Passing the volunteer torch

The Gazette Opinion Staff
Published: April 3 2014 | 12:01 am - Updated: 7 April 2014 | 3:07 pm in

By Katie Mills Giorgio

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Corridor parents are likely to agree that it’s been a rough winter! Not only did we have snow on the ground for ages and temperatures that transformed the prairie to the tundra, but we had more late school starts and no school days than I remember happening in my lifetime.

I felt the annoyance in a big way when Martin Luther King Day rolled around. This is a day I think the kids should be in school — instead of having the day off — so they can be learning in the classroom about this wonderful American citizen and hero. In having the day off, a lot of kids probably sat around and played video games and relaxed at home.

Not mine. I figured if they were going to have another day off school (in the midst of this brutal winter) that we were going to honor the spirit of the day and participate in the Martin Luther King Day of Service.

So the kids and I signed up to volunteer at the Science Center in Cedar Rapids. They needed help sorting LEGOs, which just happens to be a specialty in this family. We showed up, sorted LEGOs and managed to have some fun while we were doing it.

Now it wasn’t something that was going to make a huge impact on our world or change a life. But the kids realized they were giving of their time to help others do a job they didn’t have time to do on their own. And while I may have “voluntold” (yep, happens all the time, right?!) them to do it, in the end they were proud of themselves for pitching in.

I, myself, volunteer often. So much so that I knew I’d have no trouble hitting the 100-hour mark this year when I joined United Way’s Centennial Volunteer Club. Honestly, I inherited the “not being able to say no” gene from my mom. You know, like when someone starts to say “We need a volunteer for …” and I’ve shot my hand up to answer the call before I know what they need me to do.

A lot of my volunteering revolves around my kids’ school — St. Matthew Catholic Elementary — and other nonprofit organizations I am passionate about. Often, that volunteering tends to mean a lot of planning meetings too, which my kids tend to get annoyed with. I hear a lot of “Mom, what meeting are you going to now?” from all members of my family.

So I had this realization last year that if my volunteering only manifested itself in meetings that annoyed my family and opportunities that meant me leaving my kids behind, then I wasn’t really doing my part as a parent to show them the importance of volunteering.

So I decided then and there to find more ways for us to volunteer together. We’ll be serving dinner at Green Square Meals in coming weeks. And we’ll be helping out at a new event called Cereal Saturday to benefit the HACAP food reservoir over Memorial Day weekend. And then we’ll get up bright and early this summer to help out at the Cedar Rapids Downtown Farmers Market.

I still go to too many meetings (my kids remind me regularly.) And don’t get me wrong, I love volunteering my time in that way. But the opportunities and organizations that give me the chance to give of my time right alongside my kiddos are getting bumped up the priority list these days.

Volunteering with your kids, once they are old enough, is truly rewarding. Sure they have limits on what they can help with. But don’t discredit the power of young hearts and young minds. Volunteering with your kids is not only awesome family time, but it will also, I hope, build another generation of citizens who know that it’s important to give back one hour at a time.

Katie Mills Giorgio of Cedar Rapids is a community volunteer. Comments: ktamills@gmail.com

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