Friday, September 24, 2010

1000 Boxes (Or how to keep your volunteers happy)

I think I have mentioned before one of our favourite places to volunteer is at a local warehouse that, among other things,  packs food and hygiene boxes and distributes them across the province. We first volunteered there almost 2 years ago sorting a huge shipment of crocs which needed to be paired and were then being shipped overseas. It was overwhelming and I thought we may not have really been much help as many of our little ones liked to de-sort the already sorted piles. But they welcomed us back a few months later to pack some food boxes and since then we have made it a regular part of our homeschool co-op activities. I've lost count of the number of times we have been. My kids love to go. They work on the conveyor belt, carefully packing their cans of spaghetti sauce or boxes of cereal into the shipping box, or sorting books from our book drive, or loading the hygiene boxes onto a skid. And they always come away with a sense of satisfaction and accomplishment.

I marvel a bit at their enthusiasm as the work can be monotonous at times. And yet this organization has truly figured out how to keep kids interested and motivated. In fact I think they could write a handbook on how to make the most of the energy of young volunteers

1) They set things up in small, doable tasks that are easy for kids to manage. Supplies are easily reachable by big and small kids, there is a sign to remind them how many of their items need to be packed, and the directions are very clear.

2) They allow for flexibility within reason. If a child is bored with putting crackers in a box they can switch with a friend, or go break down empty boxes, or stack new boxes or unload supplies for a neighbour. Small ones can help with simple jobs. Even the toddlers can pick up small boxes and put them in larger boxes or push the empty boxes to the recycling bin.

3) There is constant encouragement and cheer leading, not patronizing but heart felt, from the man who runs the warehouse. He works with the kids, making things easier for them, keeping an eye out for supplies that are running low, refilling tape dispensers, appreciating their efforts, and gently guiding them if needed. The manager of the program always makes an appearance, greets the kids and teases them about how much they have grown or who is missing teeth or who is wearing their favourite shirt again and he always says how happy he is to see them again, cementing that connection for them.

4) The kids know what the end result of their work will be. Before we start we're told where these boxes will go. They know the overall goal for the day's packing and how that fits into the bigger picture. This context gives them something tangible to help them understand that every box helps a family and that their work is valuable.

5) There is room for a child's natural enthusiasm and yet the atmosphere is created where the kids understand that we are there to help others, and that if we pack boxes with love and care and respect, the people on the other end will feel that. Our gift is not only the act of physically packing but care that goes into that.

6) They have Popsicles.
At the end of every one of our sessions, the kids do the last minute clean up and put things back in order as best they can. And then they gather for a thank you and a treat. The cost to the organization is few dollars. And yet that simple act of a gift at the end of our time helps turn rewarding work into a memorable experience. It also cements a connection that has allowed our contact with this organization to grow in such a way that my kids will often think of something and ask me if FTC could use their idea.

Today, we were the group that packed the last of 1000 food boxes to be distributed for Thanksgiving. The organization wanted to take our picture with the boxes for their newsletter. And while we were gathering the kids we were figuring that our group (in its various combinations) has probably packed at least 1000 boxes over the past year.

The kids can't wait to go back to get started on their next 1000.

Thursday, September 23, 2010

International Day of Nonviolence

In a gentle way, you can shake the world.
~ Mohandas Gandhi

October 2 marks both the birth of Gandhi and the UN's International Day of Nonviolence. We will likely head over to a nearby town for a peace walk but before then I want to do a bit more reading and research with my children on both topics.

Here are some of the resources I've found:

Gandhi: the young protester who founded a nation by Philip Wilkinson, Gandhi by Demi
Jadyn and the Magic Bubble: I Met Gandhi by Brigitte Benchimol
Paths to peace : people who changed the world by Jane Bresking Zalben,
Gandhi (DVD with Ben Kingsley)

The war by Anais Vaugelade, (one of our favourites about choosing non-violence)

Institute for Peace and Justice which has pledges of nonviolence for children of various ages.

Wednesday, September 22, 2010


I came across Youngzine today which is an online newspaper aimed at kids ages 8-15.
The stories look to be internationally focused, well researched and broad in scope. There is also the opportunity to write for the news magazine.

Definitely one to check out.

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Happy Peace Day!

A few shots from our Peace Party in the Park and the Human Peace Sign we participated in this evening. Wishing you a peaceful day.

Sunday, September 19, 2010

Planning for Peace

If we are to teach real peace in this world, and if we are to carry on a real war against war, we shall have to begin with the children.
~ Mohandas Gandhi

Taken at a children's peace labyrinth we visited earlier this month.
The sign is made of a mosaic of children's drawings about peace.

Peace Day is coming up on Tuesday. Our family is joining with some friends for a Peace Party in the Park and then we will make our way over to the nearby town to participate in their annual human peace sign. We went last year and the kids had a blast.

I've been searching for some activities to do at our Peace Party and thought I would share what my friends and I found here and what we are planning for the day.

~ How to make an Origami Crane (we hope to make enough to leave some strings on the Children's monument we are gathering around)
~ Peace Bracelets inspired by the ones here
~ Pinwheels

~ If we have enough kids we plan on making a human peace sign.
~ We'll play a game about relying on friends to hold the world up. I did this at a Kids 4 Peace gathering we had a few years ago. We blow up balloons - about one for every two kids and then we give them all to one child to hold. Inevitably it is too many to keep track of and they fall on the ground. Then we invite in a friend to help and it gets easier but is still challenging. We keep inviting kids to help until by working together, we are able to keep all the balloons off the ground. Then we help the kids make the conclusion that not only was it easier when everyone was working together, it was more fun.
~ We'll have a Postcards for Peace station where kids can make postcards with their wishes for peace. For the holder children we will talk a bit about the MDG and the UN meeting that is taking place today to assess our collective (minimum) progress and then the kids can write to the Prime Minister and our MP about honouring their commitments to these goals. Younger children can make general postcards. We are looking for peace pen pals to share them with.
~ I've found some more activities in the educational resources section at Peace One Day

We'll also have some music supplied by a talented young friend and eventually I would like to get some CDs to play at events like this.

We'll also have a shared snack and some story time, and a chance to discuss a peace pledge.
Some of our favourite kids books about peace:
A little peace by Barbra Kerley,

Paths to peace: people who changed the world by Jane Breskin Zalben,
Peace one day by Jeremy Gilley,
Let there be light : poems and prayers for repairing the world by Jane Breskin Zalben,
Peace tales : world folktales to talk about by Margaret Read MacDonald,
Old Turtle by Douglas Wood
A million visions of peace : wisdom from the friends of Old Turtle by Jennifer Garrison,
Peace begins with you by Katherine Scholes,

Did you know that the Nobel Peace Prize Laureates called for the decade 2000 - 2010 to be a decade of peace?

Peace is not something you wish for; It's something you make, Something you do, Something you are, And something you give away.
~ Robert Fulghum

Saturday, September 18, 2010

Dear Editor...

For the last two weekends a small group of young people has been “Pulling for Pakistan” at the Farmer's Market. In exchange for a donation to the Red Cross Pakistan Relief Fund, these kids would pull their wagons loaded with customers’ packages from the market to their vehicles.

Over the course of two weekends, through the incredible generosity of the market patrons, the children raised $1360, which will be matched by the Canadian government. We were all thrilled with the outcome. And as parents, we are so grateful to this community, not only for their donations, but for their encouragement and kind words to the children about their efforts to do something tangible in the face of this tragedy in Pakistan. Our children came away from the experience having learned the powerful lessons that even though they are young, they can make a real difference by working together and involving their community.

On behalf of the eleven families, and 30 kids that participated I would like to say a huge thank you to everyone who offered their donations and good wishes. You touched many lives in many ways through your generosity.


Karen and friends

Our letter of thanks to our community was published in today's paper.

Friday, September 17, 2010

Growing volunteers

This week we headed back to the nonprofit nursery with our friends to help get things ready for winter. The kids worked very hard - and some (the younger girls) even chose to keep working when they could have gone on a hike. They were on a mission to catch up to the boys in moving the crates of trees back onto the ground. It is always lovely to see their focus and commitment when they know their work is valuable and their efforts and abilities are acknowledged.

This particular nursery provides trees free of charge to homeowners and community groups doing reforestation projects and so all week the kids have been chatting up the value of this nursery to our friends and neighbours. It's easy to see how connected they are to this ideal.

The staff there are wonderful with the kids and I think that make all the difference. They found meaningful jobs for even the smallest among us, gave the kids plenty of choices about how they wanted to contribute and most of all trusted the kids to do the work they so wanted to do.   We have been lucky to find a few exceptional opportunities that the kids can get completely engaged in and I have often thought of writing down tips for volunteer organizations about how to work with young children as volunteers, because I think that most organizations don't know how to harness the energy and enthusiasm of a group of committed kids.

Saturday, September 4, 2010

If we cared for one another's children

Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it's the only thing that ever has.
~ Margaret Mead

The solution to adult problems tomorrow depends on large measure upon how our children grow up today.
~ Margaret Mead

Today my kids and their friends launched their Pulling for Pakistan project. At 6:30 am we loaded up the van with our wagons and signs and headed down to our farmer's market.  We set up our info table and donation jar just outside the market and started offering shoppers help to their vehicles in exchange for a donation to the Canadian Red Cross Pakistan Flood Relief Fund.   It started off a bit slow but then our friends started to arrive and business picked up.  The kids would pull in teams, sometimes with a parent and other times on their own.

People were exceedingly generous. And patient. And so kind in their encouragement and comments to the kids.

I was a bit hesitant last night as I was searching online for pictures to print out that showed the extent of the need without being too upsetting (and no the sad irony of that was not lost on me.)  I was so disheartened at one point reading comments to the news stories about why people have been slow to give to this crisis. Religion. Politics. Donor fatigue. Helplessness. Skepticism and mistrust.

And then today I was blown away by the fact that none of that seemed to matter to the people who dropped coins and bills in our jars. Until, late in the day, one woman approached me and told me how much she disagreed with what we were doing. That Pakistan has nuclear weapons. That the "Muslim countries" aren't doing enough and that there are other people more deserving of our attention and our efforts.  Slightly alarmed, I tried to keep walking her away from the kids. I told her that I agreed with her concerns about peace but that the Red Cross is not the Pakistan government and that NGOs are trying to help people whose lives have been torn apart by this flood as best they can. I explained that all my children wanted to do was to help other children who were homeless, hungry, thirsty, at risk of serious disease and who were undoubtedly scared that no one would help them. That our kids had done similar things to raise funds and send care packages to Haiti, send books to First Nations communities, and collect food for the food bank. That what these children behind me wanted to do was help where they could, however they can, without reserve, because it is the right thing to do.

And I told her that perhaps if we cared for each others children, and we taught our children to care for each other more than we care about our politics, that perhaps, just perhaps, we could create a world without the need for weapons.

Our kids, through the generosity of others, raised $560 today.
We'll be back next week.
I'll be better prepared to handle questions.
But I can't see that I could be any more proud of these kids and the community they are creating.

A small body of determined spirits fired by an unquenchable faith in their mission can alter the course of history.
~ Mohandas K. Gandhi

The young, free to act on their initiative, can lead their elders in the direction of the unknown... The children, the young, must ask the questions that we would never think to ask, but enough trust must be re-established so that the elders will be permitted to work with them on the answers.

~ Margaret Mead