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How to get involved with kids (or even one kid) in your community
It really only takes one or two adults to change a child’s life. Below are some excellent ideas about ways you can not only cope with recent events, but help to build stronger communities and healthier youth.
Volunteer with Big Brothers Big Sisters: I know how lucky I was to have a couple of decent adults in my world when I was young. It would be impossible to repay those adults who helped me and my siblings (not enough money in the world). But what I have been able to do is pay that kindness forward by volunteering with some mentoring programs. My favorite program is Big Brothers Big Sisters. Not only is this a super fun program to be involved with, but Big Brothers Big Sisters notes, ”81% of former Littles surveyed agree their Big gave them hope & changed their perspective of what they thought possible.” Before you say, “I don’t have the time,” consider that many kids never get a mentor as there are not nearly enough adult volunteers for mentoring programs. My first Big Sisters trainer noted that that girls can be hard to place with a mentor, but little boys are even harder, with some waiting as long as 7 years for a Big Brother mentor. Considering males commit more crimes, this is a significant issue.
Volunteer with another at-risk youth mentoring program: You won’t believe how many of these programs exist and one of them is perfect for you. There are mentoring programs for adults of all ages and both genders. If you need more encouragement to become a mentor, think about Victoria Soto, the first-grade teacher at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, CT who saved so many students. Soto was a Big Sister mentor. Can you think of a better way to honor Soto’s memory than to get involved with an excellent volunteer program?
Learn how to recognize different types of child maltreatment: Then when you see maltreatment of a child, report it correctly. I’d add that reporting child maltreatment is far from enough. As a community, it would be better to get to the source of the problem — helping to build stronger, smarter, less stressed families. Still, it’s better to do something than nothing when you see a child being abused, as stopping abuse may help stop later violence.
Support parents and families who seem to be floundering: Parents who are okay are more likely to result in kids who are okay. There are many parent support programs available, but you can also simply offer help and support to parents such as hanging out with them, offering suggestions and so forth. Sometimes something as simple as helping to relieve a parent’s stress level can make all the difference. If you are a parent, read how to manage parenting better, with less stress.
Volunteer with a local school: Schools have more kids than they can manage, and many kids with problems will get tossed aside. Volunteering with a school lowers the kid to adult ratio, allowing fewer kid problems to slip through the cracks.
Volunteer with homeless teens: Homeless teens are youth who likely didn’t get support as a child, but there’s still amazing potential within these kids. When I worked with homeless teens I met kids facing odds you’d never believe possible, but because some of them received support of people or programs, these kids grew up into kind, caring and productive young adults. If you’re in Portland, Oregon, like me, I highly suggest you check out Yellow Brick Road, but you can look in the yellow pages for homeless youth programs in your own community. Most programs need volunteers and donations all the time.
Extend your extended family: Kids were never meant to be raised by one or two individuals alone. There’s something to the whole, “It takes a village to raise a child” theory. Be more village-like. Invite your neighbors over for dinner. Be a buddy to someone else’s kids.
Connect with other humans: Quit staring at your phone. Instead, look at and acknowledge people in your home, neighborhood and community. I’m guessing it’s easier to commit random crimes when everyone is indeed random, faceless, voiceless and not connected. Our world today doesn’t focus on people but texts on machines, and that’s really too bad because when you connect with humans you feel more human. I turned off my texts via my phone company, which forces me to call or see people instead of texting, and it has been great. Try calling, not texting your friends and family or better yet, go see them if that’s an option.
Start a local parent support group.
Help build safer neighborhoods: Start a neighborhood watch, make sure there are safe places for kids to play outside and support indoor kid community centers as well. Hold an annual block party or an annual 4th of July picnic. These issues may seem outside the bounds of helping one kid, but in reality, kids who have safe places to go are more likely to run into a helpful adult than kids stuck inside.
Most of all…. believe in one kid and make sure they know it: Really remind yourself that kids from even the most extremely horrid homes have the potential to be amazing. Even if they act out. Even if they suck at school and get bad grades. Even if they’re mean or rude or appear to be floundering. There’s no such thing as a lost cause when it comes to a child. It doesn’t matter if you meet that kid though a mentoring program, if they live next door, if they’re a friend of your own child or so on. What you say to a kid, how you act towards them and if you really believe in them can make all the difference.
Not one of the adults who helped my siblings and me were involved in any youth program. These were random adults who just somehow managed to not only believe in us, but took us in, cared for us and made our lives better for absolutely zero gain. There’s random (and not so random) violence in the world and it is beyond tragic, but I also know is that there is random kindness, random caring and random support in the world for some who need it. We all have the potential to be part of the solution. How are you handling current events? Let us know in the comments.