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Volunteering as School Work

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Back in November, Mile High Mamas, teamed up with the Colorado branch of Volunteers of America and posted a list of volunteer opportunities available around Denver for families during the holidays. It was just what I needed.

I called VOA and signed us up for a Meals On Wheels Route. One child was eager to help, the other was…a little less eager.

Most volunteer activities I’ve found are for 14 years and up – my kids are well under that age. As a homeschooling family, we have ample time for education so why not help others along as part of the process?

My enthusiasm to volunteer is vastly greater than the rest of my family and I find that my eagerness can be dwarfed with the idea of dragging vocally unwilling children across vast distances of the Metro area. The kids have enjoyed every volunteer experience we’ve had, in the end, but not before raising objections and wallowing in complaints.

This summer we planted trees with the Fruit Tree Planting Foundation to create an orchard that will be a part of on-going education projects for Denver Public Schools. Click here to read my post about the program.

Driving to the tree planting, the kids were less than thrilled to plant trees with people they didn’t know. When they saw a large farm with animals, dogs, sunflowers, and ducks and they started to warm up to the idea.

Both kids fell in love with a tree and chose a hole in which to plant it. They worked well with the school kids they had never met and most of whom had never planted anything before.

After the planting we walked around the farm and met goats, chickens, turkey’s and a horse getting new shoes. Driving home, my daughter proclaimed that she wants to be a farmer when she grows up.

The kids and I perused the VOA opportunities list together. My son wanted to help wrap donated books but that was already completed. My daughter gravitated to the Meals on Wheels saying she wanted to help people. Meals on Wheels is a national program, each run independently, that provides meals to homebound seniors.

Jay wanted to opt-out saying he would get car sick from all the driving. Yes, he does have a history of car sickness but it hasn’t happened for years.

His favorite summer event is driving up to Evergreen while he and his sister raise their arms over their heads and shout “weeeeeee” on each and every turn of the road. I say he’s pretty much over the car sickness however I recognize that he will pull out the car sick card when he doesn’t want to do something, and doesn’t want to come right out and say it.

I get it. Delivering meals to seniors didn’t inspire him. So I made him go anyway.

Our Meals day was scheduled for the Thursday before Christmas, that Thursday where 10 inches of snow greeted us upon waking. We were able to reschedule for the next day, the day that my husband had to work so Jay had to come with.

Waking my kids early and getting them out of the house by 8:15am has earned me the title of slave driver and meanest mom ever. We got out the door and made it downtown on-time to pick up the food – a Christmas miracle.

In the middle of downtown, the splash-back had turned my wind shield into a wall of mud. My wiper fluid tank has recently developed a hole. I pulled over to wipe down the window and found a dollar stuck in the snow. A good sign that the day would be a success.

The VOA building is located in an up-and-coming warehouse-like neighborhood. Near the offices, I saw a pile of blankets made-up like a bed, in the snow, on a corner and my heart broke. On our way out of downtown, at a red light, I gave our success dollar to a gentlemen bundled up in a collection of drab, ripped shirts and jackets. I wanted to bring every homeless person home and feed them unlimited bowls of hot, nourishing soup.

We were assigned two routes with 12 stops in a retirement community whose snow-covered labyrinth-like streets were in the process of being plowed. At our first stop, the resident wasn’t home which didn’t feel like a successful start.

The snow plows created a two-foot median between the lanes that I just knew my V-6 engine could plow us through. I’ll admit it, I was wrong. We were stuck in the middle of the street with traffic building on each side. Yup, stuck in snow in the middle of a senior community with two grumpy kids in the back. At least the meals would stay cold!

Less than 30 seconds later, the community security officer came to our rescue followed immediately by the snow plow and three shovel-ready workers. In minutes, the four men had dug out and pushed back onto our route. Good karma was in the van with us and we bestowed it on our rescuers.

Note to self: pack a little shovel in the van.

The first floor of stop number three had the most amazing smells. It was like Thanksgiving and Christmas were all being prepared on the same day at each apartment with turkey and stuffing and pies and cookies. The lobby was decorated with a Christmas tree and little vignettes of red and green baubles.

Mable* was waiting for us in the hallway (we called ahead). She was as tall as my son (age 11) with short, dusty-colored hair. We were invited in to set the box on her brown and avocado green kitchen chair, circa 1970. Mable was so thankful we made it through the snow to bring her food, she said she was completely out.

All the seniors were thrilled to see us but some didn’t remember they were getting a package of food even though they had been on the program for months, or years. Two seniors said they had been sick lately and these meals really helped them through.

Two meal boxes were left over from residents who didn’t answer the door and couldn’t be reached by phone. VOA called us back and said the left overs should go to any resident we chose. We chose Mable.

Mable was in the hallway again when we brought the extra meals. We put the boxes on the same kitchen chair. Mable hugged us each and couldn’t stop saying thank you. We guessed that all the meals together would last her a full week. She told us that sometimes she’s in so much pain that it’s hard to bring herself to the stove or microwave to heat up the meal but knowing that she had food available to eat made her feel much better.

I asked Jay what he thought about the experience. “Well, you know how I didn’t really want to go? I did have fun. I think the part I like best was seeing the neighborhood.”

Individually, we can’t help everyone but we do our best to help as much as possible. If everyone gave a little, it would add up to a lot. Our little adventure brought us joy and a reason to continue helping even if we can impact only a few people in a small way.

*Names have been changed.

January Volunteer Opportunity: Join Volunteers of America in helping prepare for their 27th Annual Martin Luther King Jr. Celebration Dinner! This dinner feeds 1,700 homeless men, women and children.

 Photo credit: worradmu

Heather Ruch
Author: Heather Ruch

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  • comment avatar Daria January 5, 2012

    I love this. I have done a few things with VOA and my kids. It’s always been a great experience and good family bonding too. Very worthwhile and something I think should be added to school curriculums -not overwhelming amount of hours, but maybe one day a semester minimum. Just my 2 cents.

    • comment avatar Heather Ruch January 5, 2012

      Thanks for your comment Daria! VOA has great programs and the people are wonderful. I agree that volunteering as part of cirriculum would be worthwhile! What an impact that would have!

  • comment avatar Amber Johnson January 5, 2012

    I love the beginning..and ending of this post. Sometimes my kids are reluctant to help out and they are always happy at the end. Now is definitely the time to get them out there volunteering. You’re correct–most programs are 14 and older. The problem is if you haven’t started them earlier, you have a battle ahead of you with your teen.

    We volunteered to serve Thanksgiving dinner through VOA at a local homeless shelter. It turned out to be one of my favorite experiences with my family.

    • comment avatar Heather Ruch January 5, 2012

      Amber, you’re right, get the kids involoved early and they’ll take that experience along as they grow up and, hopefully, want to continue on their own too!

  • comment avatar Amanda January 5, 2012

    Sounds like a fantastic adventure. We are planning on homeschooling next year and hope to volunteer more. We do have a few organizations that we volunteer with. My kids ages 3 and 5 are in the “me” stage, “why can’t I have everything” part of growing up and I hope this helps them see past themselves. Thanks for the great post.

    • comment avatar Heather Ruch January 5, 2012

      Good luck with starting your homeschooling adventure, Amanda! It’s great that you are getting your kids involved at an early age and at the “me” stage! You’re growing some humanitarians!

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