Source: Indys Child Parenting Magazine

Cats on a Mission
Teaching Kids to be Mission Junkies

by Maria Murphy

October 01, 2009

I am a big believer in service. It was an important part of my childhood and I haven’t been able to shake it ever since. I love the feeling I get when I help someone. I guess it really is true—there is no such thing as altruism, because altruism makes us feel good about ourselves. Whatever! I like doing it and I feel it is important to embed the same values in my kids’ brains. If we only help the people inside of our immediate circle, what are we telling our kids?

This summer, we got back to our old volunteer gig—working at the Humane Society. Every week my kids and I go over to the Cattery, (yes, it’s called the Cattery) to volunteer by playing with the cats. Apparently, being chased around by a zealous seven year old is a good thing. It preps the cats for adoption. Of course, for all my son’s exuberance, my daughter is working double time with a combination of cuddling and “re-organizing” the individual cages. No cage is too frightening for my daughter. All cats deserve a neat bed and little play toy. This year, there was also a book sale. We brought in some old books, but we decided to dial it up a bit. We took a stroll around the neighborhood and solicited books. The result? Two giant boxes of donated books, or three if you include ours. Talk about a big bang for the buck.

I’m not trying to toot my own horn. Actually, I am in shock that we were able to stick with it and make an impact. But we all learned a few things this summer and I thought I would share them.

Volunteering improves self-esteem.

My kids have so much pride because they “own” their volunteer identity. They realize that what they do matters. Not only does it make them feel good, but also they are making the life an animal better because of their behavior. And they know it.

Volunteering is not about you!

One time we went into the Cattery only to find all of the cats running around outside of their cages. It was pandemonium. A real mess. Turns out the volunteer before us had set them all free and not put them back in their cages. This made more work for the employees. Instead, we made it our job that day to wrestle all the cats together and get them settled into their homes. Not an easy task. We learned that when you are volunteering, you are doing a service for someone—so make sure it serves them.

Volunteering teaches us a lot.

My kids have learned everything from responsibility and commitment to sequencing and paying attention to the details. For example, we learned never to shut the utility closet door until you have made sure there are no cats hiding in it. Volunteering teaches us how to connect to a world that is bigger than the immediacy of our lives. It teaches us that what we do matters and that we can change the world.

Consider getting into your own volunteer gig with the kids this fall. One-time events are good when you can’t commit to the ongoing stuff. I find the ongoing volunteering has its own magic because you can really see your impact over time. Make sure you do it with your kids. The opportunities to mentor are endless in a volunteering environment. Have fun and give with your child. I guarantee what you get back will be worth every moment spent giving to others.

Looking for an idea? Consider ONE CAN. This campaign with local schools encourages each child to donate only ONE CAN once a month. The goal? Get kids interested in giving, make it attainable for all to give in order to teach them that something as simple as one can of food can change the world when we all work together. Check it out at .