Be Santa. Volunteering with kids.

I’ve been a volunteer for a major part of my life. I taught English to children in a local orphanage since I was 16, I worked with children from underprivileged backgrounds in Croatia and with little cancer patients in Spain. And since I had kids, I’ve been a volunteer translator for several organizations.

Volunteering has always been extremely important for me not only because of gaining work experience. Yet as a kid I was inspired by stories about helping those in need, my role model was “Sara, A Little Princess” 🙂 and I couldn’t wait to be older and actually “make a difference”.

It was clear for me that I want to involve my kids in volunteering and helping others, too, but I didn’t have a clue on where to start. How to explain the principles of solidarity and sharing to a preschooler who screams if his little brother comes near ANY of his toys? Every parent knows that small kids can tear each other’s hair fighting over one toy even if there are plenty of toys around.

Last year the kids agreed to bring food donations to the church with me as long as I got exactly the same sweets for them. It wasn’t really my point; I wanted them to genuinely BE INVOLVED and see how their help can make someone happy

There is plenty of information on the Web about volunteering with children, but very little information about volunteering options for children and families. It made me think for a while: why do we focus so much on language classes, sports, new toys, and so little on teaching values of help and solidarity? If a three year old is not considered too young to play piano and study French twice a week, is he too young to help out and share?

I looked at my kids, a three year old and a five year old, and I thought: if volunteering has to work, they need to enjoy it. They need to have fun. It can’t be another obligation they hate but have to do, like cleaning up their room or working with preschool exercise books.

WP_009960Andrés and Michał love animals, especially dogs. They’ve asked me milion times to get a dog, but it’s really not an option for the moment with my long working hours and our small flat. So, I decided we could bring some presents to the local animal shelter. Let’s make some dogs happy!
I read them a story about a little boy who adopts a dog from the shelter and explained a little about abandoned animals. They were both very sad to hear that some dogs and cats are abandoned by their owners.

December seemed a good time for me to start our volunteer project as I wanted to explain the boys that Christmas is not only about presents and decorations; I’d like to help the boys understand the spirit of giving and receiving, helping and sharing with those in need. So, we decided to visit the shelter on the 6th of December, which is Saint Nicholas’Day in Poland. I got both boys Santa’s hats and told them that we’re going to be Santas and bring presents for dogs in the shelter.

We called our project “Be Santa” and decided to dedicate each weekend of Advent to to do a good deed. The boys were excited to wear their Santa’s hats and people smiled at my little Santas during our long journey by bus to the shelter.
When we arrived with a huge gift bag filled with dog food, treats andblankets, a shelter worker was thrilled to see little Santas and took us a picture. After that we went to see dogs and cats in the shelter.

WP_009961     Michał got scared of many barking dogs and preferred to watch cats for a long              while. I explained to the boys that the dogs are barking to attract our attention,            it’s their way to say “Hey, I’m here! Will you take me home”?

Andrés got a soft spot for a small, black and white dog

that wagged his tail in aWP_009964 friendly way and wasn’t barking at all. We were sorry to see him shivering from cold; the shelter staff have to change the dogs’ water a few times a day since it freezes.

The boys were sad that we couldn’t take the dog home; we decided to continue to bring food to the shelter and pray for him to find a loving home soon.

Just as we were about to leave, we saw two families who were taking their new pets home; a cat and a dog. Adoptions take place in the shelter on a regular basis;  we were also glad to learn that the Animal Shelter in Poznań is supported by a dedicated group of volunteers who take care of animals, provide them with temporary homes and organize food and money donations. It is also more and more popular for wedding couples in Poznań to ask guests to bring food for shelter animals instead of flowers.

WP_009962

There was a huge pile of gifts for the shelter next to our gift bag and one man was carrying a huge bag with cat food.

– Is he a Santa,too? He doesn’t have a hat – Michał asked.

– He doesn’t need a hat – replied Andrés. – Everyone can be Santa, right,mum?

 

If you would like to be a Santa too, describe your volunteer project on your blog, Facebook or Instagram with a hashtag #BeSanta.  What are your ideas to volunteer with children? I’d love to hear your ideas and stories!

If you would like to learn more about the great labour Animal Shelter in Poznań, volunteer or adopt a pet, you can visit their website: http://schronisko.com .

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