Category: Weekly Service Challenge

Take a Clean-Up Walk

Several weeks ago, reader Julie submitted an idea for our weekly service challenge: “The take-a-bag-and-go-on-a-walk challenge! Pick up any garbage/trash you see and throw the bag away at the park/home/wherever!”

And because she is so smart and wise and beautiful (plus also, my mom), I loved the idea. So that is this week’s service challenge. It’s simple, it’s fast, and it’s free!

If you have children, this is an awesome opportunity to have a discussion about being a good neighbor, about taking care of our community, and about why we don’t litter (it doesn’t just disappear). So this week, walk around your neighborhood, walk by the ocean, walk in the mountains, walk through a playground … just take a walk, pick up some trash, and leave a place you love looking a bit better than you found it.

For more ideas, see our Clean your Community challenge.

Make the world a nicer place to live


P.S. If you have any ideas for upcoming service challenges, please feel free to let me know! You can simply give me your idea, or you can write it up and submit a guest post. I’d love to hear from you!

It’s Our 1st Anniversary! Time To Celebrate!

A year ago, a sweet friend asked me if I’d ever thought about starting a website.

My answer was … Well, I didn’t have time to answer. Because before I could tell her the reasons why I didn’t think I could do that, she started telling me why she thought I should give it a try. So I spent a few days thinking about it, pondering website names, wondering if I had anything to share that anyone might want to read.

And tomorrow marks one year from the day I first clicked the “Publish” button and opened my heart to you.

I am so, so glad I began this journey.

The Quarter Challenge

And I am unspeakably grateful for those of you who have joined me along the way.

So today, instead of our normal Service Thursday post, we’re going to celebrate. And since fun party favors are pretty much my love language (no joke – ask my friends), I have a little giveaway for you.

Several years ago, I discovered a website written by Kristen Welch, a “regular mom” from Texas who had the opportunity to go to Kenya with Compassion International to see the work they do and to blog about it. Hours later, my husband came into our office to find me sobbing over my computer. I read her words, and I just couldn’t shake them. She opened my eyes. She broke my heart. And suddenly, I wanted to do more.

Through her influence, my family decided to sponsor two boys through Compassion International. If you haven’t read this post from my husband, I’d love for you to take a moment to read his story. He had the opportunity to travel to Colombia to meet our boys, and his words make me cry every time I read them.

Meeting the boys

I have followed Kristen’s journey as she began a remarkable new ministry. She realized that there were countless young Kenyan girls who were pregnant and living in absolutely desperate situations. These girls all had a different story, but they shared a common thread – heartcrushing poverty, despair, and hopelessness. She realized that these girls had nowhere to go and no one to turn to. Their fate seemed determined. They would give birth, and assuming they survived, they would raise their children in the same desperate poverty.

That’s not okay with me.

That’s not okay with you, I know.

And it was not okay with her.

So she began one of my very favorite programs – The Mercy House. They do so many amazing things (you can check out their website here to learn more). But basically, they take in pregnant teenagers for several years. They give them not just shelter, but a home. They LOVE these girls. They teach them how to take care of themselves and how to care for their babies. They teach them to cook nourishing food. They give them an education. They provide desperately needed therapy. They give these girls a safe place to grow stronger. They teach them life skills and prepare them for higher education, for employment … for success. And by the time the girls leave, they are transformed.

One girl in particular, Violet, had a heartbreaking story. I sobbed as I learned about her and the heartbreaking “childhood” she had experienced. I cried when The Mercy House had to raise $10,000 to pay for reconstructive surgery on her feet, which had been severely burned by her “employers” – and I wept as the money poured in within 24 hours by people all over who stood together for mercy. And then last year, as they announced their new sponsorship program, I joyfully selected the young Kenyan mother that I wanted to sponsor through college.

Sweet Violet.

This is one of the most stunningly beautiful programs I’ve ever seen.

It’s faith in action.

It’s redemption.

It’s hope.

Months ago, I had the opportunity to give away Kristen’s fabulous new book. This was truly one of the most life-changing books I’ve ever read. From the very beginning, I was hooked. Kristen has encouraged me to figure out what my “yes” is.

Rhinestone Jesus - Just Do Something

One of the biggest “yes”-es of my life was starting this website.

So it is only fitting that today, as I prepare to celebrate one year of writing and serving with all of you, I share a bit of The Mercy House with you.

The girls who live in The Mercy House, as I mentioned, are taught life skills. They’re also given the opportunity to learn to earn money. For girls who were formerly on the streets, the opportunity for honest employment is priceless. So they make necklaces and bracelets and other beautiful crafts, and they sell them at The Mercy Shop. The girls get to keep a portion of the proceeds so that when they graduate from the program several years later, they have a bank account.

That bank account doesn’t just mean money.

It means security. It means confidence. It means hope.

So this weekend, I am giving away a $20 gift certificate to The Mercy Shop to one of you. This is not sponsored or affiliated with The Mercy House in any way. I just love, with my whole heart, the work that they do. And I want to share it with you.


Here’s how you can enter our giveaway! You can earn up to three entries. Please leave a separate comment for each entry.

  1. Leave a comment here letting me know what your favorite Service Thursday challenge this year has been! It can be something you’ve participated in, something that has touched you, or something you’d like to do in the future. If you’re new to Let’s Do Some Good Today, you can browse through our weekly service challenge posts here.
  2. Visit The Mercy Shop’s website and let me know what your favorite item is.
  3. Share this giveaway on the social media platform of your choice, and come leave me a comment letting me know you did so. I’ll be putting a post on Facebook and you can just click “share” on that, or you can share in whatever way you prefer.

This giveaway will close on Saturday, August 29th at midnight (central time), and announced by Sunday, August 30th at 2:00 pm. The winner will receive a $20 Mercy Shop gift certificate, which will be delivered via e-mail.

Thank a Police Officer

Thank you for doing good with me this year.

And thank you for loving mercy.

Back-to-School Teacher Appreciation Challenge

One upon a time (okay, seven years ago), before I became a Mom, I was a full-time teacher. I have loved being a stay-at-home-mom, but as my babies are growing up and heading to school, I have decided to dip my toes back into the teaching field again. This year, I will be teaching music at my son’s preschool. (Very exciting!!)

This week we began our teacher training. As I sat in meetings, looking around from face to face and seeing a room full of professionals who are compassionate, dedicated, and very committed to taking care of children, I was inspired. And as I walked through the halls on the way to my new-to-me classroom, I watched them bustle around, trying their hardest to create a wonderful environment for their future students to create in, to feel safe in, to learn in.

These teachers are not being paid for their overtime. Often, they are not even being reimbursed for many of the items that they buy for their classrooms. They go above and beyond for one simple reason: they care about their students (even those who they have not yet met), and they want them to succeed. And as a mother, I am humbled and grateful.

So this week, as many kids are back in school (or preparing to head back to school), it’s time to repeat the Teacher Appreciation Challenge.

Just a reminder – this challenge is NOT just for those who have young children at home. If you’ve had a great teacher at school … if anyone is teaching you in another facility (work, church, etc.), if you or your kids are involved in a sports league … even if you even KNOW a teacher who is putting in a lot of effort this time of year, this challenge is for you!

Teacher Appreciation Challenge

One more idea I’d love to add to the original challenge … I found this awesome post on Pinterest: “The Best Teacher Appreciation Gifts, Told By Teachers“. (This link will send you to a roundup of ideas. If you see a printable you like, just click on the “source” button right under the picture.) While you might not be thinking about teacher gifts right now, I love the idea given in this post to send your child to school the first day with a “Getting To Know You” paper for the teacher, asking questions like “Where is your favorite restaurant?” and “What is your favorite drink?” Both of my kids are going to be headed to back-to-school night with one of these forms! They will only take a moment or two for the teacher to complete, and they will allow me the opportunity to make sure that I’m able to give their teachers meaningful gifts throughout the year. (Once again, these don’t have to be fancy or expensive, but something as simple as knowing your teacher’s favorite candy bar can go a LONG way toward letting that teacher know you truly appreciate the work he or she does.) And make sure not to forget classroom aides! They work hard and love to be remembered and appreciated.

So happy back-to-school time, everyone! Let’s let teachers know how much we appreciate them this week. Please remember to check out the original Teacher Appreciation Challenge here for lots of ideas – including things you can do on a $0 budget.

Serving In Our Own Communities

Today, I saw a heartbreaking story online. Have you heard of Humans of New York? It’s a website that is made up of pictures and snippets of stories. A photographer goes around the streets of NYC and asks people questions. And in the few sentences he gives us, we see people’s hopes and dreams, best and worst memories, insecurities, fears, triumphs … it’s fascinating. It’s a fantastic reminder to always be kind to strangers, because we never, ever know what lies beneath the surface.

Right now, Brandon (the photographer) is touring Pakistan, and on my Facebook feed this morning, I saw a sobering picture of a crying woman holding a small child, and this chilling quote: “I left an abusive relationship and I have nowhere to go. I have Hepatitis C, so no one is willing to take me in. I don’t know how long I will live. I tried to give her up for adoption so that she’d have a good home. The wife of a minister told me about a place where I could drop her off. But when I got there, I just couldn’t bring myself to do it.”

Within minutes, there were thousands of people speaking up. “How can I help?” “Is there a GoFundMe page set up for this woman?” “I wish I could do something!!” On and on and on the comments went. And I was right there. I anxiously watched HONY’s Facebook page, hoping that they would post a link that gave me an opportunity to help this woman.

As I waited, I had a thought.

How many people in my own area are faced with problems just like this?

Now one point I’d like to make clear: I have no problem AT ALL with helping people in distant countries. I am passionate about several international aid programs. My family sponsors two young boys in Colombia, and I sponsor a sweet young mother in Kenya. I love these young people I’ve never met. I pray for them. I believe that we should help wherever our heart pulls us, and my heart pulls me to Compassion International and The Mercy House.

But still, the question remained in my mind: how many people in my own area need my help today?

As I’m waiting to see how I might be able to help this woman on the other side of the world, how many people within a few miles of me need help right now?

There’s a women’s shelter in my area. I’ve been there. I’ve taught those wonderful ladies. They need support.

There’s a hospital for low-income families in my area. I’ve been there. I’ve seen the homeless camped nearby. They need support.

New mom care package

There’s a shelter for homeless teens in my area. I’ve been there. I’ve brought donations and toured the facilities and talked to the director. They need support.

There are problems right in my neighborhood. There are people who need me.

There are problems right in your neighborhood. There are people who need you.

So for this week’s service challenge, I want you to choose an area in your community that needs your help. If you’ve been around this site for a while and participated in our service challenges, you know what to do. 🙂 But if you’ve never done anything like this before, don’t be nervous – it’s really simple. Here are a few ideas to get you started.

* If you don’t know where to start, ask around, open the phone book, or just do an internet search for “homeless shelter” or “women’s shelter” or “food pantry” or “animal shelter” and your zipcode. I just did that (I searched “shelter” and my zipcode), and discovered a family shelter that’s only 10 minutes away from my house. (I recently moved – just to the city next door – and I’m discovering new things all the time. I love participating in these service challenges with you – they help me learn so much!)

* When you’ve found a program in your area, call them or see if they have a website. And find out what their greatest needs are! You can do that in a variety of ways … “I have $10 to donate. What do you need today?” “What items do you run out of quickly?” “Are there any items that my friends and I might be able to share with you?” “Do you need volunteers?”

* And then … get to work. 🙂 Bargain shop (for a few budget-stretching tips, check out this post). Show up and volunteer. Gather your friends and have a blessing bag party. Even if you only have 5 minutes right now, that’s enough time to find a local shelter, learn their greatest needs, and share on social media. You can check out this post if you need a little more inspiration.Blessing bag

As I was writing this service challenge, I stopped to re-read our shelter challenge from nearly a year ago. I wanted to share these thoughts with you again.

Once you know what the needs are in your community … well, you won’t need me to tell you what to do after that.

You might realize you have an extra $5 you can donate.

You might pass by a clearance rack at Target and notice an item that’s on your shelter’s “urgent needs” list.

You might realize that you have a few hours you can use to volunteer.

You might grab an extra box of granola bars the next time you’re at the store. Or maybe an extra pack of socks, or a bottle of laundry detergent.

You might decide to take some donations to a shelter for homeless teens, and while you’re there, you might realize for the first time that right in your city, there are teenage girls who are selling their body for food. You might realize that you had absolutely no idea that there were people in your very city who are so absolutely desperate. You might get angry – FURIOUS – that this is the reality for so many. And when your fury subsides a bit, you might realize that you might not be able to fix all of the problems in your community, but you are able to donate a bit of food. And with that bit of food, someone will be able to eat tonight without resorting to desperate measures.

A broken, defeated woman might be able to take a shower tomorrow morning and start to feel a little bit more feminine because you donated a bottle of nice shampoo to the shelter she has fled to.

A man might be able to button up his new-to-him dress shirt (that, as of yesterday, was hanging in your closet) and go off to a job interview, confident that he looks professional and competent.

Tomorrow someone might read your Facebook post … “Hey, local friends – did you realize that we have a women’s shelter that’s at risk of closing because they need more donations? Come on – let’s help!” Or “Did you know that our local animal shelter is going to have to put down three dogs this weekend unless they find homes? Anyone need a new pet?” And your friend might realize, thanks to you, that there is a need that he or she can meet.

Will you join me?

You can give. You can advocate. You can learn and share. And you can make a HUGE difference in the lives of the most vulnerable in your community.

I don’t know what you’re going to do with this week’s challenge.

But I can’t wait to hear.

Serving With School Supplies … Continued

Happy Service Thursday, everyone! This week, we will be repeating a previous challenge. Normally we wait several months before repeating a service challenge, but this one … well, we’re running out of time.

Serving with School SuppliesThis week, once again, we’re going to serve by buying a few school supplies to donate. If you haven’t read our first challenge, please check it out here.

For those of you in the US, I wanted to share a few of the best deals I’ve spotted this week:

* If you shop at Target, text SCHOOL to the number 827438. You will be sent a mobile coupon: if you spend $25 on school supplies, hand the cashier this coupon to scan, and you’ll get a free $5 Target gift card. A great way to stretch your budget!

* At Walgreens this week, Papermate pens are 29 cents for a 10 pack! This is about as low as I see pens. I stocked up this week! You can also get packs of erasers (15 caps erasers or 2 pink erasers) at 4/$1, compasses or pencil sharpeners for $.39, and protractors or index cards for $.29. (There are lots of other good deals this week, but these are my favorites.)

* Crayola crayons are on sale for $.25 this week at Kmart! This is as cheap as I ever see these. Limit 3 – bring a friend with you. 🙂

* Remember, you can price match at Walmart. But keep in mind that the brands have to match. If Crayola crayons are advertised on sale somewhere, you can match those; if a store brand of crayons are on sale, you won’t be able to.

So for a dollar or two, you can easily pick up a few extra school supplies to donate to a local organization … or to stick in your shoebox stash. My closet, once again, is getting full. And I love it. 🙂

What have you done to participate in our school supply challenge? What are you planning on doing this week?


The Butterfly Effect

Welcome to Service Thursday! If you haven’t already read this week’s Kindness Matters Monday post, will you take a second to do that?

I’ll wait. 🙂


So this idea – the concept of “The Butterfly Effect” – really resonated with me. Perhaps because I’m such a believer in random acts of kindness. (Remember our Acts of Kindness Day? That was SO fun!)

I have another idea that’s been spinning around in my brain. I honestly don’t know how well it’s going to work. I DO know that it won’t work without your help. But if you jump in with me, this is going to be awesome.

Are you in?


Here’s my crazy idea. Let’s start our own butterfly effect.

The “rules” are simple. Just do an act of kindness, and leave behind this little card.

Butterfly Effect

(All you need to do it print it. If you’d like a full-page image, you can click here. If you’d like smaller images – this one prints four per page – click here. If you would like to participate and don’t have access to a printer, please leave a comment – I’d be happy to mail you one.)

Why are we leaving behind a card? Well, two reasons. First of all, we’re leaving behind a note so that whoever discovers our act of kindness knows that it’s intentional. Once, trying to be nice, I left behind a quarter in our shopping cart at Aldi (for those of you who aren’t familiar with Aldi, the carts are coin-operated; you get your quarter back when you return your cart). Anyway, a very nice young man chased me down to let me know that I’d “forgotten” my quarter. 🙂 Leaving behind a note lets the recipient know that yes, this (fill-in-the-blank surprise) is for them. Because if my kids found a dollar in the toy aisle at the Dollar Tree, I would have them return it to management in case some poor kid accidentally dropped it. But a dollar with a card attached, saying it was meant to brighten someone’s day … that would absolutely make my day (and theirs)! I’d let my kids spend it, and then I’d make sure we paid it forward.

And here’s the second reason I made these little notes. Because I’m hoping that as this spreads, people might be willing to “check in” and let us know. Wouldn’t it be awesome if we could track how far our “kindness butterfly effect” travels?? What an amazing lesson that would be – to ALL of us – of how powerful kindness actually is, and what a rippling impact it can have.

Seriously. If you live in California and do an act of kindness for a stranger, and that person goes on vacation to Vegas and does an act of kindness, and then THAT person goes home and does an act of kindness for his or her spouse, and then that person’s spouse goes on a business trip to Boston and does an act of kindness …

Okay, perhaps I’m a bit optimistic.

But doesn’t it sound like fun? To start a kindness avalanche and see where it goes?

So let’s do it!

To sum up our service challenge this week …  just do an act of kindness for a stranger and leave behind this note so they can see what we’re doing – and, hopefully, pass it on! This post has a lot of my favorite ideas, and this post is full of fantastic suggestions that have actually been done by the members of our Let’s Do Some Good Today community! There are acts of kindness for every budget, starting as simply “make a card for a friend” or “buy a candy bar for a cashier”. You could send an (anonymous) card to your neighbors, thanking them for keeping their yard beautiful. Leave a small gift for someone who is often unnoticed, such as a custodian or a behind-the-scenes employee. Send a gift card in the mail to someone who needs it. Pay for someone’s drive-through order or toll or parking meter. Whatever it is … find something that speaks to your heart and do it.

Start a kindness avalanche.

I am so excited to hear what ideas you have! If you’d like to leave a comment, that would be fantastic – I’d love to hear what you’re doing. If you’re planning on doing something for a friend who also reads this website, feel free to comment anonymously. 🙂 And if you have a moment – share this with anyone you think might be interested! Share it on social media. Print out a few extra handouts and pass them out to friends at Church, to classmates, or to coworkers. Get your scout troop or youth group or sports team involved. And let’s change the world, one act of kindness at a time.


Serving with School Supplies

This week I began back-to-school shopping with my daughter. We walked around the store with our list, carefully selecting the pencils and crayons and fun notebooks that she’ll be using all year. Seventy-five cents for three erasers, fifty cents for a bottle of glue, seventeen cents for a notebook (except for the one with the kittens on it … THAT one was $1.99). All in all, we spent under $20 and left with most of her school supplies.

We put it in the cart. I paid for it. We left.

And that was that.

I am blessed to have enough money in the bank that I wasn’t worried about seventeen cents. I wasn’t worried about fifty cents. I wasn’t even worried about $1.99.

But for many people, it’s not so simple.

There are children all over the world who can’t go to school simply because their parents can’t afford school supplies.

(That takes my breath away.)

And there might very well be children in your own community who don’t get a special shopping trip to prepare for the new school year. There is just. No. Money. No money for new clothes and shoes … and even more urgently, no money for the school supplies that they are expected to bring. For these kids, the first day of school will be something to dread. There will be no new backpack, stuffed full of everything they might need. And they know it.

Y’all … that’s not okay with me.

Not when the difference between an empty backpack and a full one is so simple.

So this week, for our service challenge … we’re going shopping for school supplies.

Serving with School Supplies

So here’s the first step in our challenge: Choose where you’re going to donate your school supplies to. There are many organizations that would love to receive them; here’s a list of ideas to get you thinking.

* Operation Christmas Child. If you’ve been around here for a while, you probably guessed that this would be on my list. And if you’re new here (welcome!) … I love, love, LOVE Operation Christmas Child. If you’re not familiar with this program, I’d love to have you read this post and consider starting a shoebox this week. There are three times of year when I do a lot of shopping for Operation Christmas Child – early January (when Christmas items are 80-90% off), July and August when school supplies are at rock-bottom prices (YIPPIE!), and in early November, when I fill in the gaps. But all year long my eyes are open … toothpaste that’s free with a coupon, an extra toothbrush from my dentist’s office, a coloring book on the clearance rack … it all gets added to my stash. If you would like to pack a shoebox, this week is a perfect time to start! For some kids in developing countries, a lack of school supplies is the only thing that prevents them from getting an education. So as much as I love to add toys and fun items to shoeboxes, I always, ALWAYS add school supplies.

* Homeless shelters. In my area, there are shelters for families, shelters for women, and even a shelter for homeless teens. Every one of them has school/office supplies on their wish list. For homeless kids who are heading back to school … for adults who are working on getting their GED … even for the busy office staff at these non-profits … everyone needs pens, pencils, and paper. When I taught a couponing classs at a local women’s shelter a few months ago, almost all of the ladies in that room wanted to know how to save on school supplies. Even months before they’d need to buy them for their children, they were beginning to worry about it.
* Foster care programs. In my city, there is a great program to help gather school supplies for kids in the foster care program. If you don’t know how to get involved, do an internet search for “Foster Care” and your city name, or you can even contact your local Child Protective Services. They’ll be happy to point you to an organization that would love your donations.
* A family in need. Do you know a family who is struggling financially? You can ask what they need – or just drop off school supplies on their door! If you do it this week, you’ll probably be able to get many items on sale. And just imagine the stress you’ll be relieving from that family over the next month as they know they don’t need to worry about back-to-school supplies!
* Schools – Finally, if you aren’t sure where to start, just call your local elementary school and ask what their needs are. If it’s a small school, they might know of a specific family who could use some anonymous help. (They can tell you the ages/needs of the kids so you can shop for them – they don’t need to give away any confidential information.) Or your school could tell you what general needs are. Do a lot of kids show up without backpacks? Are the teachers having to reach into their own pockets to buy art supplies? Have budget cuts limited the amount of paper that the school can provide teachers? I can almost guarantee that there will be an office member who would be thrilled to let you help.

Once you’ve chosen the organization you’d like to donate to, ask what their greatest needs are. And then … it’s time to shop! This can be as simple as adding a few extra school supplies to your shopping cart the next time you’re at the store. Done! But if you’d like a few budget-stretching ideas, here are my top five tips for you:

1. Price match. Walmart will price match any advertised local ad. (Last year, Toys R Us had Crayola crayons on sale at 4/$1, but they were sold out. I went to Walmart and got enough for all of my shoeboxes!) If you have ads from several stores, you can get it all done at once. If you need help learning how to price match, you can see this post that I wrote for Today’s The Best Day on price-matching at Walmart. And as always, please feel free to comment with any questions!
2. Look at drugstores. This seems like a weird tip – drugstores are typically much more expensive than other stores. But I’ve had great luck getting school supplies there! For instance, this week at Walgreens (through Saturday, July 25th), backpacks are on sale for $2.99 (I’ve never used this brand, but I’ve heard they’re fairly durable), 15-pack cap erasers or 2-pack pink erasers are 4/$1, Fiskars scissors are $.99, and protractors and index cards are $.29.
3. Use Target in-store coupons. Right now at, you can print off a coupon for $2 off a $10 Up-and-Up school supply purchase. This is an easy way to stretch your budget. In the past, I’ve seen printable coupons for pens, hilighters, and even Post-It notes, so keep an on this page if you’re a Target shopper.
4. Look at ads for office supply stores. If you don’t get Staples or Office Max ads delivered to your home, check them out online. There are often “penny deals” or
“quarter deals” at back to school time. Sometimes the penny deals will have a minimum purchase to qualify; that’s when I buy something I needed anyway (usually ink) and snag my awesome deals.
5. Involve your friends. Even if you have a $0 budget right now, you can still help with this challenge! Find a local place that needs donations, then spread the word. At work, at school, at church, among your friends … let others know what the needs are in your community, and start a school supply drive. We did this at church last year, and I let the ladies know every week what the best deals were. People were thrilled to be able to help with just a dollar or two.

That’s this week’s kindness challenge! I hope I’ve given you an idea or two that you can use. What are you planning on doing this week? I’d love to hear!

Serving with your Family

I am thrilled today to have an awesome guest post from Holly of While I’m Waiting. For our Service Thursday challenge this week, she is going to give us lots of ideas of ways we can serve with our families. (I have a new idea in mind for my child who loves “center stage” …) I am so grateful for her creativity, her heart for service, and her enthusiasm to raise children who know how to serve (and who truly enjoy doing it).

One last reminder – tomorrow is the last day to enter our giveaway for Maxwell’s Soaps. Come check it out – it’s for a fantastic cause!

And now … here’s Holly!


Howdy!  My name is Holly from While I’m Waiting…  My husband, Mike, and I have been married almost eighteen years and we have three kiddos – Colby-age 13, Holden-age 10, and Hope-age 4.  We each have very different interests and hobbies but one of our favorite activities to do together as a family is volunteering!

A couple of questions I get asked all the time are 1) why do you serve so much, and
2) how do you have the time?  I’ll share the answers to these questions and a few things I’ve learned along the way!

First things first:  why do we serve?  That’s easy – because we can!

If we want our kids to grow up to be leaders in their community, then we must set an example for them now.  There are so many ways that kids of all ages can help!  It’s also a fabulous way to raise awareness of the needs in their community.  Kids that volunteer usually begin to show a greater interest in the needs of others because they see how they can help.  But, one of the biggest reasons we serve is because it’s fun!  We love getting a group of friends together and working on a project!  Most of the time our kids don’t even realize they are “volunteering”!

While I'm Waiting...
Each summer our family volunteers at our local food bank.  This pic was from our first summer back in 2010 – literally, our kids have grown up volunteering there!

So, you’ve decided that you would like to give family volunteering a try.  Now what?  Start with something that interests your family and the interests of your kids.  If your kids need an activity they could clean up a local park or re-stock food at a pantry or food distribution site.

While I'm Waiting...

If your kids enjoy more one-on-one activities, you could visit a nursing home and play bingo or work on crafts together.

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Do you kids adore center stage?  Let them play an instrument, sing a song, or read to others.

One of the most important things to remember when volunteering with kiddos – try not to focus on what they can’t do.  Determine what they can do and run with it!

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Meals on Wheels recipients love receiving laminated placemats created by kiddos!

A few other things to keep in mind when volunteering as a family:
+ schedule time to volunteer – This answers the question “how do you have the time to volunteer?”  Honestly, we don’t.  The kiddos are each involved with extra-curricular activities and Mike and I enjoy doing other things too.  But, volunteering is important to us and we found that we always find time for things that we really want to do.  If we schedule our volunteer time like any other appointment, practice, or class then we will make time for it.  Otherwise, it just gets pushed to the bottom of our list of things we would like to do.
+ choose a family charity – For us this was easy.  Our favorite place to volunteer is our local food bank.  By having this as our family philanthropy our kids are interested and invested in helping our community fight hunger.  For you it could be Meals on Wheels, Habitat for Humanity, or the local animal rescue group.  Find something that your family is passionate about and you’ll be more likely to stick with it.
+ use holidays as an opportunity to serve – You can deliver handmade Valentines to your local nursing home, you can clean up a local park on Earth Day, or you can adopt a soldier and send them a box of goodies for the 4th of July.  The possibilities are endless!

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+ think about how you can serve in your neighborhood – You can water plants, sweep the sidewalk, pull weeds, or even walk the dog of a neighbor.  You can return trash cans from the street to each house for your block on trash day.  When baking or cooking, consider making extra and sharing with a neighbor or friend.
+ most of all – HAVE FUN!  Invite friends to serve with you!  You’ll make volunteering together a priority if everyone is having fun.

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This is one of my favorite pictures!  Hope was so tiny but she loved being able to help!  Proof that you’re never too young to serve!

Before you begin a project, it’s always a good idea to go over expectations with your kiddos:
+ explain what you will be doing
+ tell them how long it will take
+ talk to them about the needs that this job will fill and who will benefit from their help
+ explain the rules that they must follow
+ be patient – it’s ok if your kiddo checks out after an hour of a two hour shift
+ talk to them and explain why this is important to you
+ tell them what you’ll do afterwards – CELEBRATE!  We normally volunteer from 10am-12pm so lunch with friends is always a great reward for wrapping up another fun day of volunteering at the food bank!

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Establish a donation box or generosity jar at your home.  It’s an easy way to remind your kiddos to think about the needs of others.

And once a project is complete, ask for their feedback.
+ how do they think they made a difference?
+ what did they learn that they didn’t know before?
+ what did they like the most?
+ If your children are older, you can talk to them about additional ways they think they could help.  Kids have awesome ideas that we don’t think about as adults!

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Do you and your family volunteer together?  I love to be inspired by other families so if you have other ways that families can serve, please share with me!  And thank you so much, Kimber, for letting me share our passion with your readers!

For even more family service ideas, check out my Summer of Service challenge here! Each week I will share with you a new prompt for that week’s service challenge.  Join me on Instagram and tag your pictures with #soschallenge2015 so we can share and inspire each other to leave our mark on summer 2015!

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You can also follow me on Bloglovin’ so you don’t miss a post – it’s a super easy way to see what we’re up to while we wait… 🙂  I post a couple of times each week and also host a weekly link-up. I would love to have you visit!

Summertime is a great time to volunteer with your family – I hope you enjoy it as much as we do!

Have a blessed day!  Gig ’em and God bless!

4 Simple Ways to Help the Homeless

Sometimes for our weekly service challenges, I post things that I love doing and that are in my comfort zone. Thanking firemen … hiding quarters around town … these are things that come very naturally to me.

Other things are a bit more of a stretch. And sometimes, it’s good to stretch.

So this week, I’m reaching outside my comfort zone. I’m facing a problem that sometimes seems too big to face, and I’m inviting you to join me.

This week, we’re helping the homeless.

4 Simple Ways to Help the Homeless

Does this seem a little intimidating to you? Like this is a problem that’s so big, you don’t even know where to start? I understand! But it really doesn’t need to be. Luckily for us, we don’t necessarily need to go out on the streets to find those who need our help. (Although if that’s your thing, awesome!!) Helping the homeless can begin with a simple phone call.

1. Start with your local shelter. If you’re not sure what the needs are in your area, this is a great time to learn! First, locate your closest homeless shelter. (Just do an internet search for “homeless shelter” and your zipcode.) Then give them a call! They’ll be more than happy to give you ideas. Perhaps they need donations, maybe they need volunteers for one of their programs. They’ll definitely be able to give you suggestions to help meet the most pressing needs in your community.
2. Choose a specific need. Homelessness can be an overwhelming issue, so if this is new to you, start by choosing one specific goal that you’d like to help meet. This might mean making blessing bags. It might mean handing out cold water bottles on a hot day. It might mean passing out snacks or gift cards to fast food restaurants. What tugs at your heart? Start there!
3. Advocate. Even if you don’t feel like you have enough resources to be able to make a difference, reach out! This can be as simple as sharing the wish list of your local shelter on Facebook, or as involved as hosting a service party. I LOVED my baby shower for charity, and I’ve had several fun blessing bag parties. Many people are willing to help – you just need to give them the opportunity!

Serving with love
4. Donate. If you have limited time, but you have a few dollars to donate, you can absolutely make a difference today! Again, I’d recommend starting locally and donating to a shelter near your home. But if you’d like a suggestion, I love this cause that I just learned about yesterday. This is a company founded by a veteran. They employ veterans. And they make a high-quality soap that will be donated to those in need in San Francisco. (Remember Lava Mae? I love, love, LOVE what they do. That’s where their soaps are going!) Your donation provides jobs, and it provides dignity. You can check out Maxwell’s Soaps’ fundraising effort here.

Those are my ideas. How are you going to participate in this week’s challenge? As for me, I’ll be making a blessing bag (I’ve given all of mine out – woohoo!), and I’ll make a small donation to Maxwell’s Soaps. I love their vision!

The 4th of July/Thank a Fireman Challenge

It’s Fourth of July weekend! Time for swimming and BBQ, fireworks and parades. So many opportunities for fun, and family, and friends.

And also, unfortunately … several opportunities for danger.

I hope this holiday is nothing but fun and relaxation for you. But … what if something happened to your grill and it started a fire? What if a neighbor set off illegal fireworks and one landed on your roof? Who do you think is working extra hard on July 4th?

Our firemen!

And we’re going to thank them.

Thank a Fireman

Last week, we focused on our police officers. This week, we’re thanking our firemen for their service and their bravery. Because if my house was on fire, they would without a doubt come busting through the door to save me, to save my husband, and to save my children. People they’ve never even met – they’d risk their lives to try to save mine.

So I think it’s about time we meet, don’t you?

Our family’s tradition is to bring treats every 4th of July (and September 11th) to the fire station, but since we just moved, this will be our first time visiting these firemen and I am so excited!

If you’d like to participate in this week’s challenge, here are a few ideas for you:

* Bring a card or a note to your fire station (my kids used this idea to make cards)
* Show up with food (either portable snacks or, if they have a kitchen, ingredients to make a simply but hearty meal). Many of these firemen are volunteers, and many put in long, late hours. When returning from an emergency, exhausted and hungry, how awesome to have all of the stuff on hand to make a filling dinner! That’s what we’re doing this week. (If you’re on a tight budget, here are a few ideas I shared on my cousin’s website for ways I’ve earned extra money to do service projects: Shopkick funds my firemen treats and my blessing bags, and Swagbucks and Ibotta fund my sponsorship of a young mom in Kenya!)
* Bake a treat. Unlike policemen, who tend to be a little more hesitant to eat homemade treats from strangers, firemen are usually more than happy to accept them. 🙂 If you’re unsure about bringing homemade items, give them a call first – they’d be happy to tell you. They might even be thrilled if you ask for requests!
* Bring a gift card to a local restaurant, or just have food delivered! Order a few pizzas, send Chinese food – whatever you have room for in your budget.
* Just show up. Sometimes that’s all you need to do. Just show up and say thank you.

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Y’all, our firemen … they need to be our heroes.

And this 4th of July … and September 11th … and always …

We need to remember the 5