Monday, October 17, 2005

The Babies are the Greatest

Originally uploaded by ALifeAllah.
I came across this article and wanted to give the babies some shine. News tends to focus on the 'negative' when these babies are doing it.

THe root site of this article is here:

Volunteer spirit catches on with kids

Whether they're warming feet or hearts, these youngsters prove it's never too early to give back

Senior Writer

It all comes down to a pair of socks.

Or many pairs, really, and lessons learned that change young lives forever.

Reta Ray, activities director at Cornelia House, a nursing and rehabilitation center in east Nashville, remembers the day the kids came calling.

Her facility's residents often are recipients of the volunteer spirit, fueled in youngsters by their parents or by organized efforts through churches, schools or groups such as Hands On Nashville's Kids Care Club.

These simple acts of kindness by kids can have a domino effect, says this caregiver.

So, what about the socks? As the holidays neared last winter, the Bailey Middle School student council, the guts of Nashville's first Kids Care Club, contacted the nursing home. They wanted to help, to do something to lift spirits, to make a difference.

The youngsters wanted to bring socks to warm the feet and souls of the facility's residents.

"In nursing homes, just like at your home, there is a little fairy or demon who eats socks," says Ray, who readily agreed to let the kids bring socks to Cornelia House.

Alberta Battle, Bailey's student council adviser, helped in the effort, but she gives all the credit to the youngsters, who are in grades 5-8.

"The kids came up with the idea for the socks," says Battle, adding that volunteering is one of the group's goals. "Our monies were limited, but socks were something we could give where everybody could benefit."

The sock drive that followed, and the impact it had on the children and the nursing home residents, shows how the Kids Care Club encourages youngsters to give back.

It typifies the goal of the Hands On Nashville program targeted specifically to children.

"We give children who often are recipients of service the opportunity to give back," says executive director Jennifer Cole.

Creating a legacy

Mentoring kids, teaching them the value of seeing outside themselves, can be passed from one generation to the next in families and churches or through programs such as Kids Care.

"We know that kids who volunteer are twice as likely to volunteer when they become adults," Cole says. Kids Care graduates can continue in the teenage Volunteer Corps. And beyond that, Hands On Nashville is one of many places to find out how to help.

Hands On Nashville taps into existing groups when establishing Kids Care franchises. "We ask, 'Do you have a group of children who are organized in some way and who want to be involved in volunteering?'" Cole explains.

Through curriculum and advice, the groups are encouraged to come up with their own projects, personally investing themselves into the effort. "We help them coordinate it. We help them talk through that."

The Bailey kids, for example, wanted to talk about socks for the elderly. "They decided one thing a senior needed was socks, so they did a sock drive" for Cornelia House.

"It's only about three blocks from the school, so they walked over and gave over a hundred pairs of socks to the senior citizens."

It is volunteering at its most basic; helping in your own neighborhood and benefiting yourself as well as the larger world.

And it is hardly a waste of time or effort. "Old people's feet get cold," Ray says. "These kids did awesome. We had socks for months."

Bailey's Battle says it is critical for her charges to take such steps toward making differences near their homes. "A lot of the students here come from inner-city areas. They have a stigma of 'everybody always giving to them.' We have a responsibility to give back to the community.

"It is self-rewarding. It gives them a positive image about themselves."

The students also do such things as create personalized greeting cards for Cornelia's residents. "I tell them, 'You'll never be forgotten,'" Battle says.

And there was instant recognition in the eyes of the children and the residents that they had indeed made a difference. Battle says, "Just to see the joyful tears from some of those people that no one visits . . ."

The domino effect of volunteering begins with such encounters.

Ray remembers a boy named Sean who "adopted" a grandparent at the nursing home. "I don't know what school he came from. . . . They came and I gave them the first names of people that had nobody and got no mail."

While some of the kids have found other interests, Sean, who is maybe 7, "sends this woman a card every two weeks. It basically says, 'Hi, remember me? I'm Sean.'

"For a long time, she remembered. Then, of course, her memory goes. But I'll read the card to her and she smiles. She just holds it.

"When he gets a little older, he may come back for someone else. And when he gets older, maybe he will have children of his own he'll bring to a nursing home and have them do it."

The final domino will fall when Sean himself is older and needs a bit of cheer, a card or some socks. Perhaps it will be one of his own grandchildren who learns from his example. Or maybe kids from a local school will bring him socks.

"Often with that age group, they are told when to go to the bathroom, when to eat lunch, when to do their homework. They get told a lot," Cole says. "Volunteering helps teach them they have control over their own actions and their actions can be good actions."

Getting an early start

Before Kids Care began enlisting kids 5-12 years old in the past year, Hands On was involved primarily in the teenage program and adult volunteer opportunities.

It was a sort of passing the baton from the parent to child that spurred the volunteer coordinating group to begin working with the younger kids.

"We started getting an awful lot of calls from adults who wanted to do things with their kids. They would call a nonprofit and find out that most of them wouldn't use kids under 14.

"We realized there was a kind of barrier in the community to having children volunteer. We had to break down the barrier. We find that 40%-45% of the calls we get are from children or people who want to help children."

Of course, the necessary precautions must be taken to protect the children, including background checks of people who might be working with them in the volunteer efforts.

Cole says volunteering "pushes kids to see outside themselves, to learn about people who are different than them. It reminds them, even in a society where they feel they are dictated to all the time, they can give back."

And then there's that old domino effect.

"For every kid we're going to work with, I can pretty much guarantee there's going to be an adult we're going to be working with in 10 years. We are priming the pump for the next generation."

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