"Everybody can be great…because anybody can serve. You don’t have to have a college degree to serve. You don’t have to make your subject and verb agree to serve. You only need a heart full of grace. A soul generated by love." - Martin Luther King, Jr.
I want to have a soul generated by love. I want to give thanks for my beautiful life by serving others. I do. But there’s a reason you only see elderly people staffing the volunteer desk at the hospital; working parents are hard pressed to find the time for such generous acts of service. And yet, parents who find a way to volunteer have the potential to make the greatest impact with their contributions.
The very thing that makes it so dang difficult to volunteer is what makes it so crucial that we find a way: our children. Our children, who require our time and energy and money, are always watching. They are learning what kind of adults to be. They are learning from us what matters; this is our chance to teach them the value of reaching out and helping others. Sure, we can read them stories and tell them how important it is to give back, but we all know that they mimic what we do more than they listen to what we say.
But how? How do we find the space in our schedule and the juice at the end of a busy day to do more than keep our own families moving in the right direction? It’s not easy.
You can’t just walk into a soup kitchen on a Saturday afternoon and offer to ladle dinner to the needy. Volunteering today requires almost as much research, planning, and paperwork as getting into college. Background checks are standard, whether you’re looking to read to your child’s second-grade class or serve Christmas dinner at the local homeless shelter. Some sort of training is almost always necessary. Giving back demands an investment of yourself, and working parents rarely feel like they have much left of themselves to offer.
It helps to start small. Choose one cause or organization to focus on, and try not to be overwhelmed by all of the other things in the world that beg for attention. Remind yourself that none of us can do it all, but that each of us doing something can make a difference.
Begin where you are. For me - and for many parents - that means starting with my kids’ school. My attention is already focused on homework, lunch money, and remembering the names of administrators at school. It’s a natural extension to respond to the calls for money or time that come to my house inside folders and backpacks. I can fill out one clearance form and - just as soon as I’ve been deemed safe and relatively stable - volunteer in numerous ways for several years. You might find opportunities to serve at your work, church, or favorite family hangout.
Soar with your strengths. There’s nothing wrong with writing a check to support causes for which you have no time. It’s also just as commendable to spend a weekend baking pies to be sold or mentoring kids who are interested in your line of work. Learning a new skill, while a rewarding and worthy pursuit, eats up more of your already stretched resources. Stick with what you can do effortlessly and find a way to let others benefit from that talent.
With everything on your plate, you might feel like you don’t have much to give. You have enough to make a difference. You are enough to change the world.