Doing service with children: Working to inspire hearts for others

Most days we’re just trying to get out the door without forgetting a backpack. But in the midst of the mostly fun chaos of our lives, my husband and I are trying to raise children with loving hearts. We talk to them about people who are in need, locally and around the world. But finding age-appropriate service opportunities for young children can be challenging.
And, even though we haven’t done much to introduce our children to the Year of Mercy, it would be wonderful if we could perform a few works of mercy with them this year.
So I was excited when I learned that Catholic Charities would be offering a service opportunity specifically geared toward young children on Jan. 16. We signed up to make casseroles for My Sister’s Place.
I knew our sons would have questions, but I wasn’t anticipating the first one: “What’s a casserole?” That was an easy one.
Once we arrived, we learned we would be making macaroni and cheese—a casserole we all know well. The children colored place mats…
…listened to a beautiful version of Stone Soup

…learned a little more about the people who would eat our food, and talked about sharing what we have. Then we started to cook.

We all wore gloves, which is as exciting as it sounds. We got to count and do math and measure and pour and stir.
Somehow most of the food stayed off the floor and in the bowls and pans. Including the children in the cooking was harder than cooking without them, of course. But it was also important. After all, we want them to grow up to do the same for others.

Eventually our children lost interest and started playing tag, but later at home they were still talking about the food we had made. That night during dinner, we discussed how women and children at another dinner table might be eating the macaroni and cheese we had made.
“What would we do if a man who was hungry came to the door?” our younger son asked. “We would have to let him in.”
Wow. Great question. We talked about what we would do if that happened, some of the ways we could help, and whether we would be able to welcome a stranger into our home. Naturally, I think I’m teaching my children, but they are the ones who are challenging me to do more and to be more compassionate.

The next day I hosted a prayer gathering for an expectant mother and her baby girl. We said the Joyful Mysteries of the Rosary, borrowing these beautiful prayers from Revolution of Love. During the final meditation, we prayed that the baby’s parents “may be strengthened in their love for you and each other, so that together they may raise a holy family seeking to live each day with heroic charity.”
“Heroic charity?” I thought. Most days I am just trying to make sure everyone is fed and clean and dressed and not getting too much screen time or jumping into too many wrestling matches on the living room floor.
But of course that’s the goal. Maybe, just maybe, we are planting a seed for our children and—let’s be honest—reminding ourselves of the importance of giving, too.
You can learn more about service opportunities that might work well for your family—or your colleagues or friends or others—on this page on the Catholic Charities site. And, if you know of a great service opportunity for children, please leave a comment here or on my Facebook page.

Catholic Review

Catholic Review

The Catholic Review is the official publication of the Archdiocese of Baltimore.