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Jan 19 parenting - social responsibility

January 18, 2001

Social responsibility should be taught

Teaching your child | By Lisa Tedrick Prejean


One of my fellow editors mentioned that when family visited over the holidays, they took a day trip to Baltimore.

His 8-year-old niece was disturbed when she saw a homeless man in a wheelchair with a sign saying he is a Vietnam veteran. She thought they ought to stop and put money in his cup.

They didn't, but the experience prompted a family discussion. My co-worker later suggested that it might be an interesting topic to explore.

What should parents teach their children about social responsibility.

"People are in these circumstances for all different reasons," says Terri Baker, executive director of REACH Inc., Religious Effort to Assist and Care for the Homeless. The local nonprofit organization ministers to people through its crisis intervention program, Cold Weather Shelter and Interfaith Volunteer Caregivers.

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Children need to understand that some people aren't blessed with all they have, Baker says. She's told her 8-year-old son, Andrew, that while it's easy to make judgments about people, we don't know what other people have been through. Perhaps they have health problems, didn't have parents or struggled with other major obstacles.

Volunteering helps children look beyond themselves, focus on other people and learn that building relationships is more important than earning money and gaining possessions.

It teaches children kindness, respect and that we are more alike than we are different, Baker says.

"You can make your life more fulfilling," she says.

Many people are attracted to helping the homeless, but another concern Baker deals with is isolation, particularly among the local elderly population.

Visits, phone calls and deliveries of grocery and hygiene products can make a tremendous difference in these people's lives, Baker says.

"There's nothing better than children and puppies," to perk up an isolated person, Baker says.

Some local mothers have their children draw pictures for clients' refrigerators and deliver them along with other supplies, Baker says.

She's found that children want to help others if they are taught there is a need and that it is the right thing to do.

She says it's difficult to motivate older children if they haven't been involved in volunteering, unless they're reminded of the need to complete community service requirements for graduation.

The lesson is to start while children are young.

REACH volunteers make welcome packets for guests of the Cold Weather Shelter, take clients to doctor appointments, deliver groceries and perform other duties.

Baker says families sometimes work together on the tasks.

Here are some thoughts from Baker:

HEIGHT="6" ALT="* "> If you volunteer on a project with your children, they will get to know you in a different way.

HEIGHT="6" ALT="* "> See what your children's interests are so you're not forcing them to do something they don't want to do.

HEIGHT="6" ALT="* "> Think you don't have time to volunteer? You can pick a program that fits your schedule. Baker says she works with volunteers who give 10 hours a week and others who give 10 hours a year. Any amount of time can make a difference.

HEIGHT="6" ALT="* "> Looking for a local opportunity? Go to volunteermatch.org on the Web. A search for the Hagerstown ZIP code 21740 brought up more than 200 possibilities within 60 miles. You can also contact the United Way of Washington County at 301-739-8200.

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