Sometimes we parents feel like it’s our job to shelter our kids from the world. We tend to think children shouldn’t be exposed to the things we deem to be sad, confusing and scary. Dying animals, people living on the streets, children growing up in heartbreaking conditions…these are not things children should see. Childhood should be a happy time. Why scare and confuse them? Wait until they’re old enough to handle it before letting them witness the cruelties of the world, right?
At least that’s what I used to think. I see it differently now. Throughout this journey our girls have continued to impress me with their empathetic yet pragmatic response to the global issues they’ve seen firsthand through our volunteer work. They don’t get scared or heartbroken. Instead, they get involved. They come up with ways they can help. The seeds of understanding take root as they talk about concepts I’d once thought were too complicated for their young minds. For example, Alison said for a recent blog post “…we saw a lot of people who have nothing but you see these smiling, happy faces on everyone and you realize that it’s not all the [material] stuff that makes you happy.” These are the words of a 6-year-old. Clearly, my old opinion that children need to be sheltered was dead wrong. Kids can not only handle these things, but it’s actually these tough aspects of life that teach them the most important lessons. And it’s these lessons that will make them the global citizens our world needs them to be.
With more than 40 volunteer projects to go toward our goal of 100, this next chapter of life will focus on ways we can help on this side of the planet. Having watched our girls’ responses to our international projects, we won’t be shying away from the sad or confusing. While some organizations might have age requirements for their volunteers, I will be pushing to open up service work of all kinds to citizens of all ages.
Bread & Bowl is an example of a service project I might have considered inappropriate for young children before our family’s trip. It serves meals to about 50 people 3 times each week using teams of volunteers. Through a partnership with Second Helpings, an Indianapolis nonprofit rescuing food from waste and providing free culinary training, Bread & Bowl receives trays of hot food, breads, salads and even desserts for those in need of a good meal. Bread & Bowl has been in operation for over 30 years as part of a city-wide effort to reduce crime, improve health, and help residents access resources during difficult periods in their lives. Lela, the lead volunteer organizing the lunch service on the day we served at Bread & Bowl, has been a part of the program for 13 years.
Alison, on the other hand, was a little more standoffish as people began filling the center’s tables. She looked extremely uncomfortable as she stood against a wall and fidgeted. There was a time when I would have interpreted her discomfort as fear. Sensing any amount of distress, I probably would have redirected her into another room to play and then admonished myself for exposing the fragile mind of a 6-year-old to the difficult realities of poverty and homelessness.
Now, however, I knew all Alison needed was a job to do. She wasn’t scared, she was just bored and uncertain how to help. Luckily, Lela came to the rescue. After a career as a 1st grade teacher, she definitely knew how to engage a young assistant. Before long Alison was helping with the other volunteers to refill water pitchers, remove empty plates and wipe down tables.
Bread & Bowl is a valuable community program offering support to those struggling through hard times. A couple years ago I probably wouldn’t have thought to come and volunteer with young children, but today we have a very different perspective on what our girls should experience. When we let kids see some of the harsh realities our society faces, we instill a desire to make changes in the world and give them the insight they’ll need to bring those changes to fruition someday.