We were in for a total surprise. The Emergency Room Staff were gobsmacked. They couldn’t believe anyone would think of something like this, let alone do it.
My children and I had just handed over 150 ‘Activity Bags’ to our local hospital’s Emergency Department. These Activity Bags were Ziploc bags filled with a few colouring pencils and crayons, several pages from kid’s colouring/activity books, some blank pieces of paper, and a few sheets of stickers.
After numerous trips to our local hospital’s Emergency Department over the years, I would have loved to have an activity bag like this to help distract my child during the waiting. This waiting time can become extremely frustrating for all concerned as the sick child can want something to do, but in your haste to get to Emergency, what you have packed is insufficient.
Being a Registered Nurse, I had doubted the reception we might receive when we delivered these bags. Well, we were totally in for a surprise. I thought they would be grateful, but I was unprepared for how grateful. The staff were ecstatic. Initially, they were ‘gob smacked’ and couldn’t believe anyone would do that. Once they realized the enormity of how this would assist them in helping distract the children coming through the waiting room, they frantically searched around for the hospital photographer. They wanted our address and phone details to send a thank you, and they wanted a photo to share widely.
This was a significant moment for my children. They had been reluctant, not about the bags, but about the actual visit and the expected reception from the hospital staff. It amazed them how it changed the atmosphere in the waiting room.
In raising our children to be world changers, we must teach them how to brainstorm and solve problems. Serving our community assists in helping our children develop these, increasing their gratefulness and decreasing entitlement.
Set aside a time, maybe after an evening meal, when you are all together and raise the idea with them of loving your community. Ask them for suggestions. Have a few examples to start with. Remember, in brainstorming, every idea goes up on the board or paper. Later, as you read them, you can cross off suggestions that don’t ‘fit’ with what you are doing or may be too difficult to carry out.
Another method you might like to try if you have older children and teens is brainstorming the problems you can identify within your local community. Then all try to come up with suggestions on something you could do to address a part of one problem.
At one stage, our neighbours complained that dog walkers never picked up after their dogs in the street park. Someone letter boxed the street to tell people to collect their dog poop, but this wasn’t successful, mainly because the culprits didn’t live there. Another strategy implemented was taping a box of doggy bags for collecting dog poop to a bollard at the park with a notice. Fantastic results were soon evident.
It is vital in this process to encourage your children to participate and to come up with some ideas for themselves. This way, they will be more likely to own it and want to carry it out.
A helpful thing we have found is to take a walk or bike ride around your suburb and be on the lookout for new things that you don’t usually notice when you are busy or driving. This can help give ideas and spark conversation.
We also look at our children’s interests. Over the last ten years, our son has been interested in the Defence Force, so every year, he sends a Christmas box filled with goodies to a defence force member overseas. (This year, he was excited to receive a thank you filled with answers to the 15 questions he had asked about leadership and the recipient’s experience.)
Things we consider:
- Amount of interaction with people. Do they want to do something behind the scenes, e.g. stack shelves in a food bank, or do they want to interact with people?
- Their interests. If they love animals, consider helping at an animal shelter, donating towels, or feeding newborn animals. If they love sirens, take food treats to a police, ambulance, or fire station. If they love seeing the garbage truck or postman, buy a box of chocolates for the truck driver or postie, write a thank you note and give them to them when they next come. If music interests them, perhaps arrange with an older people’s home to play for a concert. If they love art, then maybe paint rocks with encouraging words on them and put them in places where people can see them, or arrange an ‘art in the park’ event for homeless people to paint and express themselves. If they love caring for the environment, consider collecting litter or planting a community garden.
- The financial cost. We try to find ways of serving that will be free or within our budget.
- If supplies are needed, we take our children with us to buy the supplies. This generates ‘buy-in’ as our children get to choose what they think the recipient might like.
Some ideas our family has put into action for our local area over the last few years have been:
- Gift for the local fire brigade and police department.
- Toiletry supplies to the hospital emergency department as when people come in with an emergency, they usually have no toiletries.
- Taped money to a vending machine with a note telling the next person to enjoy a freebie.
- We have left sand play equipment at a sandpit and the beach path with a note for the following children to enjoy.
- Taped bubble-blowing equipment to a children’s playground with a note. (Whenever we leave something for children, we like to leave brand new equipment still wrapped in plastic so the parents can see that it hasn’t been tampered with. We usually don’t like leaving food for children as I know I would be cautious about receiving food from strangers or lollies left somewhere as they may have been tampered with.)
- Paid for coffee for an older lady.
- We bought a dozen roses and then gave out a rose to 12 different older folk. They loved it.
- Bought food items and placed in food crate for a community centre for disadvantaged people.
- Cleaned out our towel cupboard and donated excess towels to the animal shelter.
- Picked up litter.
- Adopted a ‘grannie’ – an older person with no family living nearby. We visited her regularly and shared life with her, including painting her toenails.
- Arranged with an older adult or a person who is not too mobile to borrow books out from the library for them and to return them. It helps if you have a set day every week or fortnight when you do that.
- Bought a handbag and filled it with toiletries and took it to a domestic violence shelter for a lady.
- Made up a book box for our local park. (You may need to check with your local council first.) Have a large waterproof container with an explanation written there, and place books in the container. People can come and take books home and hopefully leave any books they don’t want or have finished with in that container for others to use.
- Bought socks for homeless people.
First, you may prefer an activity that doesn’t involve interacting with strangers. It can be easier to start with leaving items that don’t require you to talk to people but then move towards an activity that involves interacting with people.
I encourage you to think outside the square – to make time in your life to serve others. Acts of kindness can significantly affect someone else’s life. The tremendous bonus is its impact and effect on your child’s life.
I encourage you to brainstorm as a family – “what can we do this next week/month to help someone else?”
I would love you to comment below on what you and your family have done and how it worked for you. Sharing gives other families ideas for what they can do. Thanks.