vintage brownie patches

By Amy Hackworth. Vintage Brownie patches here.

It’s the beginning of June, and I’m planning plenty of fun for our boys and some great family get-aways during summer break. But, inspired by my friend Cristin, I’m also scheduling some time where we reach out to others and devote some of those lazy summer hours to service.

Last week my friend Cristin’s family kicked off their third annual “Summer of Service,” as a way to help her children understand the good they can do for others as volunteers. I’m amazed at all they accomplish in the ten weeks of summer, and inspired by what she’s teaching her family.

In the spring of 2011 Cristin and two friends were discussing ways to turn the tide of entitlement that seemed to be creeping up on their children’s attitudes. As they talked about helping their children develop empathy and understand their own daily luxuries, the idea for a “Summer of Service” was born.

On Memorial Day the three families, with 14 children among them, gather to honor the people who’ve gone before them — hard-working ancestors and devoted soldiers who’ve served their family and their country — and to plan their own weekly contributions to the world. Their goal is to fit service into plenty of summer fun, and to teach their children that just a few hours a week can make a real difference.

I love how Cristin illustrates the goals of their service with a target. She teaches her family to serve first in the center of the target — their home—and then move outward toward their neighborhood, community, state, country and world.

Throughout the summer, they do just that, exposing their kids to all types of opportunities ranging from reading to senior citizens to serving food and playing concerts at the local food coalition. They’ve helped a family in their neighborhood move, cleaned up a local park, gathered school supplies for an inner city church in another state, and collected art supplies for a humanitarian trip to Mexico. They’ve run a charity 5k and sold cookies to their neighbors to raise money for Eliza’s Library, a charity that creates children’s libraries in pediatric offices to honor a sweet little girl with a terminal illness.

“We’re trying to teach our kids where real happiness comes from,” Cristin says, “that it’s about loving and serving people, and not about what you accumulate.”

Are you as inspired as I am? Ready to embark on your own Summer of Service? A few things have made Cristin and her friends so successful:

– Put it on the calendar. The families gather on the same night each week to begin their projects, and I think this is key. With all my good intentions, I know summer service will pass us by if we don’t schedule it. (Cristin creates a special calendar just for service to help document all they accomplish during the summer.)

– Join forces with other families. I’m looking forward to harnessing the power of numbers, moral support and accountability by connecting with friends for good causes.

– Plan a variety of service, involve kids in the decision making process and include fun rewards and treats after a hard day’s work.

– Find opportunities that fit your family and start with manageable projects.

– More great tips here.

Are you noticing a sense of entitlement in your own kids? Have you seen volunteer work change your children? What are your favorite ways to volunteer with your family?

P.S. — There are a million ways to serve! Here’s a great list for community service ideas for kids. Donate a stuffed animal or run a lemonade stand for cancer or raise money to donate to Oklahoma relief or donate food while you play a vocabulary game! Visit this great Pinterest board for more ideas. Read up on the benefits of volunteering under age 14. Remember this sweet little girl who repairs stuffed animals for free? Talk about service!