Service: Forced Labor for Personal Growth


As a young boy I hated when my mother would take me to the local “Helping Hands.”  Helping Hands in my town was a lot of things to our small community of about 10,000 people.  It was a meals on wheels, thrift store, food pantry, classes available for free on various subjects, and they always helped those in need during the holiday season.  I had the opportunity to deliver food to the elderly, sort Christmas presents and then distribute them to needy families, and spend hours sorting the donated items in the back room of the thrift store.  But, I hated doing it with my mom.

As an adult now, and 25 years since I last was “volunteered” there, I see the how the experience shaped my life and my thinking.  I still hate volunteering and I get stress thinking about spending my time helping strangers (I’m a natural introvert), but because of those experiences I was exposed to those outside of my bubble of comfortable living.  I saw people on their death beds, a guy working on a greasy motorcycle in his living room of his mobile home with a hole in the floor, and I saw mother’s crying with happiness as we delivered Christmas gifts late on night.  I was able to see the need in my community that I didn’t know existed, and I was able to feel the joy that comes from helping someone out who is truly in need.

My Confession

So as a father of three kids I am a failure in making my kids volunteer to help the needy.  We do micro loans, run in fun runs for causes, and my wife did take the kids on some meals on wheels routes.  But exposing my children to true service I am a failure.  I justify my lack of community service through, I am a teacher, and I am helping change the community everyday through the children I teach to think, and help those less fortunate to think larger then they ever thought possible.  I do that 175 days a year and I have seen many first generation college students, that I help mentor through the process, but I know my children at home don’t see this, and are missing out on the life lessons that forced service has taught me.

Lessons Learned and Benefits of Service

Some lessons your children might learn from service include learning work ethic.  There are lots of service projects that involve hard work.  A little blood, sweat, and tears can definitely change a child for the better, and with their father working along with them you will create a lasting memory with your child, either goo or bad.  You also get the opportunity to learn the pride involved with finishing a tough job.  You are tired, dirty, sore, and you feel great.

You child also gets the opportunity to leave their comfort zone and experience different demographics of people.  They can see how other people live, struggle, and fight to overcome life’s hardships.  This will give your child the opportunity to develop empathy for others.  I have heard that many companies are looking for employees who display empathic traits, because it makes them better team workers, and customer service is better when you can see someone else’s point of view.

Service also allows you to build a resume and connect with others in the community.  I started my first official employment  at age 14, and what did I use as my work experience?  I used my volunteer work from Helping Hands, church projects, and other forced labor I was subjected too.  My beginners resume looked great for a 14 year old because I had lots of varied work experience.  I also worked on those projects with various members of the community, and I was offered other opportunities for profit because they saw my work ethic in action.  It is amazing how many powerful community members volunteer and you get to network with these people.  It’s a great gift for your child, as long as they keep a good attitude for others to see.

And Now the Call for Action

So, if you reap what you sow, then think to yourself…what am I sowing for the reaping?  When was the last time you volunteered, helped another person, taught your children to help others?  Look at yourself in the mirror, and look at your children, and think what do I want my future and my children’s future to look like.  What opportunities do you know about from your community and how can I be apart of it.  I know I have done that lately, and I will have a better year with my children and trying to find more service experiences for them.  I will probably still hate it, but I know what is right and doing the right thing even when I know no one is looking is the right things for my entire family.  So what will you be doing to help your local community this year?

Helping others doesn’t have to feel like prison!  It can be fun.

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