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How can your family give back to the community—and the environment?

Earth Day is right around the corner – April 22. What can you do for your environment?

Natalie Silverstein has some ideas. Silverstein is the volunteer coordinator of Doing Good Together in New York City. She is a frequent consultant and presenter to parents, faculty, students, and community groups on the topic of family service, and is a contributor to parenting blogs GrownAndFlown and MommyPoppins. She holds a Master's degree in Public Health from Yale University and recently published “Simple Acts: The Busy Family’s Guide to Giving Back.”

Silverstein and her family regularly make time to volunteer in their community. In her book, she offers hundreds of practical ideas − from visiting the elderly to helping clean the playground on Earth Day − for incorporating service and the spirit of giving into your family life.

“My mentor, Jenny Friedman, the founder of Doing Good Together, has said, ‘We don’t wait to start reading to our kids – we want reading to be a habit. Giving back is very much the same way.’ This is so true. We start so many good habits with our kids when they are very small because we want these habits to become second nature,” Silverstein said. “Creating a love of service and a comfort level with hands-on volunteering requires early and frequent exposure. Just like developing a skill in athletics, or the ability to play a musical instrument, kids become comfortable and grow an appreciation for an activity if they practice. Parents should view volunteering in the same way.  

“Each time you engage in family service together, especially if you let your growing children identify social justice issues that they care about, you are allowing them to flex their empathy muscles, and it is very empowering for kids to realize that they can make a difference.”

Silverstein said there are some simple acts that even the most hectic of parents can manage:

Create a cloth “giving bag” to take to the grocery store. While grocery shopping, have your child pick out non-perishable food items and donate them to the local food pantry on the way home.

Plant a tree or flowers in your backyard or sign up for a local park clean-up to encourage  environmentalism and community beautification.

Leave a stack of colored paper and markers at the dinner table for kids to create cards for active duty military, isolated seniors, or hospitalized children.

Use recyclable plastic bottles and scraps of fleece to make dog toys and bring them to a local animal shelter to donate or play with.

Project Backpack: While shopping for back-to-school supplies, encourage kids to pick out a few extra items to donate to children who don’t have the resources for the learning tools they need.

Other tips can be found in her book. “I hope the book will inspire families to think about volunteerism differently, and to notice the many ways you can incorporate service into things you are already doing as you move through your day-to-day life.  It may seem daunting – just another thing on the to-do list – but it doesn’t have to be,” Silverstein said. “If parents set a positive intention, keep an open mind (and heart) and recognize that engaging in acts of kindness is a worthwhile use of your time – certainly as important as many of the other priorities that fill our calendars. It’s a great way to set aside devices and spend quality time together with our kids, connecting around things the matter and living our values.”

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Tags: Enrichment, Green, Health, Parenting

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