In late July or early August of 2011, a friend of mine posted a link on Facebook that included a list of 100 ways your family could make a difference. (You can check out that original list here.) As I read through that list, I kept saying to myself, “Oh, that sounds like a good idea.” After I read the list, thoughts of doing the service projects it contained with my daughter (then 3.5, now 4.5) kept swirling through my mind. The thoughts were so persistent that I ultimately decided that I would spend the next year committed to service in an effort to begin the process of teaching my children (Abby, now 4.5 and Jake, now 2) to give. I set the lofty goal of averaging one service project per week for a whole year. So, that works out to a total of 52 projects. Believe it or not – we did it!!! We started with our very first project – taking cookies to the fire station – on August 6, 2011, and we haven’t looked back since!
In an effort to not
bore overwhelm you with a summary of all 52 projects, instead I decided to devote this post to my ten favorite projects from the year. But, as I was typing this, I realized that I couldn’t narrow it down to ten. There are just too many great ones! So, instead I am going to narrow it down to the top 13 projects of the year. These projects will all hold a special place in my heart forever, and Abby played an integral role in each and every one of these projects. I truly hope they will provide inspiration for you and your family to come up with your own projects and committment to service!
NUMBER 13: Bake cookies and deliver them to the local fire station (Project 1). This was the first project we did, and to this day, Abby still talks about it every time we drive by the fire station. That is probably why it is one of my favorites! We went to the grocery store, where Abby picked out all the stuff to make cookies and brownies. She really made some family’s day at the store when she explained to them what we were doing. We had some great mother-daughter bonding making the treats, and then we took them over to the station hear our house. Here is Abby mixing the brownies…
And here she is at the fire station:
NUMBER 12: Hand out glow-in-the-dark bracelets/necklaces on the Fourth of July (Project 47). As you can probably guess, we did this project on the Fourth of July. My husband, Rob, had hundreds of glow-in-the-dark bracelets and necklaces leftover from a fundraiser his choir had done a few years before. We spent the entire time we were at the park before the fireworks handing them out. Abby had a great time! It was so fun to see the joy we brought to so many people that day! It is well worth spending $10 or $20 to buy a bunch of bracelets or necklaces in bulk to do this project.
NUMBER 11: Send toothbrushes and toothpaste to children in Kenya (Project 51). This project found us. John, a minister who runs a school in Eldoret, Kenya, contacted me through the Teaching to Give Facebook Page. John saw what we were doing and asked if we could help by providing toothbrushes and toothpaste for the children at the school. Without hesitation, I said yes! I put the word out, and donations flooded in. Our dentist and a friend who is a pediatric dentist donated boxes full of toothbrushes and toothpaste. The biggest donation came from another attorney who I happened to mention the project to one day at court. She sent 250 toothbrushes and 144 boxes of toothpaste for the cause! Several people stepped up to help with the high shipping costs, too. My favorite thing about this project was seeing how giving people from all walks of my life were. Donations came from some of the most unexpected places! I have truly loved whenever a project has served as a reminder of the truly good people in the world.
NUMBER 10: Send a care package to a soldier (Project 8). Abby and I decided to adopt a solider through anysoldier.com and send her a care package. This project provided an interesting and complicated opportunity to discuss soldiers and war with Abby. She was not even four at the time we did this project, and I had to carefully walk the line between scaring her and making her appreciate what soldiers do for us every day. We picked a female soldier, and Abby and I went shopping for goodies. Abby insisted that goldfish be included with the snacks! We bought a variety of snacks and personal items to send to our soldier.
The best part of this project was that we actually got a response from our soldier! She sent us a lovely, handwritten letter thanking Abby and telling her how wonderful she thought our projects are. She even sent us a picture of her unit. (Our soldier is the female on the bottom right of the picture.)
NUMBER 9: Sponsor a child through World Vision (Project 39). When we first started this year-long project, the original list repeatedly encouraged us to “sponsor a child.” I sort of shrugged this idea off for a long time. Then, I was introduced to World Vision through my running friends. After learning quite a bit about the organization, I decided that sponsoring a child was, in fact, a fantastic idea! You can search through tons of children to pick just the one you want. Abby insisted on a four-year-old girl with cute hair. So, we ended up choosing Belinda, a little girl from the Congo. Through the program, we have been able to develop a relationship with Belinda. Abby has made cards for her and sent her small items, such as a bracelet and pencils. (Unfortunately, you can’t mail more than a large padded envelope to the Congo, or we would have sent her more!) Over the years, we will be updated on Belinda’s progress in school, and we will send her letters, pictures, etc. Abby talks about Belinda often, and we pray for her regularly. This is a fantastic project to do with your children. For the low cost of $35 per month, your child can really learn about the sponsored child, pray for her, send her things, and keep giving at the forefront of your child’s mind.
NUMBER 8: Donate hair to Beautiful Lengths (or Locks of Love) (Project 41). This project was definitely one of the most emotional for me! Abby has always had beautiful, long hair. Unfortunately, beautiful, long hair requires brushing, and we had many a spat over her hair at our house. For a long time, Abby begged me to let her cut her hair. I suggested that if she really wanted to cut it short, she should wait until it was long enough to donate. She agreed. So, for months we would get out the ruler and measure her hair to see if it was long enough. Eventually, it was. Abby was so excited she could hardly stand it! We went to Sweet & Sassy, where her hair was put into a ponytail and chopped off.
I confess. I shed a few tears over the chop. But, it turned out super cute! The hair was donated to Pantene’s Beautiful Lengths, which uses the hair to make wigs for women with cancer. For the record, the spats are much fewer and far between at hair-fixing time at our house now that the long hair is gone. It was definitely a good decision!
NUMBER 7: Fill a shoebox for Operation Christmas Child (Project 20). This was the first time I had been introduced to the wonderful project of Operation Christmas Child. It is a program run through Samaritan’s Purse, and they provide shoeboxes full of gifts to poor children all over the world. Abby and I enjoyed picking out treats to fill the box. When you send a box, you can register it online and track where it winds up. Our box was sent to a child in Haiti. We will definitely do this project year after year at our house!
NUMBER 6: Collect pop tabs for the Ronald McDonald House (Project 32). This project was definitely one of my favorites because we got so many people involved! Early in the year, I learned of the tragic passing of an old friend’s little boy (Liam) from leukemia. When I learned what happened, my immediate reaction was to find something we could do to help. I knew we couldn’t help Liam, but maybe we could help someone else in his situation. Liam’s family had stayed at the Ronald McDonald House during his treatment, so we decided to help them.
Ronald McDonald House collects soda can pop tabs, which are recycled to provide money for the day-to-day operations of the house. Abby got her preschool involved, and it was so fun to watch all of the children bringing their pop tabs into school every day! Abby made big jugs for each class, and the classes spent the whole semester filling them up. We collected a LOT of pop tabs!
After collecting all the pop tabs, my mom, Abby and I delivered them to the Ronald McDonald House. While there, we took a tour and saw all of the amazing work that goes on there.
NUMBER 5: Hold a stuffed animal drive and donate to the homeless (Project 15). Every child (and everyone who used to be a child) knows the importance of having a beloved stuffed animal. Many of our children – mine included – have been abundantly blessed in the stuffed animal department, so much so that many of them sit on a shelf un-loved. So, Abby and I decided to collect pre-loved stuffed animals to donate to children who weren’t so lucky.
Once we collected all the stuffed animals, we delivered them to a homeless shelter in Dallas that helps families with children. A friend of mine and two of her boys went along to help deliver the goodies. While there, we got to take a tour of the facility and see where our donations would be going.
NUMBER 3: Go Reverse Trick-or-Treating (Project 18). I have now participated in this project with my child(ren) several times, and I absolutely love it! We assembled a group of children to go to a local assisted living facility. First, we made goodie bags filled with a variety of goodies sure to please the residents – cookies, candy, playing cards, Halloween trinkets, travel-sized kleenex and lotions, etc. Then, we all headed to the assisted living facility and the children delivered all of the goodies. This project is such a great opportunity to get some more use out of those expensive Halloween costumes! The residents all loved getting to see the children, but I think the kids got just as much out of it as the elderly folks did. I highly, highly recommend starting this project with your church group, school group, moms’ group, or a random group of your friends!
Another great thing about this project? Even the littlest of kiddos can participate! I loved that both Jake and Abby could do this project.
NUMBER 2: Hold a neighborhood door-to-door food drive (Project 9). This project is another one of my absolute favorites! For the National Day of Service (September 11), we gathered a small group and went door-to-door in our neighborhood collecting canned goods for the local food pantry. The children really enjoyed this one! Abby memorized her little speech and loved asking each person, “Today is the National Day of Service. Would you like to donate any cans for the food pantry?” We collected a LOT of canned goods! Almost all of the neighbors were extremely generous. This is another project that I highly recommend doing with a group of your own. The next National Day of Service is only a short month away – this is a good, easy way to make a difference in your town!
NUMBER 1: Host a birthday party for the Boys and Girls’ Club (Project 6). By far my favorite project of the year was when we hosted a birthday party at the local Boys & Girls’ Club. This project involved a lot of time and preparation, and I enjoyed every minute of it! Abby and I started by buying party supplies. We then met up with two cake-decorating friends – Jenny and Becky – who helped us decorate a cake and some cupcakes for the celebration.
On the day of the party, I picked Abby up early from preschool and we headed to the Boys & Girls’ Club. We decorated the party room and welcomed over a dozen children who were celebrating birthdays. We lit candles on their cupcakes, sang happy birthday, and enjoyed a wonderful celebration. I wasn’t sure how appreciative the kids would be. Would they think this was dumb? Would they be “too cool” for our little birthday party? I was so pleasantly surprised. They LOVED it! Even the oldest teenagers really loved it. It was obvious these children were not used to birthday parties, and it was such a life-changing experience for me to help them celebrate. If you live anywhere near a local Boys & Girls Club, please contact them and see if you can throw a birthday party sometime this year. I promise, it will be worth every penny you spend and every minute of your time!
Over the course of the year, we completed thirty-nine other projects. Each was special in its own way, and each has changed me for the better. (To see the complete list of projects and to find a link to any project that interests you, visit the Project List page.)
Many times during the course of this year, I have been overwhelmed by the need in the world. There are far more children out there than I can ever throw a birthday party for or send toothbrushes and toothpaste to. Our little projects barely register as a drop in the bucket in the grand scheme of things. But, whenever I have started to get overcome by these thoughts, my mind always returns to a story told one day in a church sermon by our youth minister, Harold, that goes something like this:
A young boy was walking along the beach. Thousands of sand dollars lined the beach. He knew that the sand dollars would die if they were not returned to the water. He spent the morning throwing sand dollars back into the water. Someone asked him, “Why are you doing that? There are so many sand dollars, you can’t possibly make a difference.” As the boy threw another one in the water, he replied, “I just made a difference for that one.”
I know that Abby and I did not change the world over the course of the past year. But, we definitely changed my life, and we hopefully changed the course of hers. Further, I believe we made a difference to hundreds of “sand dollars” along the way.
If one person or one family can make a difference in the lives of a few sand dollars, think about how many could be saved if everyone chipped in? I know that most people are not going to make the kind of committment I made. But really, our service projects took very little time or money. All it took was some planning. Every family plans activities. Why not plan activities that will make a difference and teach your children to be givers?
Our “year of service” may be over, but our committment to service has just begun. I plan to do everything I can to set the example of giving for Abby and Jake and to include them in service at every opportunity.