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Volunteering in Schools Brings Heartwarming Rewards

If you take the time to touch the lives of children, they'll touch your life right back.

Did you ever stop and think about the impact you can have on a child’s life? You really can make a lasting impression on children, even if you are not a parent. I mean, even as you simply go through your day, you can influence a child just in passing, because they are so impressionable, by doing the smallest act of kindness. 

Sharing a smile. Helping them take that scary step by holding their hand getting onto an escalator. Asking at your local library if they need anyone to read a story to kids for a story time. Or, even taking that long lunch and driving to your child’s school and showing them you can get just as messy as they do baking bread or painting an Earth Day T-shirt.

When my daughter started Kindergarten, I could not wait to get involved at her school. I think I volunteered for every class project, field trip, art activity and then some, when the occasion arose for parents to come in for an hour and spend some time with the children. I bet her teacher was tired of seeing my name on the signup sheets! 

My daughter has been fortunate two years in a row now to be a part of classes that have many parents who feel as I do and devote their time to class activities when opportunities arise.  So many parents volunteer to participate in activities like spaghetti day, or reading stories, or perhaps teaching an art class and leading a painting project, that sometimes I’ve gotten “We’re sorry, we have enough volunteers for this special day. Maybe you can come in next time,” notes sent home to me. 

I can’t even begin to explain to you the rewards of volunteering your time with kids.  Children, especially at young ages, look up to adults so much. Every single one of us is someone they look up to. Why? Because they know that someday, they will be grown-ups just like us. We are their role models. All of us.

In schools, during these short windows of time, every parent, aunt, uncle, or relative who carves out a portion of their busy days to spend it with a child makes such a lasting impression and significant impact on them.  And the kids are so appreciative of it. When I leave an event I volunteered for, I feel young, exhilarated, and reminded of what it’s like to be a child again-seeing the world through their eyes, where everything is new and wonderful for the first time.

“it was so fun I hope you come back soon.” 

Recently, I volunteered to teach a Fun in Art class to first graders. I didn’t have to do it. I wanted to do it. In this particular situation, I had volunteered to teach the children about a painter, show his work to them, and expand it into an interactive lesson in painting with watercolors. It was an activity I led, with teachers’ permission, and it wasn’t even for my daughter’s class. 

See, some classes, maybe because the parents are too busy, or are too afraid to lead an activity, or because they have other obligations to attend to, don’t have enough or any volunteers for leading supplemental creative lessons. This was a situation where I was fortunate enough to have the time to give these children an opportunity to participate in a learning experience, just because I felt they should have the same chance to enjoy Fun in Art as the other children in their grade. 

I don’t get paid to do it. I have to use my own time to research an artist, or plan a lesson. If there’s anything “extra” that I’d like to include in the lesson to make the activity a little more interesting, like show the students a book from the library, or provide photos of scenery related to the lesson, that’s my responsibility. I’m not reimbursed. I do it because I love it; not because of what I get back in terms of dollars and cents. I’m compensated for my time in ways you can’t measure, as you can see in the words of the children which I have interspersed through this article, and in my photos.

“you are very kind. You have enspirered my heart!”

This was a quick art lesson I had presented, and the students enjoyed painting imaginative cityscapes using water colors. They were so proud of their pictures.  Every time I told a student that I loved their painting, or how creative they were, their faces lit up. They loved the acknowledgment. They felt pride in what they were accomplishing. All they wanted was a little attention and a sincere compliment. 

Apparently my lesson went over really big, because upon leaving the classroom many of the children ran up to me and gave me big hugs. Now where else can you get that kind of appreciation?

“I like you!”

To my surprise, the next day my daughter returned home with a large envelope filled with heartwarming thank you notes from every student for me. The carefully handwritten messages, spelled to their best abilities were a lot more than the words “Thank you.” I was so touched by the sentiments inside the carefully folded construction paper cards that I thought I’d share some of the ones that got me choked up the most.

“Thank you for making us open our imagination.”

Knowing that I affected the lives of these little children in a positive way makes me feel so good. Yes, it was just for a moment in time. But whether it’s for a minute, or a year, I can feel good knowing that they enjoyed my presence and I made a difference. The warmth they conveyed showing their appreciation and excitement to me for visiting is the best compliment ever.  It makes taking that time out of my day so worthwhile. I’d do it all over again in a heartbeat.

“Thank’s for evrey-thing. I had so much fun.”

I’ve volunteered for my daughter’s class activities, and for other classes that did not have enough relatives who could carve out time in their days to participate in these special times. I’m fortunate enough where I have the ability to extend myself in this way. Not everyone does. 

“You are rilly nice."

Unfortunately, the children whose parents can not ever come into school for anything are starving for attention many times. I see that because they are the ones who have so many stories to tell me about the characters in their pictures. They are the ones that come up to me and give me an extra hug before I leave. And they are the same ones that write “I hope you can come back again,” in the special thank yous they send to me after the day is done, and I remember them by name, because my visit seemed to make them smile just a bit more than the average child.

I’m a parent. I work. I have responsibilities and days where I don’t sit down. We all have the pressures of life coming at us from all angles. Each of our situations is different. What I am trying to say, though, is we all have the ability to make choices. 

Many of us would take a longer lunch to see a doctor, or we would request time off from work to attend a family function or go on vacation. To me, taking time off from our daily lives in a selfless way, which costs us nothing but time, to capture a moment you can never get back in your child’s life should be considered to be just as important as that business meeting, or running that last minute errand. 

Just consider it. I’m not saying you have to do it. I’m not saying that you can do it.  Just consider it. And consider the impact you will have on your own life and the life of a child, yours, or someone else’s. You only get to be a parent once. You only get to live this life one time.  And we all have choices to make; and I find that the ones I make for the benefit of others, are the most rewarding to me.

“You are very enspiring and gnres.  Thank you for all the things you did for us.  Your friend,”

Yes, I did make some new friends that day at the school; and I saw some old ones, too.  They may be children, but they are my friends. Thank you, friends, for allowing me to spend some time with you. I enjoyed it, too. 

Thank you to all of the wonderful first graders and their teachers at Triangle School for giving me the opportunity to spend some time with you and share my love of creativity and fun. You have “enspirered” my heart, too.   

This post is contributed by a community member. The views expressed in this blog are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Patch Media Corporation. Everyone is welcome to submit a post to Patch. If you'd like to post a blog, go here to get started.

Sly March 26, 2012 at 05:47 PM
Aww...Very sweet, Laura. Tears in my eyes :) Time goes by so fast, it is absolutely imperative that parents spend some time in the classroom with their little ones. Take that personal day or MENTAL health day and make that lasting impression. They are only LITTLE once!
Laura Madsen March 26, 2012 at 05:53 PM
After I wrote this blog and re-read it, and looked at the photos, I had tears running down my face. I'm so touched by the gratitude and sharing of sentiment that these children expressed.

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