Blog, Pay it Forward Summer

Arcade Kindness

I recently took my children to a large arcade complex to celebrate the end of their school year.  They love this particular arcade but I prefer to take them during school hours when it is quieter and less chaotic (a perk of homeschooling).  As we pulled into the empty parking lot, they planned out the way they would spend their tokens and dreamed of the tickets they would collect.  I smiled at their chatter and decided to channel my inner child while we were in the building. I was planning for a fun day and never would have guessed that a trip to the arcade would be a powerful lesson in kindness and paying it forward.

“Mom, there are tickets all over the place!  Somebody is forgetting to get their tickets!!”  Caroline could not believe that someone would leave tickets behind.  At first I thought it was a forgetful person, then I realized that a mystery person was leaving the tickets for small children to find.  Caroline grabbed a fist full of tickets (about 40) from four nearby games and looked over and saw a small girl.  “Mom, can I give these tickets to that little girl?”  My heart melted as I nodded my head yes.  The little girl was so excited to be handed this handful of ticket treasure.

Later on, the kids and I were playing a game and we spotted a bag of tokens that had been left behind.  We searched the entire arcade looking for the mom and child who had just been there.  We found them in the bathroom and the mom was so grateful that we had found her tokens and brought them back to her.

Zach had his moment to shine when Caroline needed 200 more tickets to get a giant stuffed unicorn.  Without hesitation he gave them to her and she beamed at him as she snuggled her new stuffed friend.  A few weeks prior, at the same arcade, my 4 year old niece and nephew were given 3,000 tickets by a generous gamer.  They were ecstatic with all of the loot they were able to turn it in for!

There may be a lot that is wrong with our world but there is also a lot that is right.  The kindness at the arcade took me by surprise but it was a great way for the kids and I to kick off our Pay it Forward summer.  We are now plotting ways to pay forward the kindness that has been shown to us over the years.  I plan to share our progress with you as the summer goes on.  How will you and your family Pay it Forward this summer??

Blog, Incredible Kids, Making a Difference

My Two Incredible Kids

pay it forward summer (3)

For the past few months, Kids in Service has been celebrating all of the WONDERFUL service work that children around the country have been doing.  I love that we are able to highlight their accomplishments and hope that their work inspires other children around the globe.  Today, I wanted to take a minute to celebrate the two most important INCREDIBLE Kids in my life…my son Zach and my daughter Caroline.

We are a homeschooling family and as part of their portfolios, I write up an End of Year Assessment.  Over the past few weeks, I have spent a lot of time reflecting upon what the kids have accomplished during this school year.  Looking back, it is easy to see that this has been a Year of Service for our family.  Service learning is a valuable tool for all kids, no matter their age or where they go to school.  Learning to think about others, embracing diversity, learning about the bigger world and finding a way to help make a difference are important life-long lessons that they will carry with them into adulthood.

One of Zach and Caroline’s big service projects, happens right here in our home.  For the past 6 years my children have produced a community newspaper for friends and family.  They have over 40 subscribers, many contributors and put out 3 issues a year.  They charge a nominal fee for their paper but because of their generous subscribers, they have raised over $1200 in 6 years.  ALL of that money has been donated to 12 different charities.  This newspaper has evolved over the years and has become a community project.  I am so proud of how hard Z and C work and how careful they are to pick the charities that will be receiving the funds after each issue.

Outside of the home, Zach and Caroline have spent many hours this year serving our community.  It is not always fun for them but they show up and work hard until the job is done.  They have learned first hand about homelessness, compassion, drug addictions, diversity, poverty, empathy, hunger and gratitude.  I am so proud of them, the work they are doing and look forward to serving along side them, for many years to come.  They are INCREDIBLE Kids!

Blog, Earth Day, Earth Day Projects, Kindness, Service Projects for Families

Cradles to Crayons Organization

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I am so excited to have one of our INCREDIBLE kids writing for the site today!  Please welcome Chloe!  Chloe is 11 years old and wanted to share with you an amazing organization called Cradles to Crayons where she recently volunteered with her family and friends.  Cradles to Crayons has three locations in Boston, Philadelphia and Chicago.  Here is some background info about Cradles to Crayons (written by Chloe’s mom).

Cradles to Crayons is a non-profit organization that not only serves families in need, but provides opportunities to the wider community to contribute to this service in multiple ways. CtoC are masters of organization, and let volunteers know how their contribution of time, or items, or cash will help others.  Individuals, families, and any group or organization can sign up to sort books, toys, school and art supplies, personal care items, clothes and more for a two hour block of time. The CtoC staff explain how their work and the work you do as a volunteer will directly help families and children who face challenges many of us cannot even imagine. We can’t wait to return and bring new friends to share in this meaningful experience. Learn more here: https://www.cradlestocrayons.org/

Chloe’s Experience

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When I walked in for the first time, I saw hundreds and thousands of things.  It was like a big country with millions of islands!  We sat down at a table to decorate a birthday bag.  It feel very home like there.  The people assigned us to the book section, then the lady told us the rules.  One of them was don’t steal any of the books of course!  Another was no religion, holiday or family books because we don’t want to offend someone for what their culture or religion is.  And we don’t want to put in books about a family because that might make a little girl or boy feel bad about their circumstances.

One job was to sort books into their right age group, another was to make piles of books and put them in the finished age categories.  The age groups started at zero to two, up to eleven to twelve.  I did both jobs.

We were assigned to do this for two hours, sounds like a lot but when you start to get into  it, it feels more like 20 minutes!  I must have done over fifty piles of books.  One of the important rules was that kids zero to two must only aha board books, so they don’t hurt themselves.  And kids also zero to two must only have three books in their piles because they are younger so they won’t be doing that much reading.  And so three and up kids have five books in their piles.

Once it was over, I was really sad.  I was having an amazing time and I didn’t want to stop! But I had to, so I told my mom we have to come back here again soon!  We then proceeded back to the tables we started at and heard that our book group helped over 150 kids and their families!  And all the groups put together ended up helping over 900 kids and their families!

After that me and my friends couldn’t help ourselves, so we went back pretending my friend lost her bracelet but really, we just wanted to make more pies! The lady then caught us and asked us what we were doing (and of course I had a pile of books in my hands) and my friend said quickly; “Oh, I just lost my bracelet and I was hoping to find it, oh look it’s right here!” Then we scrammed!

I had so much fun.  It’s important to take a break from your life and remember that there are billions of kids and their families out there suffering while you may be sitting on your couch watching TV and eating amazing and delicious food.  While for some people, a bag of chips is dinner!  It feels really special to know that a little girl, boy, mom or dad is happy because of something you did!  So go to Cradles to Crayons to have that special experience!

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Blog

Showing Solidarity

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photo taken from the Eagle Tribune, March 23rd

The kids and I were very blessed to be part of a Peace and Solidarity rally last Friday.  The event was organized to show support and love for the people of our local Islamic Center, after the terror attack in New Zealand a week prior. We represented the Kids in Service NH community, as we came together with a small crowd in the cold and rain.

My hero Joe, who runs Merrimack Valley Hope Mission, put together this beautiful peace rally.  For the past 3 1/2 years, Merrimack Valley Hope Mission has organized lunches for the homeless population to be distributed on Fridays.  They have only missed one day (because of a blizzard) in that time period.  Joe arranged the rally to begin right before this weekly ritual and welcomed all in the park to attend.

We collected flowers and cards from children to present to the members of the Islamic center.  A minister gave a beautiful sermon, we prayed together and let the members of the Islamic center know that we are their neighbors and stand beside them.  The gentleman pictured above, shared with me how much support they have received since the attack and how grateful they are.

As we all gathered together to hold hands, I looked around the circle and was struck by the beauty of it.  The people in that circle were from different faith backgrounds, different races and many were homeless.  It was beautiful to see us coming together as one unit, showing peace and solidarity and understanding that EVERYONE in our world is a target for hate and violence.

In a world filled with hate, we need to be the LOVE and LIGHT.  It is up to us to continue showing up for one another, no matter what our backgrounds or beliefs might be. We need to stick together and remember that we are all humans and have the same desire to live in a world where we feel safe, love and accepted.  I urge you all to go out be the light for someone in your life who may be suffering.  A little love and kindness may be just what they are needing today.

-Peace

 

 

Blog, Gratitude, Mindfulness

Wall of Gratitude

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For those of you who don’t know, one of my favorite parts of my work with Kids in Service is meeting with the children of my local Kids in Service group.  I have run this group for the past 4 year and the last two years we have had a word of the year that acts as our theme.   Last year the word of the year was Kindness and this year it is Gratitude.  To start off our meeting this month, I read Look and be Grateful by Tomie dePaola.  It is a very simple book but a nice quick read for younger children.

After the book, I had all of the kids look closely at the board.  It said, “Wall of Gratitude” and I had written each of their names on a star stickie note and placed it on the board.  This meeting had children ages 0-12 and the younger children each lit up when they found their name.  One little boy, wanted to hold onto his name (and the name of his baby sister), he was so excited.  I told them that I was grateful for each and every one of them and that is why their names were on the board.

I gave each family a stack of stickie notes and asked them to brainstorm some things that they were thankful for and place them up on the board.  This activity was so sweet to witness and I loved seeing the board grow and grow with gratitude.  This is such a simple project but makes such a great visual for younger children.

After finishing our projects for the day (we stuffed 144 Easter eggs for foster children and made 24 dignity bags for a women’s homeless shelter), I gathered the children back on the rug.  I had them close their eyes and think about one of the blessings that they put up on the board.  Each one of them shared with such pride and enthusiasm.  I gave each family a package of stickie notes, so that they could create their own wall of gratitude at home.  I encourage you and your family to do the same.

Maybe you place your stickies on a window, the slider, the basement door or on your bedroom doors.  If each person writes one thing they are grateful for each day for a month, think of all of the stickie notes that will have collected. If stickie notes are not your thing, share blessings at dinner or bedtime, start a family gratitude journal or give each child their own journal.  My children get these gratitude journals in their Easter basket each year.  They have space each day for words or pictures (or both) depending on the level of your child.

Daily gratitude is something that EVERYONE should practice as it helps us to be more  mindful.  Focusing on the things you are grateful for, makes it hard to focus on negative feelings.  Help your children to start this daily practice now, so that they will carry it into adulthood.  How do you and your family practice gratitude?

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Click HERE to learn more about Gratitude Stickies

The books in this post contain Amazon Affiliate Links.  If you click on one of the pictures of the books and choose to purchase a book through this site, 20% of all proceeds will be donated to the Kids in Service charity of the season.  This season the charity is Love Does.  You can learn more about Love Does HERE.

Blog, Kindness, Service Projects for Families

“We Were in the Way…”

Books for Earth Day

Yesterday the kids and I volunteered for a two hour shift at the local food bank.  We have volunteered here a few times before on weekends or in the evening and have had great experiences.  I signed up online a few weeks ago for a morning shift and we took a quick break from homeschooling to volunteer. After our time serving, my son summed up our experience when he said,  “Mom, we were in the way.”

When we arrived, one of the staff looked at us with recognition but great surprise.  “You signed up online for today?” she asked.  “Well, we will find something for you to do.”  The food bank was a well-oiled machine with twelve to fifteen adults who all had a purpose.   We were put in charge of sorting toiletries and spent 30 enjoyable minutes with a task that was meant for us (we turned it into a game which made it a lot of fun).

Once our task was complete, we went to find the staff member and ask for our next job.  She asked us to help sort produce and assuming we had done it before, left us with the task.  Thankfully the produce volunteers could smell our newness and guided us through the process.  This job was already well on it’s way to being done, throw in three new people (one of whom is a 9 year old daydreamer), a tight space and you can guess that we were more of a hindrance than a blessing.

We trudged on through our task and stayed until completion.  When the group took their lunch break, we made our exit.  Only an hour of our two was served but I don’t think any of them were sorry to see us go.

Some service experiences leave you feeling so good and others just so-so.  I told the kids that despite this experience, we will try another morning at the food bank.  If we go again, maybe we will start to learn more of the routines and soon add more value to the task.

I also think it is good for people of all ages to come together for one common goal and this food bank provides that.  There were seniors who couldn’t read the labels on the tiny shampoo and conditioner bottles (but we could), my 9 year old that just wanted to trade in the produce job for one sorting sugary pastries and lots of ages in between.  Together we unpacked the truck, organized the food  and completed an important task. I hope they won’t be sorry to see us coming back again.

 

Blog, Gratitude, Kindness

Learning to Let Go

 

For the past 4 years I have run a local kids community service group.  These monthly meetings are a lot of work to prepare for but such a joy to run.  We visit a nursing home every other month and then on the opposite months participate in age appropriate service projects.  I am a former teacher and these monthly meetings with families fill me up and keep me invested in this important work that I am doing.  I love working with children and showing them that they can make a difference in this world no matter how old they are.

Despite the joy that these meetings bring, the day of the event always leaves me nervous and a little discouraged.  The day of our meetings, we always have families drop out last minute due to illness, school projects and other commitments.  I understand that unexpected events come up and people need to cancel (I have had to cancel commitments last minute in the past) but it is hard to watch the names on my list dwindle down each meeting day. It makes me question why I am working so hard and spending so much time preparing for these events?  How do I not disappoint the people we are trying to serve when families continue to cancel last minute?

One day at the nursing home, we only had 5 out of 15 children signed up attend (one was a baby).  That particular day we had more seniors come to the party than we had ever had before.  I struggled to make it seem like we had more children as I spread them out to three different tables.  When I was asked to hold the baby, I paraded him around the room so all of the residents could “ooh” and “ah” at him.  I was so tired and exhausted after that meeting, trying to make sure everyone was having a good time despite our low numbers.

Just last week we had 25 children sign up for our nursing home visit.  This was an all time record number and only 5 people let me know ahead of time that they weren’t going to attend.   The nursing home had forgotten we were coming and so we frantically set up the room to prepare for the largest group ever.  In the end, only 7 of the 20 children attended (2 of them were my own). I was so discouraged and I kept one eye on the door for most of the visit (where was everybody?).  I was so distracted and upset that I almost did not notice the joy right in front of me.

During that visit, one of the residents could sense my distraction and she invited me to sit with her at her table.  She took my hands, looked deep into my eyes and thanked me for always bringing the children.  “You all bring the light each time you come and it is so wonderful to see children who want to spend time with their elders!”  She expressed her gratitude for these visits over the past 4 years and told me just how much she looks forward to them.  “You are doing good work Jessica, you are teaching these kids to be helpers.”

That special lady taught me a very important lesson, a lesson that I should have learned long ago. It does not matter how many children attend our meetings, all that matters is that we SHOW UP to serve.  I need to flip my perspective and focus on the good that we are doing, even if we have small numbers.  I need to let it go and not obsess over who is NOT there but focus on all the good that is right in front of me.

Showing up to serve is the most important part of what I am doing with this group.  Numbers will go up and down but I will continue to put my all into every meeting.  I truly believe that children can start to be helpers from the minute they are put on this earth.  These children are the light and I will continue to help them find places to serve and shine.

 

 

Blog, Kindness

Serving in the Park

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My stomach was in knots as I made the now familiar drive to the park.  The fears shared by family members raced through my head as we got closer and closer.  The arguments that I had shared with them, “No place is safe anymore, people get shot and hurt in schools, churches and malls.”, also went through my mind.  

I took a few deep breaths and thought about the faces of those we would serve today.  I thought of the interactions that my children would have with them and the smiles that my children would bring.  “The kids make me so happy.  They remind me of a time before I screwed up my life.”  This was important work we were a part of.  We were not only passing out lunches but giving out hope, love and kindness to these people who desperately need it.  

As we pulled in, the small crew of volunteers and the regular early birds were already assembled.  The knots started to unloosen as I reminded the kids to stay close and stay aware of their surroundings.  My son is 12, so this is easier for him to do.  My daughter, who is 9, is a bit of a free spirit and a day dreamer.  For her, it is important to keep a close eye on her and give her gentle reminders.  

The leader of our group said a prayer before the lunches were distributed.  He marveled at the beauty of God’s work here in the park every Friday.  It IS something to marvel, the community of love and gratitude is unlike anything I have experienced before.  Whether you are Christian or not, it does not matter.  There is a bigger force than all of us present in the park on Fridays.  The countless volunteers who make the lunches, the volunteers who show up every Friday no matter the weather to distribute them and the people being blessed by this action.  There are smiles, laughter, hugs and so many “Thank You’s”.  

My daughter had brought boxes of candy hearts to pass out with the lunches.  As people moved through the line she handed them a box and wished them a “Happy Valentine’s Day!”  This sweet gesture brought so many smiles and melted so many hearts on a frigid 17 degree day.  “You made my day child, God Bless you.” one woman said.  This is why we come to the park. 

Yes there are people strung out on drugs in the park, yes there are homeless people fighting for their lives in the park but at the end of the day we are all human.  We all need food, water, shelter and someone to care about us.  Fridays in the park provide food, water and a little hope and love.  

I know the next time that I drive to the park with my two children in the back seat, my stomach will once again be in knots.  I know that even if we go 100 times, it will still make me nervous as the fears of all of my family and society creep into my head.  I also know that this experience is good for all three of us. We have learned so much about the homeless epidemic in this country.  My children have seen the shelters first hand and understand that it doesn’t take much to end up this way.  My cousin died of a drug overdose, while homeless in a park, and he came from a family with money and love.  I want my children to see what life was like for him and the countless others who share this struggle.  It is good for us to connect with people, be part of a community and share the blessings we have been given with others.  We will keep showing up to the park, keep showing up to let the people there know that we care.