I feel grateful to have connected with David Ozab in the Internet world this year. He has been a great encouragement to me as I launched my book out into the world this October, and I love the way he writes about faith and being a stay-at-home Dad. Check out his blog here!
This story begins with our daughter, Anna. When she started Kindergarten, we wanted to volunteer in her school. We were only two of a handful of parents who were able to step forward, and yet before long we realized that we weren’t just helping our daughter, we were helping all her classmates as well.
And many of them really needed our help.
We’re not well off by any means, but we’re not poor either. Like most American families, we get by from paycheck to paycheck, we struggle with debt, and while we hope to buy a house someday, we’re not quite sure how we’ll ever come up with a realistic down payment.
In other words, we’re average. But we soon found out that our neighborhood school wasn’t. It was the fourth poorest in the district.
On the first field trip of the school year, we traveled to a local farm to pick apples, collect pumpkins, and sample fresh pressed cider. As our visit drew to a close, we gathered our group of five kids (Anna included) at a picnic table for lunch. A girl opened her sack lunch and began fidgeting with her bagel and cream cheese package. She seemed perplexed.
“You need a hand?” Julia asked.
The girl nodded and handed her the bagel and cream cheese.
“No knife, huh?”
The girl shook her head.
“That’s okay, we’ll figure this out.” Julia separated the bagel, opened the cream cheese, and quickly arrived at a solution. She tore off a small piece of bagel and used it as a knife, scooping out a dollop of cream cheese and spreading it over the other half.
Suddenly, the three other kids thrust their bagels at Julia with a chorus of “Please!”
They all had the exact same sack lunch, provided by the cafeteria for kids on the free lunch program. Every one but Anna. That day we realized we weren’t just volunteering for our daughter, we were volunteering for all her friends.
I went into the classroom for an hour each week and into the library for an hour on top of that. I helped kids with writing, read to them, tutored their reading, and helped them pick books to check out and take home.
My wife couldn’t come into the classroom—her work schedule made that impossible—but she helped out with after class projects and field trips. Together, we felt like we were making a difference, not just in our daughter’s life—she gets the benefit of our attention at home as well—but in the lives of all the kids in her class. We felt like we were helping to give them a chance at a good education.
The sad part is that circumstances beyond our control led us to leave. Our daughter has a new neighborhood school—a “better” school in that it’s not high poverty—but her friends are still at her old school, and they need all the help they can get.
All public schools are struggling with shrinking budgets and fleeing families. We were tempted at times to homeschool, and had it been within our means, we might have looked into private school as well. While our particular move was unavoidable, in the end, all leaving a school does is continue to lower funding for the kids who have no other option; those kids whose parents are both working—if they even have two parents—and must attend their neighborhood public school.
One way to make a difference is to do what we did. Volunteer—in your child’s school if you have school-age children or in a neighborhood school if you don’t. They are desperate for help, and if you have any applicable skills, particularly in areas that are underfunded (like music and art), you could make a big difference.
Outside of schools, there are other organizations that help at-risk youth. Before our daughter started kindergarten, my wife volunteered at the Boys and Girls Club. Check with your local chapter. They are always happy to get help.
The problems faced by the poor in our culture, particularly poor children, seem overwhelming. Rather than throw up our hands and wonder what we can do, let’s all give a little time. An hour a week in your local community is a small act that can make a big difference in the lives of many children. And with thousands of people available to volunteer in thousands of communities, those thousands of small acts could just change the world.