In the quest to teach my kids to serve others, I looked for opportunities for hands-on service. I wanted them to work hard, sacrifice, give of themselves, and then see the result, see the benefit to others, see with their own eyes how serving others changes lives.
Often service is best given without acknowledgment. We've weeded gardens and shoveled snow and delivered treats with the purpose of being anonymous. There is joy in knowing that they may never guess who helped. And there is a definite goodness that passes between neighbors when someone “suspects” everyone else of being the one who served them.
But sometimes it's encouraging too see that your efforts are really making a difference. Finding such opportunities for whole families to participate in is hard. Few charities want young children involved and the few that do generally don't allow actual contact with those being served. We've filled shoe boxes of thing — to be sent to kids in other countries. We've knitted hats and sewed clothes — that organizations took to deliver to the recipients. We've purchased Christmas presents — that charities gladly accepted. We've cleaned buildings — to be later filled with sick children and their families. But very rarely have we been able to have personal contact with those needing help, so they could witness the result of their efforts.
When these opportunities don't present themselves, another option is to sponsor a child through a children's charity. Many of these organizations, like Plan, provide basis services like health clinics, clean drinking water, vaccinations, etc. Some help overcome cultural issues, like the systematic oppression of girls and women. The best also promote self-reliance by educating, helping with entrepreneurship, etc.
Sponsoring a child in need might not be the same as working with him or her one-on-one. But it's an opportunity to provide real help to a real living, breathing human being. You'll find out about the child you are helping and see the difference one person can make. You'll help the child, the child's family, the entire community. You might be surprised that you'll help yourself as well.