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Give of yourself this season

November 18, 2013 - Erin O'Neill
'Tis the season ... of running around, stressing out and feeling guilty. It is a perpetual vicious cycle that really stems from good intentions of wanting to get everything done and make everything perfect for our families for the holidays.

But this time of year doesn't have to be all about scouring the stores and clamoring for gifts that you *hope* your loved ones will appreciate. It doesn't need to be about baking more goodies than anyone in your family will eat and fretting over not being able to schedule enough time with loved ones who live too far away.

'Tis the season ... of good will toward your fellow person, of charity and of warming your heart by doing good. I feel like there is no more important message to send to children than that we are all intertwined and all responsible for one another.

For the past few years, my child and I have looked forward to doing a specific volunteer activity together during the holidays. Unfortunately, this year we won't be able to due to a conflict of interest. It broke my heart to have to tell her but instead of throwing up my hands at something which was out of my control, I decided instead to seek other opportunities.

The Internet, bottomless pit of useless knowledge that it is, actually came through on this one. A quick search gave me so many ideas that I would never have even considered to do as community service, not to mention something that children could do as well. Here are just a few of my favorites:

• Volunteer at your local animal shelter to walk dogs and play with cats. If your child has an allergy or fear, have them make rag doll toys instead, or organize a collection drive for much-needed supplies.

• Ask children to gather their unwanted toys and outgrown clothes to donate to the Red Cross. Take any gently used books to the library. Donate coats to Coats for Kids.

• Contact a local food pantry and ask about having your child spend some time there. Go on a shopping spree for items to donate. Let your child pick the items. Find out if your church offers free community meals and if they would allow children to help by serving, washing dishes, etc.

• If your child belongs to a community theater, dance school, band or choir, magicians' guild or any other artistic endeavor, consider putting on short program at a nursing home or assisted living facility.

• Volunteer to help decorate a neighbor's home — sometimes trimming the tree is too much for some folks but they might still enjoy a festive touch. Along those same lines, children can help bake cookies to take to neighbors, friends who might have to be hospitalized or anyone who could use a little joy.

• Adopt a family — ask your clergy person if there is anyone in the congregation who could use a little help this year and make it your mission as a family to do whatever you can for them.

Base your volunteer activities on something that interests the child, his or her abilities, your own interests and abilities, location, frequency and duration and the attitude of any staff. With any luck, you will find something that is the perfect fit and can continue the tradition of giving all year long.


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