We can live on a street, in a village or, in a town all our lives and still never live in a community. Why? Because a community is more then a few houses on a block, more than a shared ethnicity, religion or nationality. A community is where one has a sense of membership, a sense of responsibility and a sense that there are others upon which you can rely on. A community is where diversity is embraced and shared goals do not depend on economic status, age, or educational background.
Instilling the meaning and sense of community begins early. As stewards of the future, we have a shared responsibility to instill the sense of community in our children. Encouraging civic participation and citizen involvement in community problem solving are virtues that, if taught early, will carry on throughout one’s life.
Voluntary community service is an example of a fulfilling, fun, and productive way to involve our children and youth in the community. And, when such activity begins at an early age, it becomes not a chore, but a routine part of one’s activities, much like the routine as arts and sports activities and games and family picnics. Can there be any doubt that when children and young people, whether accompanied by an adult or on their own, engage in a community project or activity whose purpose is to elevate the common good over private self-interest, that our community will benefit in the long run, that better citizens will blossom, that a life-long desire to be active community members will be nurtured?
Children and young people, like adults, experience the same satisfaction and pride that comes from helping others. And, if in the process, they learn what it means to make and fulfill a commitment, how to organize for a purpose, how to plan and execute a project, more for the better.
Children of Persia has long relied upon volunteers to help fulfill its mission and goals. This has included recruiting and encouraging children, teens and young adults to participate, to create and to organize their own projects for advancing the organization’s mission. The organization has seen time and again that, with encouragement and guidance, these young volunteers can make a commitment to plan and implement activities. They will, if allowed, take on responsibility. When the adult advisors let it be known to these young volunteers that they are important to the mission, they positively respond to the empowerment they are given. No longer does this volunteer activity means the sacrifice of something else they would rather be doing. Thus the volunteer activity becomes something to do in and of itself, it becomes a habit. It may still be a sacrifice of time away from soccer or hanging at the mall, but it is no longer a chore, or a must do to fulfill someone’s requirement for a service. To be able to say to oneself at the end of the day that these adults appreciate my time, ideas, energy and efforts, that I help make a difference, sends an enduring and powerful message.
Volunteering brings children and young people in touch with people of different ages, backgrounds, abilities, ethnicities, ages, education, and income levels. More impressive though is that, in the end, these differences will only have been the tools that allowed them to create cohesive common values and achieve their common goals. These differences do not demand different communities. These differences define community.