How To Impact Your Community

Serving in your community can be a powerful way for families to remember they can make a difference. As single parents, we can feel busy and overwhelmed, and our lives may look different now, but we still have something to give.

As we talk about community, Brian Myers, single dad of five kids, pastor, and leader of several non-profits with a heart for outreach shares more. Serving played a huge part in his solo journey. He was already in ministry and serving in the church world when he became a solo parent. His kids were already involved in serving with him from time to time, but God revealed to Brian during that time to have them do even more. Even if there were times the serving came from a sense of duty, obligation, or even some guilt, Brian saw God do something beautiful with it regardless of the motivation.

The benefits of serving
The benefits of serving as a family allowed Brian to see attributes in each of his kids that were unique to them. He saw their strengths and he saw them change and grow. Where once there may have been selfishness, he saw kindness and selflessness develop. This didn’t happen every time but over time he saw the rewards that came with service and sacrifice and it compelled him to keep finding ways to give to others. And, serving together took their minds off their own circumstances. Being a single dad, Brian saw his kids dealing with life as a solo family. Serving became a way for them to forgot some of their struggles and build compassion for others.
These benefits are why we talk so much about giving back as single parent families. Sometimes, though, our kids don’t see the benefit and push back. Brian shares that his kids were not always on board with serving with him. He would often disguise some of the service as opportunities for fun. He learned to divide up the time into small segments, so it wasn’t overwhelming. He talked about the cool people they would get to meet and hang out with. He let them know how much it would help him as a dad or ministry leader as well as impact those they were serving. He often reminded them that it was going to be time with Dad that would be meaningful and beneficial. His kids weren’t always enthusiastic, but he worked hard to present serving opportunities in ways that would appeal to them and adapt them to his kids’ ages and needs.

Brian’s background in ministry gave him lots of opportunities to develop practical ways to get volunteers involved and to include their kids. A basic way to get started in giving back is helping with food pantries. You may think this area of service is saturated, but food insecurity continues to be an ongoing significant need for families. When you hear of opportunities to donate food, do it! Ask your kids to help you go through your shelves at home and put together items you can drop off to a food bank or distribution site. Choose non-perishable, shelf-stable foods that will appeal to a variety of families. Give them your best. Give them the items that you would want to receive and talk to your kids about that. Or make a special trip to the grocery store and shop only for items you want to give away to others. Let your kids pick out some of the items needed to create their favorite meals. Even though single parent families are on a budget, demonstrating this kind of generosity to your kids sends a powerful message about giving.

Kim shares that during her single parent journey there was a time she needed food and went to a food bank. She said it took her 45 minutes to go inside. She sat in the parking lot and cried, knowing she needed the food, but feeling so much shame and sadness. She pulled herself together and walked in. A woman greeted her with sensitivity, grace, and joy and she has become a friend to this day. When we give and serve, remember that each person we encounter has a story. Being in a position to receive can feel vulnerable and tender. Talk to your kids about that. Let them know that at some point or other, we will all experience a need for help or service of some kind. Show them how to love others well with dignity, honor, and respect. Teach your kids by your example how to lead with love, joy, and humility, putting others at ease who may feel uncomfortable or emotionally fragile being served. Teach them to give their best and to meet people where they are.

In serving, we are not only helping the community we live in, but we are also shaping our kids’ hearts and creating a community of generosity, of simple service, and of care within our homes. Without even saying anything, our kids begin to realize that their toys, their furniture, and their clothing are a gift and helps them put them into perspective.

Brian shares that another way to give back with kids are the elderly. Scripture talks about making a point to remember those who are forgotten like senior adults. When a senior sees a volunteer walk in with kids, it lights up their world. Bring homemade notes and puzzle books like crosswords, Sudoku, and hearty plants that don’t require a lot of maintenance. Having your kids bring gifts like this brings value to elderly people who may feel unseen and alone. The senior adults often ask kids about their lives and this sparks natural conversation where kids then ask about them too. The give and take teaches our kids that elderly people have value, they have wisdom to share, and interesting or funny stories to tell.  Kids begin to see the value of offering companionship and the power of relationship as they develop socially by spending time with those who may not have visitors often, if at all.

How to find places and ways to serve
Use the internet to do a search for nursing homes or centers for senior adults. Call a community center or senior living facility and ask them if they have residents who don’t have family or who don’t get many visitors. Ask if they accept visitors and if it would be okay to visit with your kids and bring gifts. Find out what kinds of things might be acceptable to bring and what not to bring. Ask about specific times and any guidelines for safety.

You can also call non-profits like Meals on Wheels and determine needs they know about. Even if you find one person in need of a visit in your community, that will make a big difference to them. Some of them only see paid healthcare workers or insurance representatives. They may never receive visitors who come just to talk with them.  This kind of interaction brings so much peace and encouragement and lets your kids too.

Five years ago, Brian began to visit senior adults in his community. He was working for a non-profit and was connected with an elderly woman who needed rides to and from doctors’ appointments. When Brian picked her up, he noticed her home needed care. The next week he brought a crossword puzzle book, cleaning supplies, and a little plant that required little care. As Brian helped clean her house, they visited and talked. It turns out that the little plant he brought meant the world to her. It was a simple gesture but one that warmed her heart because her husband had loved to garden. When Brian went to leave, she said, “I’m going to name this plant Brian” so she could remember his kindness and the joy he brought with him. Brian said it was the sweetest thing. It really got him, and he cried. Just a half hour out of his day made such a huge difference. He became more determined to do things like this more and more and to include his kids. Even when we can’t do a lot, finding little pockets of time where we can give back goes a long way. Small deliberate acts can make a difference to the receiver, but they also mean the world to us too.

Sometimes, we serve and there is no obvious return, but the act of service still matters. One of our single mom podcast contributors, Marissa, takes her sons to a nursing home to visit. The patients have dementia, so they don’t remember them each time, but it means something to them in the moment. Regardless of any tangible return, her kids see that serving others is important and valuable. We give our loaves and fishes and let God do the rest.

Serving doesn’t always require much. Be kind. Greet people. Serving can be found in simple acts. There’s a great quote by Helen Keller that says, “I am only one but still I am one. I cannot do everything but still I can do something. I will not refuse to do the something that I can do.” Maybe the something you can do right now is not a lot, but our kids can do something! They may push back, they may not be that willing, but it is essential to provide ways for them to give and serve. God will use these moments with our kids to shape their hearts. We, as single parents, lead the way and let God do the rest. Find a way to give and serve in some way today. The community you live in will benefit and so will the community you are creating at home as a family.

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