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STRESS-FREE ZONE | Simplify Your Life

These Children Help Raise Their Village

April 13, 1998|ELAINE ST. JAMES

I heard from a reader in Orange County who shared her secret for keeping life with her six kids simple. She started a nonprofit neighborhood organization that provides service opportunities for children ages 2 to 13 called Kids Who Care.

It might seem that starting another organization would actually complicate one's life, but the members of the group feel the benefits far outweigh the small amount of time it takes to run it. They keep the activities to a minimum so that it usually takes less than an hour each month to organize, and the duties are rotated throughout the year.

The major responsibilities are to notify the other members of the meeting time and the needed materials--this they do by phone tree--and to arrange for the contributions to reach the proper destination.

Here's how it works. The dozen or so members meet once a month, alternating in an open-house format. There's very little preparation required, since they adhere to the this same yearly schedule:

* October: Mental Health Awareness Month. Contribute used items for a local mental-health thrift store and large-size clothing items for the homeless.

* November: Fund-raiser for the rescue mission's Thanksgiving dinner. The kids pool their own money to provide meals for the homeless.

* December: Contribute and deliver new toys and canned food to the Salvation Army for needy children.

* January: Contribute used Christmas cards for children's art fund-raiser.

* February: Make valentines for nursing home residents.

* March: Contribute used books to a local home for abused children and / or new books to the hospital.

* April: Earth Day activity. Snip six-pack plastic rings, plant a tree or bulbs in the neighborhood.

The activities are all geared to younger children who are not always able to volunteer at traditional community service sites, and can be adapted to any locale.

This mother reported that Kids Who Care has simplified their lives because it changed her kids' focus from "What am I going to get?" to "What can I do for someone else?" These parents found that their kids have become less materialistic since they've had an opportunity to see that there are many others who have less than they do.

Also, when kids are involved in service activities with their peers, it becomes a socially acceptable way to spend time and to have fun. It helps keep kids out of malls and video arcades as they get older because they know there are better things to do with their time.

The variety of activities gives the kids an opportunity to see the many possibilities that are available for helping others. The parents have also found that a regular, ongoing, monthly activity has a much more long-lasting impact on the child than a once-a-year happening, such as serving a holiday meal at a homeless shelter. It inculcates the "helping others" mentality at an early age, so it becomes a habit in a child's life.

Another benefit that a small, low-maintenance grass-roots organization of this type provides is the opportunity for families in a neighborhood to become better acquainted. This helps create a close-knit support system for busy parents by providing instant baby sitters in an emergency or carpool participants to share the driving load.


Elaine St. James is the author of "Simplify Your Life" and "Simplify Your Life With Kids." For questions or comments, write to her in care of Universal Press Syndicate, 4520 Main St., Kansas City, MO 64111.

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