When I first started blogging in July of ’08, Kids Are Heroes was in its infancy and I was still heavily involved with Wags for Hope, a local pet therapy organization. I wrote a blog post titled “Volunteer for Selfish Reasons“. It didn’t get much play since I wasn’t even on Twitter yet, but the sentiments behind the post still ring true. It may sound politically incorrect, but if people don’t get something in return for their volunteer time or for their financial donation, then they probably won’t keep doing it. As I write this I just saw a “tweet” coming through on my Twitter stream that read: “Volunteering is not a choice. It’s a responsibility.” Ashley E. Hyder was given the credit for that quote. Well I’m sorry Ashley, I couldn’t disagree with you more. As a matter of fact let me rephrase your quote to my liking: “Volunteering is not a choice. It’s a privilege.“ In my experience, if people feel they must volunteer, it will become a burden for them and they will stop doing it. I have always felt that if a person feels like they volunteer out of a sense of obligation then they are doing it for the wrong reasons and they won’t last. I am in my fifties now, and outside of a few years as a big brother I did nothing in the way of volunteering. Am I ashamed of it? Absolutely not. Do I feel guilty for the “selfish” life I led? Absolutely not. Do I think it’s other peoples’ duty to volunteer? Absolutely not.
So why the change for me? Why do I do it? The answer is because it changed my life for the much better. I remember the first time I brought my dog Charlie to a nursing home and he brought an ear-to-ear grin to a woman who had been paralyzed in an auto accident since 1984. The warmth that immediately surged through my body was indescribable. The pride I took in my best friend Charlie was unmatched. Do I get something out of volunteering? The answer is “every time I do it“.
So what about Kids Are Heroes? You might be asking “what can Kids Are Heroes offer my children? The stories are nice and heartwarming, but what do my kids gain from joining in?”
The answer is a better life. A much richer life experience, regardless of socio-economic status comes to those who volunteer. I came to realize this gradually as I heard back from featured children’s parents, and as I watch my own daughter develop. J.T. Robertson is one of our heroes from New York. His mom won’t mind (I hope) that I repeat the gist of a conversation we had recently by phone. She related to me that she lives in one of the poorest counties in New York. Kids in her neighborhood are overlooked because the general feeling is there is no hope for them. For a number of years now, J.T. has been raising funds so that disadvantaged children can enjoy something he treasures — a train ride on the Arcade and Attica Railroad. This event takes he and his mom all year to plan. That is not all thirteen-year-old J.T is involved with. He brings toys to the hospital and plays with the children, among other things. (See J.T.’s profile on the Kids Are Heroes site.) He speaks at events and one of his speaking points is the Kids Are Heroes web site. It’s not “look at the recognition I got” — it’s more ”look at what you can do and how it can affect others.” His mom flat out told me that Kids Are Heroes is a great opportunity for kids in this situation to rise above the statistics that plague them. His efforts got him on Good Morning America. As a child when you see the results that you are really helping others, it gives you the same feeling as if you were an adult — it’s a really good feeling that boosts self-confidence and develops leadership skills.
Want another selfish reason for your kids to become involved in KAH? So they can participate in events like this!
When my daughter MaryMargaret started our web site she was just nine years old. She is now twelve. She has been involved in many volunteering efforts in those three years, and she would join us at the nursing homes before that. She has learned to think outside of herself which is hard to do for many kids. She has gained respect and empathy for older people, and kids who are very sick. Her confidence has risen immeasurably due to the speeches she is asked to give about what she does. She has completed a year-long effort to raise money to buy MP3 players for kids at the Children’s Hospital in D.C. When she was just six, she spent a harrowing ten days there and thought that the gift of music will help that time go easier for these unfortunate kids. She purchased 250 MP3 players and delivered them to two area youth hospitals. What a sense of accomplishment she felt as it took her over a year to raise the money! Her latest project is called “Black to Blue”. She and two friends plan to raise $5000 to help clean the animals affected by the Gulf oil spill. The kids have planning meetings where tasks get delegated. This is encouraging teamwork. They plan to visit radio stations to enlist help. This will also boost their self confidence. There is a lot of research that needs to be done for this project. To be effective all three of the kids will have to know the facts. All three are very passionate about doing this which will also show in their presentations. There are just so many life lessons they will learn because of this project. Through her efforts she is becoming a true leader, as are many of the other children featured on our website.
So what does this all mean? Am I in this for the “wrong” reasons? Am I only passionate about Kids Are Heroes because of the benefit to my daughter? I would be lying if I said that part didn’t matter to me. Of course I am happy that her efforts will help her develop into a well rounded, socially responsible citizen. But I can’t ignore the other perks. One of them I just mentioned — it’s very heartening to know something we created has touched a boy like J.T. in such a way that he wants to tell others about it. I enjoy every opportunity we get in meeting the other wonderful kids and their families who are involved with KAH. I get that same warmth I described earlier when my daughter brings smiles to cancer-stricken children by bringing them Webkinz she paid for from the donations she collected. I get warm feelings every day when people encourage what we are doing. I get so much energy when I listen to the children explain what they are doing and why they are so passionate about it. I get a sense of hope dreaming about the global effect we will have some day.
So shouldn’t volunteering be a thankless activity? Shouldn’t we just do it without wanting anything in return? Maybe that works for some people, but not for me. As I have said before, I’m not that nice of a person.
So you say you’d like for your kids to be involved? We recommend that you sit down with them at the Kids Are Heroes web site and “Meet the Heroes“. Read their stories. You and your child will learn about children as they are changing the world. Suddenly your child will realize that they can do it too. It is generally not long after that when they discover their own passion to help. They will choose a project, selecting certain elements of other projects they have just read about, and with your guidance execute their plan. When they do, please let us know about them so we can feature them too.