visit, how much fun they had, how good it made them feel and how they couldn’t wait to do it again. I was proud to see them open their hearts and give of themselves in such a natural and effortless way. I am so grateful to organizations like the Junior League for creating experiences like this for young children.
As Annie the ant’s mom told her in the book, “You have a big heart and that’s a great start. The rest is up to you.” I’m now more motivated than ever to help my girls with this great start and look forward to many more heartwarming and fulfilling volunteering experiences for our family.
Prior to becoming a stay at home mom, Mina was an HR Recruiter for years. Now her time is spent happily juggling the demands of two young daughters while trying to expose them to the endless adventures the city has to offer.
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