Family volunteering cultivates positive values (such as caring and empathy) in children/youth and can be done by the whole family together, by one parent and one child/teen, or with extended family such as grandparents, aunts, uncles and cousins. When families engage in service it can ultimately lead to the mobilization of thousands of new volunteers and instill in the next generation a lifelong commitment to volunteering. On November 17th, Hands On Hartford participated in its very first Family Volunteer Day, sponsored by Disney’s Friends for Change and powered by our friends at GenerationOn (the youth arm of Points of Light). Family Volunteer Day was created 22 years ago by Points of Light and is strategically held on the Saturday before Thanksgiving to “kick-off” the holiday season with giving and service.
This event was unique because it was the first of its kind that we organized and because of the volunteer base that we drew from. Hands On Hartford reached out to its non-profit partners, who are typically the beneficiaries of our service projects and engaged them in this specially created service project at Weaver High School. A medley of groups participated in our half-day event including students/teachers from the American School for the Deaf, Wish and ML King Elementary Schools. We were also pleased to see our friends from Marshall House Salvation Army – who brought all of its families to lend a hand. Moreover, we had youth volunteers from girl & boy scouts, RISE UP (a leadership development program associated with Weaver High) and youth from a local Boys & Girls Club.
• created dazzling Thanksgiving cards to be included in Hands On Hartford’s annual Turkey Boxes – boxes distributed to needy families that contain a turkey and all the fixings for a meal
• cleaned all of the doors within this massive school building
• painted the future main office of the school (including the area outside)
• painted a classroom on the first floor
• created culinary art themed murals
• painted select walls on the 2nd floor (including the cafeteria area).
All 93 volunteers were eager to participate in the projects and many of the volunteers were grateful for the opportunity to give back. It was wonderful to see a resident from Marshall House sit with his children and make Thanksgiving cards for the Turkey Boxes (which was distributed to our food pantry clients). He commented that he and his family have often received these types of hand outs and he knows how much the cards will mean to the person/s receiving the Turkey Boxes. It was also great to see another volunteer, who happened to be from the same shelter, take the lead directing other volunteers. This opportunity empowered not only youth, but also the disadvantaged.
Some of the volunteers even brought turkeys for our Thanksgiving Boxes. The day culminated with lunch and a youth friendly reflection. In honor of Disney and fairy tales, we decided to have a “magicwand” reflection. Each group was provided with a magic wand (chopstick) and asked how the experience was similar to granting a wish. The students loved the activity, in particular the wands and not only did they get the connection but also wished for those who are less fortunate to have many of the material things that they have.
Nine year-old Maria Shrivers shared, “I liked how we made cards for other people that go to the soup kitchen. I liked painting the walls at the high school. The last thing I liked was when we had Subway for lunch. I learned from doing this that I can be of help to others, and you should treat other people how you want to be treated.” We truly appreciate the opportunity that both Disney Friends for Change and GenerationOn afforded us, the youth and our partner agencies; it was a wonderful way to “kick-off” the season of giving.