Inside: Spread kindness as a family through this Family Volunteer Challenge for September by thanking our firefighters who are essential community helpers.
It started like a normal day. It didn’t end that way.
By dinner time, we were making plans to pack up our most valuable assets. We calmly explained to our kids that we were going to evacuate just in case. And we asked them what they would want to pack as we tried to swallow our panic.
The kids started gathering their must-take items like a blankie, a signed baseball and a cherished stuffed animal. And we did the same: photo albums, Christmas ornaments, our wedding video.
And rather quickly, the alerts came buzzing through our phone and we had to speed up our packing. We were still on voluntary evacuations but the fire raging near us was coming closer and it was coming fast.
The nice-to pack list quickly morphed into a more frenzied, shove things into your bags, and shove things in the car as quickly as possible.
I ran into my neighbor’s home to grab her wedding album and her father’s flag from his funeral…but I had never been in her home before in the decade we had lived next door.
We sped away from our house, urging our neighbors and friends to follow suit, heading for my inlaws’ house an hour away from the fire, ash and smoke.
I looked at my house in the rearview and said my goodbyes. The fire was headed right for our home.
This is why we have insurance I kept reassuring myself. Everything can be replaced. We’re safe.
And then I spent the night obsessively watching the news and following the tweets, watching the firefighters try to save homes and head off more damage.
And by the morning, by some miracle, our home was saved. In fact, our whole neighborhood had been saved.
The winds shifted and the fire went a completely different direction, tearing through the hills all the way to the ocean, destroying friends’ and colleagues’ homes instead of ours.
It was overwhelming how close we came to losing everything. We were so grateful to all the firefighters who risked their lives to save countless homes and acres.
We spent the next months helping friends and community members recover and thanking our firefighters by bringing them meals and thank you cards.
So between that experience, the fact that I’m related to an amazing firefighter, the fact that wildfire “season” is very much a thing for our home state, and September 11th’s stories of heroic firefighters running into the World Trade Center buildings makes our September Volunteer Challenge the perfect time to pause and thank our firefighters.
Why it’s Important to Volunteer with our Kids:
We are raising kind kids. We expect it, we praise it, and we model it.
Related: How to Raise Kinder Kids
And we tend to focus on the quiet, normal, everyday moments of kindness.
Holding the door for the person behind you.
Picking up something someone dropped.
Offering your seat to someone who needs it.
But there’s also bigger, grander, more time-consuming acts of kindness that falls more into the volunteering category of kindness:
Times when we donate to our local food bank.
Or collect all our old jackets and take them to a shelter that needs them.
Or when we take a taco to someone who’s really hungry.
Our kindness may not change the world. But it can change the world for the people we help.
And it instills in my children the fact that volunteering and acts of service are a normal part of lives.
Helping others doesn’t need to be a once a year activity during December when we donate a toy or two.
People are hungry year round.
Animal shelters are full year round.
Kids are sick year round.
And we can help. Because we are helpers. We are raising our kids to be helpers.
As an added bonus (as if we needed one more reason) volunteering as a family is an incredible way to connect as a family and build a strong family identity.
So teaching our kids to give to others who are less fortunate than ourselves is a true gift.
And volunteering is one of the easiest ways to help kids practice being compassionate. Compassion is feeling others’ pain or hardship or suffering and then being prompted to take action to relieve that suffering.
Many families want to donate and volunteer but it feels too hard.
And they don’t know where to volunteer or how easy it really is to make a significant difference.
So we’re here to make it easier for you with the Family Volunteer Challenge for September.
How the Family Volunteer Challenge Works:
Every month, we’ll post a family-friendly service activity you and your kids can do together.
It’s 12 months, 1 activity each month, 10-30 minutes each month.
And it’ll be super easy.
We’ll give you a suggestion.
You can run with it, tweak it, make it your own, or scrap it and do something totally different.
Your only tasks are to commit to doing this as a family, talk about what you’re doing and why with your kids so it has a lasting impact, and then protect the time on your calendar so it doesn’t get pushed back.
And it also has to come with this crucial caveat…you can only do this Family Volunteer Challenge if you do it with no guilt.
- No guilt that you didn’t start it sooner. You’re starting now and that’s incredible.
- No guilt if one month, life got in the way and you skipped it. You can do it next month, no worries.
- No guilt if you think your kids are selfish and self-centered and are ungrateful. They probably are but that’s not their fault or yours. It’s how their brain is wired and we can turn giving to others and being generous into a learned habit.
Okay, now that we’re guilt-free, let’s start spreading some kindness.
12 Months of Volunteering as a Family:
Before we jump into September’s volunteering activity, you can check out past month’s volunteer activities in case you missed it and want to do more.
Now for September’s Volunteer Challenge:
For September, we’re thanking our firefighters.
Firefighters spend days and weeks away from their families battling fires and wildfires and are the first responders on our worst days. They show up to medical emergencies and car accidents and of course, fires.
Of course, as a society we’re grateful.
But we rarely think of firefighters unless we need them. Unless we see them buying groceries at the store or racing past us to the next emergency.
But we can intentionally thank the firefighters closest to us who are on call to help us if we ever need them.
Do the Family Volunteer Challenge for September now:
There are tons of ways to thank firefighters. If you see one you can just thank them for their service.
You can make them a Thank you sign and drop it off at the firehouse.
You can use these firefighter printables and print the version that’s best for you. (You can download them below).
You can bake cookies or take donuts and coffee.
After the fire tore through our town, we signed up for meals and made them dinner.
So first, decide what you and your family want to do. You can choose something that takes a little bit of time like picking up donuts or one that’s more time consuming like baking.
I’ve learned firefighters rarely turn down food.
But as with all things, it’s the thought that counts so taking time to write a thank you note or a thank you sign as a thoughtful gesture will definitely be appreciated. They’ll probably hang it up in their family room or kitchen so all the shifts can see the gratitude even if they miss out on the cookies or donuts.
Once you’ve made your sign or note and you have what you’re taking them, look up your nearest fire station.
We discovered the fire station we drive past often isn’t even our closest fire station…the firefighters that would show up to our house in an emergency are even closer but down a street we rarely drive past.
When you’re there, knock on the door and let them know you wanted to drop off something small as a token of your appreciation for everything they do. If you have a child who is willing to do the talking, have them explain what they brought and why. That’s it.
Appreciation for others…especially essential workers we often take for granted… is a great way to spread kindness.
Talk about it:
One of the most powerful parts of volunteering or donating something is talking to our kids about it so they understand the impact and the why. When they understand why they’re doing what they’re doing, they’re more likely to do it again.
Which will make volunteering more of an ingrained habit.
If you need help explaining it to younger kids, here’s how we do it: Firefighters are incredible community helpers who are always ready and willing to help anyone who needs it. If there’s a fire and we call 911, they’ll show up. If there’s an accident or someone is hurt, they’ll show up with the paramedics because most firefighters are paramedics. Since they’re always there ready to help, it’s important that we take the time to tell them we think they’re important and we appreciate them.
You can also read books to help kids learn about firefighters:
Have a conversation with your kiddos after they make the sign and bake the cookies and drop them off about how easy it was to take the time to appreciate firefighters and donate something small. We can remind them to appreciate the community helpers and essential workers who make our lives easier and safer.
And you can ask them these questions:
What would happen if no one was at the fire station to come help when we needed them?
What do you think makes a firefighter so brave?
What other ways can we show our appreciation and gratitude to essential workers?
Why is it important to show our appreciation and gratitude to essential workers like firefighters?
Celebrate and Spread the Word:
Be proud of your volunteering and let your kids know you’re proud of them. Celebrate the time your family spent making the sign or notes for your town firemen and women.
And share the Family Volunteer Challenge for September with other families. Kindness is contagious. Challenge other families to join you by asking them to also take a minute and thank firefighters.