During the summer, schedules and routines vary week to week or even day to day, leaving parents feeling mentally overloaded and sprinkled with a constant fear of leaving a child somewhere. I would encourage every parent to take a deep breath, pause, and refocus on what is important in life. After weeks of our whole family feeling out of sorts, I was inspired to be present in the moment and do something to teach my children how to be kind and connect with others in our community. Sometimes we as a family can’t tackle the issues around homelessness, but maybe we can bring a smile or comfort or acknowledgement to another human being.
We started with a simple discussion about how we should make “Blessing Bags,” or care kits for the homeless, which we as a family could hand out. I asked my children, “What items do you think someone who is homeless might need?” I was surprised and encouraged to hear my children’s thoughtful responses. My son Billy, who is 7, suggested ponchos because of all the unprecedented rain we have been having in Denver this summer so homeless individuals could stay dry. My daughter Courtney, who is 9, suggested we buy sunscreen since typically it is very sunny in Colorado.
My kids colored bags and cards signed with all our first names. We decided to take a trip to the local Dollar Tree for supplies. We packed eight bags with a pair of socks, sunscreen, ponchos, toothbrush/toothpaste, various snacks, a bottle of water, and a handmade card. We loaded up into the car and started to drive to search for individuals in need of our bags. My kids asked how we would know who to hand out our bags to. My husband, Steve, suggested we approach individuals who are holding up signs asking for help.
We pulled over our car and stopped at a gas station to hand out some bags to a man and woman. My daughter and I got out to hand them two bags. The lady was incredibly grateful and was very excited about the water because she had a 2-year-old asleep in a grocery cart covered by an umbrella. We didn’t see the child, but both my daughter and I were surprised and saddened. We gave them extra bottles of water because that is what we could do in the moment.
We went downtown to Civic Center Park and were able to hand out the rest of our remaining bags. My son got a fist bump thank you from one elderly homeless man with cataracts and the biggest toothless smile of gratitude. My daughter walked away saying we needed to bring more bags next time. I agreed.
As a family, we are committed to spreading kindness and making an impact in our community one small act at a time. One year, for my daughters’ birthday party she chose to help a local animal shelter. My daughter asked her friends to bring dog and cat toys in lieu of gifts. We personally delivered the toys to the shelter and then toured the facility to see all the animals. She paid it forward to bring joy and care to animals instead of escalating the stuffed animal explosion in her room.
Over the holidays, our family “adopts” a family. We select a family with similar aged children to ours and who want us to personally deliver the gifts. We shop for gifts for each family member including toys, clothes, and stocking stuffers. We wrap the gifts with both store-bought and personally decorated wrapping paper. We talk about how, in our family, we can purchase all our basic needs like clothes, and food as well as toys like stuffed animals and video games. By “adopting” a family, our family is helping others who might need support around the holidays.
Another free, impromptu activity is picking up trash at your local playground, neighborhood, or school. Children love running around, picking up trash and helping the environment. We use protective gloves and each child has an individual grocery bag to collect trash. If your family wants to spread kindness in your community, one small act is all it takes!
1. Have parent pay for the coffee of the person behind you in line.
2. Put change in an expired meter.
3. Hold the door for a stranger.
4. Compliment a friend (or a stranger).
5. Write a thank you note to your postal carrier.
6. Have a lemonade stand and donate profits.
7. Bring flowers to someone special.
8. Clean out your toys and donate.
9. Write a letter to a friend at camp or who has moved.
10. Decorate sidewalks with colorful, kind messages drawn with chalk.
There’s no doubt that teaching our children to practice compassion year round is good for others, but it doesn’t stop there. Being kind does a world of good for our souls, too.
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