Thanksgiving, after a brutal year, could use these new family traditions to serve
A few years ago, Pat Shea’s son Martin was about to start on his middle school’s Thanksgiving break when a longtime friend invited the Shea clan to join his family on a trip to build houses in Juarez, Mexico.
Sure, said Shea, a technical writer for Terumo BCT.
He and Martin joined three other Colorado families and carpooled to a bleak, wind-whipped site where concrete blocks and building equipment awaited them. Less than a week later, they posed for photographs in front of two modest but solid new houses built through Casas Por Cristo, a Texas-based charity.
It was a spin on a decades-old Shea family Thanksgiving tradition — celebrating the occasion in a way that involves more than a big afternoon meal and an evening of sedentary entertainment.
In a state that has, in a single year, experienced fires, violent tragedies and a frenzy of negative political bluster, this could be your year to find a new heart for the holiday.
“This time of year is a perfect time to sit down with your kids and talk about ways to make the world a better place,” said Harley A. Rotbart, a professor and vice chair of pediatrics at the University of Colorado School of Medicine, and author of “No Regrets Parenting,” a manual for time-pressed families.
“Talk about ways you can help. It may be food. It may be clothing. It may be cash. It may be time. Talk to your kids. Ask them about their areas of concern. Kids notice people, and when you ask them what they’d most like to fix, if they could, you may be surprised.”
During the searing summer days when fires ravaged foothills west of Colorado Springs and Fort Collins, Rotbart remembers encountering a homemade lemonade stand run by two young children in Cherry Creek North. He paused there, not far from the parents standing watchfully nearby.
“They had a sign and a jar that said ‘All proceeds will go to firefighter station’ something or other, and it was their way of helping the fire victims,” Rotbart recalled.
He stood a while and looked on. Cars pulled over. People bought lemonade, and left bills inside the donation jar.
“That was their own stand,” he said. “It wasn’t something like ‘Lemonade for Firefighters Incorporated.’ The fires had been all over the news, and they wanted to do something. This was their idea, a way they could help fix something that was wrong.”
The little lemonade stand reminded Rotbart that children can be as pragmatic as they are imaginative, something he likes to remember as commercial momentum builds for the annual gift-buying frenzy.
And, he notes, volunteering doesn’t always mean tying on an apron to serve soup or wash dishes for a single day. Animal shelters, including the Denver Dumb Friends League, MaxFund, the Cat Care Society and others, always need volunteers to socialize and exercise animals. Literacy programs need tutors to help struggling readers expand their vocabulary and comprehension.
“There’s a desperate need for tutors, especially at our sites in Aurora — DCIS at Ford Elementary School, Sable Elementary, and Clyde Miller Elementary,” said Khadyja Smith-Coly, one of Reading Partners’ site coordinators.
Reading Partners, a national tutoring program that began 12 years ago, started its Denver sites in September. Tutors include a retired married couple, a mother and daughter, and aunts and cousins who volunteer at the same sites.
Families who like to incorporate altruism with their vacations can check out family-friendly construction projects offered through Habitat For Humanity, Casas Por Cristo, or World Wide Opportunities On Organic Farms (WWOOF), which includes farms and ranches in Colorado.
“There also are the public sponsored walks, like the AIDS Walk Colorado, the Mile High United Way Turkey Trot in Washington Park (and many other Colorado locations) and other events that benefit charities,” Rotbart said.
“We want people’s lives to be better, and it’s a natural instinct for kids to want to help others. How can we best channel kids’ positive energy into the world, and into making them feel that they’ve contributed to making it a better place?”
Interested in volunteering?
Here are some family-friendly organizations.
AfricAid: 1444 Wazee St.,Suite 135, Denver; 303-351-4928, africaid.com
America Reads: c/o Colorado Dept. of Education, 201 E. Colfax Suite 309, Denver; (website under construction)
Denver Dumb Friends League: 2080 S. Quebec St., Denver; 303-751-5772, ddfl.org
Habitat For Humanity of Metro Denver: 3245 Eliot St., Denver; 303-534-2929; habitatmetrodenver.org
MaxFund: 720 W. 10th Ave., Denver; 720-266-6081, maxfund.org/
Reading Partners: 6300 E. Yale Ave.,Denver; 720-409-9909, readingpartners.org/locations/colorado
Rosa Linda’s Mexican Cafe’s Free Thanksgiving Feast: (Drivers needed to deliver meals) 2005 W. 33rd Ave., Denver; 303-455-0608, rosalindasmexicancafe.com