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Service Projects with Kids: Is it worth it?

(Go check out the sculpture “Service” by Bruno Lucchesi.  Beautiful, isn’t it?  The visualization of someone being helped from below and from above . . . showing just how much it is needed, how integral each one of us can be in helping someone experience success even if we don’t realize it.)

Is completing service projects with kids worth the time and effort?

It is time again for reflection.  We have been completing a “Penny of Time” Adventure every day for two months now.  Have we achieved what we wanted to?  Where are we in the process of continuing to do it?  Was it worth the effort?  Am I crazy?
Here is what I think:

It is easy. It is hard.  It is worth it. 
(Or is it?) 
It is.

It is easy because . . .
It is easy; it truly is a small portion of the day.  I spent a bit of time “looking and listening” for ideas and then we just do it.  20 minutes or 30 minutes?  Sure!  On a tough day, sometimes it is only 10 minutes.
It is easy because many ideas use readily available resources, like stamps . . . paper . . . and markers.

It is easy because it is a choice to do this every day.  I think it would be harder if someone was forcing us to do it.  We choose to do it because we believe we gain joy from doing these small acts of service.  We choose to do it because we need our boys to be raised in a way that teaches them to value each person they meet.  We choose to do it because we need our boys to be raised in a way that teaches them to be grateful for the blessings that they have and to share their blessings and talents with others.It is easy because I enjoy talking about service with others.  Each person we talk with adds to our experience.  From sharing with us a need we could fill, to sharing with us a show that we might like (Secret Millionaire), to just expressing a ‘thank you’—those moments are ones where you think,”This is the right thing to do.”

It is hard.

It is hard because . . . well, let’s see.  It takes energy, for one.  I’m not an extrovert.  It takes a strong degree of energy and motivation to reach out, particularly in new situations.  Most of our “Pennies of Time” Adventures have been new situations.  It takes a fair amount of my own introvert energy to get that done.It is hard because I do not like doing logistical work; it is not a natural talent I possess.  Putting effort and steam into the logistics of the service party was more complex than the typical party because we went to so many places and met so many people and put so much logistical thought behind it.  I think it took a greater degree of effort from us because, really, no one had ever heard of doing a ‘service’ party.  It will not be as difficult next time, thankfully.  (I kind of felt like I was in “Community Involvement Boot Camp 101” for my area.)  And, it *is* all coming together.

It is hard because, after I try and provide a variety of “Penny of Time” Adventures, I sit down and write many of them up.  That act of reflection, like this one, takes energy and time.
It is hard because we often don’t see the positive result of our service.  Much of our service is done quietly.  And, sometimes, doubt creeps into my thoughts.  Did I make it harder for my neighbor when we brought up the garbage cans, or easier for her?  In fact, last week, we left balloons anonymously . . . and then I felt bad because gusting winds caught the balloons, pulled them from the door, and now they reside in the tree, cheerfully jaunting at me each time I drive by . . . “you can’t catch me, no, you can’t catch me.”  (We did do another balloon drop to the same house, and my oldest tried to apologize for the inadvertent littering.)
It is worth it.  (Or Is It?)
Since immersing ourselves in this work, the boys don’t ever watch TV.   My husband and I may catch a show in the evening, but we don’t sit as a family to watch anything. Just seems like a waste of time when we could be working on our “Penny of Time” Adventure.

In my own studies of “selfless service,” I am making more interesting connections about service, and the concept of service has become a topic with more depth and meaning.  I have found it an inspiring way to further study my own faith and the knowledge about service from other faiths.Just because we are helping others and have increased our levels of sacrifice and dedication, it does NOT mean that we won’t get sick, emergencies won’t happen, finances won’t be tight, the cars won’t break down, all drivers on the road will be nicer, or that life will be easier.  In fact, I feel like I am working the hardest I have ever worked in my life (including grueling graduate school).  Why?

Well, doing “Pennies of Time” Adventures (those serving moments with my children) somehow drives me to serve in more ways than just those moments with my children.  More “Pennies of Time” Adventures builds towards a higher level of recognition in seeing ways to serve using my own talents.  It is like a spiraling cycle.

Like when you are in the “car buying” mode and you want to buy a Corvette.  You go about your day and start recognizing ALL the Corvettes that are out there, in your neighborhood . . . on the freeway . . . and in the parking lot.

I am personally serving in more ways than I have ever served, and most of that work isn’t with my children.  I see more need and see ways to fill those needs as I have been working hard to serve alongside my kids.  Adding an elevated level of service to your life everyday does not make life easier.  At least it has not for us.  At the same time, our family is more appreciative of our blessings and each other.  That result is worth the work.

We are finding it easier to make some decisions with our added perspective that comes with serving others.  Now, don’t get me wrong . . . the toilet still is dripping, my youngest’s dental work will cost an obscene about of money–right before Christmas, the stovetop still has that crack on the side, and we recently had to buy new tires.  Real life sits with us just as it ever did.  The difference is that we are putting a greater level of emphasis on the things that are, as we see it, requiring the greater level of attention.  (that most likely made no sense to you.  that’s okay.  I got it.)

As I reflected, recently, on the past two months, I realized the hardest moments of serving came when I allowed doubt to settle into my thoughts.  This doubt leads to an overcritical eye on myself which leads to HESITATION.  Hesitation is like the kiss of death for my serving mojo.

Will doing that really help her? 

Is it really helpful that I write this up? 

Why did I take on making dinner for so many people tonight?  What if they don’t like it?

Wouldn’t I rather be snuggling up with a book?

In the past several weeks, the hardest moments in serving were when I didn’t make the time to stop, breathe, and then go do a “Penny of Time” Adventure.  This next month, I’ll breathe more and doubt less and keep the serving mojo humming.

The motivation for doing more comes from the growth that I see in my children (with the glimmers of positive effects that we see in others).  The motivation from doing more is the growth that I see in myself and in our family in loving others.

What CAN little kids do to help others?  More than anyone really knows.

It is.