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Natural Awakenings Charlotte

Connecting Kids to Community

Jul 30, 2009 02:40AM

Children Group of

by Helen Coronato

This September, before scheduling after-school soccer practice or cheerleading, why not consider committing to a different kind of extracurricular activity: community outreach. Every community has specific needs, and stepping in to help fill those needs as a family brings extended benefits. From strengthening family bonds and making memories to being a role model for friends and neighbors, connecting kids with their own community proves a winning combination.

By giving back to community, local organizations get the assistance they need, while children benefit personally and scholastically from a family team-building experience. Research from the Harvard Family Research Project shows a direct link between such parental involvement and a student’s success in school.

Community outreach can be a formal affair, thanks to the efforts and organization of national programs, or it can be a hometown, do-it-yourself project, based on experience and ingenuity. Whichever route we choose, our efforts and energy are a precious and appreciated resource.

Established Organizations

Coming up with ideas for how to enhance our local community can be daunting for some. Fortunately, many local and national organizations have programs in place that we can readily join. These are a great place to start:

1-800-Volunteer – Search the nation’s largest database of volunteer opportunities, events and organizations by location or interest. More than 117,000 volunteers are registered with the service nationwide.

Special Olympics – Help people with intellectual disabilities. More than 30 recognized athletes and 750,000 volunteers participate in the 227 Special Olympics programs worldwide.

Habitat for Humanity – Habitat has built more than 300,000 houses around the world, providing safe housing for 1.5 million people. Builders must be older than 16. Other youngsters can contribute by making “Welcome Home” cards or toolboxes for the new homeowners.

Red Cross – Each year, the Red Cross responds to more than 70,000 disasters, including as many as 150 home fires, every day.

Project Smile – This nonprofit organization collects like-new stuffed animals for firefighters and police to distribute to children experiencing a traumatic time in their lives.

Meals on Wheels – This national network provides home-delivered meal services across the country. According to the organization, one out of nine seniors in America faces the threat of hunger, and at least four out of 10 local Meals on Wheels programs have seniors on a waiting list for the service.

Do-It-Yourself Projects

Also consider giving some common group activities a community-minded twist.

Here’s a new kind of book club. – Book club members can open up enrollment to invite mothers, daughters and grandmothers to join. Or, organize a community book club at a local senior center and bring together different generations of readers to share stories and companionship.

Time to clean out the closet and toy chest? – Gather up outgrown toys and clothes and donate items to a local women’s shelter. Many mothers are forced to leave everything behind, arriving at shelters with only the clothes on their back. Donations can provide a welcome and comforting item or a change of clothes.

Repurpose old beach towels. – Collect worn beach towels and bedding and deliver them to veterinarians and animal shelters, where they are needed to comfort and care for pets. Ideas for do-it-yourself community projects are infinite. Many more than what are listed here are outlined at Just because something good hasn’t been done before doesn’t mean it can’t be done right now. When our intention is to help others, there really is no wrong choice. Each of us, when we keep our eyes open for opportunity, can become the change we want to see.

Helen Coronato is a mother, author, speaker and consultant. Her latest book, Eco-Friendly Families, is packed with concrete advice, useful tips and fun strategies. Visit

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