Helping Kids to Give Back: Part 2

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One of my New Years resolutions this year is to help my kids develop a passion for donating, volunteering, and giving back to the community. We have done several donations and volunteering activities over the past few years, and I know, especially with MLK Day just around the corner, many of you are looking for more ways to involve your kids and your whole family in volunteering. In addition to the opportunities I mentioned in my first post on this subject,Helping Kids to Give Back: Part 1, here are a few more organizations you can work with to help your kids see the impact that they, no matter how small they are, can make on the world.

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Jersey Cares

The Jersey Cares Web site declares that it "makes volunteering in New Jersey easy, fun and meaningful." The site lists volunteer opportunities all over New Jersey for almost any age, and in a variety of ways. From the home page, type in your zip code, then press "Advanced Search." From here, you can refine your criteria by checking boxes about your availability, who you want to serve, etc. I wanted to find things my kids could do, so I clicked on "Appropriate for" and then selected the age of volunteers as "Children (Under 13)" to refine my search. The list of local opportunities included visiting Care One facilities (nursing and rehabilitation centers) to do pet therapy with your pets (for ages 4 and up with adult in Morristown facility; for ages 12 and up in Hanover), having a friendly social visit with residents who prefer to stay in their rooms (for ages 5 and up with adult), and playing games with residents (for ages 12 and up). There are also some opportunities with food banks, trail clean-up, and working at a 4-H farm. (Most of these events have minimum age requirements of 10 or 12 years old.) To find out the age requirements, you will need to click on each specific volunteer opportunity. Then you sign up and the full details will be emailed to you.

The Jersey Cares Web site also has information on how to hold a donation drive, such as the "First Night Kit Program" which collects hygiene items (shampoo, toothpaste, new socks and underwear) for people in their "first night" at transitional housing, such as domestic violence shelters, runaway safe havens, and foster homes. They also have annual events like the MLK Day of Service and September 11th Week of Service and Remembrance.

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Bridges

Bridges, which is based in Summit, NJ, reaches out to the homeless in New York City, Newark, Irvington, and Summit, every week. Over 2,000 volunteers each year help deliver 65,000 meals, seasonal clothing, and necessities without question and with genuine respect. While volunteers who go on runs to deliver meals directly to the homeless need to be at least high school age, younger kids can get involved by packing lunches and collecting needed items, such as toiletries. If your family, neighbors, or organization would like to pack lunches, you can do so in your own home or site, then deliver them to Bridges at the specified times. The site describes both the fresh brown bag lunches (which include a sandwich, packed separately), which are delivered to the homeless on Saturdays and Sundays, and the sustainable lunches which have a longer shelf life and can be used to supplement the fresh lunches. Click here for lunch requirements.

The Summit Area YMCA is organizing brown bag decorating (younger kids) and lunch packing (older kids) for Bridges during Summit's MLK Day of Service on Monday, January 16, 2017. Click here for details.

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Family Promise

Family Promise of Morris County's mission is "ending homelessness one family at a time." They are a non-sectarian, not-for-profit organization that partners with other public and private agencies, religious congregations and community volunteers to provide shelter, case management and mentoring services leading to self-sufficiency. There are more than 75 congregations of different faiths that provide shelter, staffing, breakfast, lunch, and dinner to Family Promise families. If you belong to a congregation, see if they are involved, either as a Host (turning their place of worship into a comfortable home for families for a week or more each year) or as a Support congregation (providing support to Host congregations with staffing and meals) by clicking here. Two Madison Host congregations are First Baptist Church and St. Vincent Martyr Church. I know my temple, Temple B'Nai Or in Morristown, is a Support congregation.

When I spoke with Dominique Tornabe,  Director of Development & Community Relations at Family Promise of Morris County, she said that one way kids can be involved in helping out is by coming to the congregations when they are hosting to play with the kids. It is a way to engage the families in need, and bring them a level of community, comfort and friendship. Other ways are to help at the Day Center (where families go during the day to shower, do laundry, meet with case workers, and use phones and computers) by decorating for holidays or birthdays, and beautifying the garden. Families can also sponsor a child's birthday, raise money to help kids attend summer camp, and hold donation drives for needed items from their wish list, which includes household items and also services, such as car repair, tutoring, and dental care.

To demonstrate the impact kids can make with Family Promise, and the impact working with Family Promise can have on your own kids, Tornabe told me a story. A father told his daughter that they were going to go play with some homeless kids to help them have some fun. He took her to their congregation when they were hosting families, and the girl played with the kids for a few hours, playing board games and sports. When they got back in the car to go home, the daughter asked her dad, "So, when are we going to go play with the homeless kids?" In her mind, she had a fun evening with some new friends, and there was no way these kids, who were so like her, could be homeless. The night of fun and games brought friendship, community, and comfort to the kids staying at the congregation, but also really helped to put a personal face on what it means to be homeless.