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7 Service Projects to Invest in This New Year

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For those who have followed my site for a while, you know I am really into service.  For several reasons, I have found service to be beneficial to my family and community.  In a post-COVID world where everyone is worried about health and wellness, I would argue that a great way to stay healthy is to serve.  Serving feels good, can bring a sense of belonging, reduces isolation, and brings perspective to our situations.   For those who home school, we have found it a great way to create relationships and socialize.

Many I have spoken with have told me they want to serve, think it is a great way for them to invest in their communities, and even to help their kids with school and life perspectives.  But, they have no idea where to start. 

I recommend what my dad recommends, “Find something worth dying for and go live for it.” But how do you do that?  You have to get out there.  You have to look for it.  What gets your blood boiling when you see injustice?  What makes you want to cry when you see someone downhearted?  What moves you when you hear the story?  These are good questions to ask when you search for a service project.

In my nearly 30 years of service, I have served in every capacity from food closets to first responders and from human trafficking to military organizations.  Here are just 10 ways I have found you and your family can get involved and serve together:

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1. Your local church: If you are stuck, the church, any church, is always in need of volunteers.  For the nearly 2/3’s of Americans who follow some religion, your local church, mosque, or temple is a great way to serve.  Help in the nursery or Sunday School; visit the shut-ins who do not get out bringing a meal or a book and spend time with them;  business-oriented people can lend that service to the non-profit and help with taxes or construction or facilities management.  There is no area a volunteer would not be welcome.

Credit: Monique Burr Foundation for Children

2. Human Trafficking: This is a growing industry with serious consequences.  Take a look at these stunning statistics reported by The High Court:

  • In 2019, 62% of victims in the US were identified as sex trafficking victims. 
  • One in eight endangered runaway youths is likely to be the victim of human trafficking.
  • 30% of trafficking victims are children.

So how can you help?  First, educate yourself in your local area.  If there is presently not a human trafficking task force in your local area, I suggest working with your local police to see what it takes to start one.  If you want to raise awareness and funds for non-profits on the front line, these are great organizations: International Justice Mission, Dressember, and Project Rescue

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3. Food Closets:  According to Save the children, today, an estimated 17 million children are struggling with hunger in America – 6 million more than before the pandemic. And 2.7 million more families are going hungry. One of the best times of my life was when I was interning with a food closet.  Here you see people at their lowest.  But the heart of those serving is so inspiring.  Often, they would give more than required simply because they saw a need.  With many people out of work or underemployed now due to COVID-19, food closets are so important.  If it is a choice between keeping a roof over your head or food in your belly, many choose the roof and children go hungry.  These awesome community organizations help keep families together.  But more than that, many also help to pay utilities and provide classes on budgeting and finances to help people get back on their feet. Going to the closet too much?  Join and support the countless local and nationwide organizations that deliver food to families and senior citizens like Meals on Wheels.

4. Youth Organizations: In a tech-savvy world, many think youths are self-centered and demand recognition instantaneously.  Although there is some truth in that, it does not consider the reason for it.  So many youths do not have a mentor or parent in their lives.  They are desperate for someone to take interest in them letting them know they are valuable.  One in four live without a biological, step, or adoptive father in the home.  Without a father, kids are four times more likely to be at risk of poverty, seven times more likely to become pregnant as a teen, more likely to face abuse, neglect, abuse drugs and alcohol, have behavior problems, suffer obesity commit a crime and drop out of high school!  So, take a stand and invest in youth.  Volunteer at your local youth group or Boys and Girls Club, volunteer next to them through Feeding America or DoSomething.org.   There are so many options!

5. Build a House: In the US alone, in January 2020, there were 580,466 people experiencing homelessness in America (which has only increased since COVID-19). This is often a forgotten or ignored segment of society full of veterans, single parents, often working people who just cannot afford rent, foster kids who have aged out of the system, and many youths.  Instead of ignoring the problem, take the time to help.  We try to have a little extra something with us when we go out to eat to pass on to the man or woman living on the street, or (as my son taught me), when we see them and have no food, we give the sunscreen or bug spray I always keep in the car.  I have a friend who buys socks in bulk and hands them out (especially helpful during the cold months).  It is easy and helpful.  It also changes your perspective on life quickly. If you want something bigger, volunteer with Habitat for Humanity or another organization and see the impact you make firsthand.

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6. Veteran Organizations: Veterans signed up to do the dirty work of freedom for you.  Sometimes that means being away from families for lengthy periods of time.  Sometimes that means giving up holidays and birthdays.  Sometimes that means giving a life.  The life of a soldier is difficult and often comes with lifelong battles of healing (be it mind, body, or soul).  Give back to those who sacrificed for you.  Volunteer at the local VFW or DAVE.  Adopt a family whose parent is deployed by bringing a meal and hanging out once a week or month.   Small things go a long way with these families.

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7. Special Needs Organizations: Many who follow this blog are parents/relatives of those with special needs.  If you spend any time with someone with this “label,” you immediately learn how wonderful, intelligent, and genuine they are.  You also learn how ostracized and lonely they are.  These people have so much to give.  Take the time to get to know them and help them.  Animal therapy is great for all needs (physical/mental/emotional).  Or help someone get the service animal and training needed for their daily living activities. A great organization to learn more about what this looks like is Ohana K9. Art therapy is another great way to get involved and help.  For those looking for a little more, check out Love Volunteers which has volunteer opportunities worldwide.  

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8. Bonus – Donate:  If the above does not get you excited, then there is always the donation option.  For those minimizing and cleaning out closets, this is a great time to donate your gently loved clothing, toys, books, and more to an organization that can make their impact increase.  So many organizations will come to pick up your donations to make it that much easier. 

Often our new year resolutions are self-focused.  There is nothing wrong with wanting to self-improve.  But, perhaps we take it a bit further this year and help others?  We can be the change we want to see in the world.  We can be the solution.  I encourage you to take the extra step this year and really enjoy serving our communities and families.   Together we can make this world a better place. 

Featured

15 Easy New Year’s Resolutions You Can Keep

We are halfway through January and (with all the spikes in COVID cases) and the holiday hullabaloo behind us, perhaps you have forgotten about New Year’s Resolutions.  It can be easy to get lost in the fast-paced world of life and then feel like you are already behind. 

Not to worry.  I have compiled some of my top 15 favorite resolutions I have done (and some I continue to do) to help inspire you and your family to live a more animated life.  Many of these are simple, measurable goals that won’t leave you feeling guilty at the end of the month (or next year).

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1. Read a new book each month: This is a great one to do alone or with your spouse or friend.  It is also a measurable goal and easy to do. Find new books that interest you and read them.  I like to read with my hubby before bed.  This is a great way to be intimate with each out and have a date night for free.  Or, I have also enjoyed book clubs.  Clubs are a great way to meet new friends and get out of the house.

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2. Do something creative each month: This is a fun one.  I have found using a subscription service to be helpful.  Monthly getting a box of something new and creative to do brings a little more joy to the mailbox and the house.  I then use what was created to decorate my house.  Cratejoy has a ton of subscriptions for all ages. 

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3. Discover one new place each month: We all get into the habit of eating at the same places, going to the same places, and doing the same things.  This is great for those of us who like routine.  But, life is not routine (as much as I wish kit were sometimes).  It is good for us to shake things up.  So go out and explore your neighborhood or the world for that matter.  Try something new and make some new memories.

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4. Sleep better: This is one I try to do all the time.  Sleep helps us function better during the day, have better relationships, think better, and so much more.  Sleep is also what a lot of kids and teenagers struggle with.  For some great steps on how to help with this, check out this blog on 10 Steps to a Better Night’s Sleep.

5. Exercise more:  I know, this sounds like every other resolution you have heard.  And you would be right.  But, let’s face it, we all work in front of screens, socialize in front of screens, get entertained in front of screens.  Our bodies were not designed to just sit.  Our bodies thrive on movement.  We get endorphins, are happier, and look nicer in that swimsuit (summer is just around the corner) or jeans.  But this doesn’t have to be a do-or-die goal.  Make it simple.  Just plan to incorporate a walk after work with dogs, or a run in the morning with your son, or just get on YouTube and enjoy a quick 25–60-minute workout. Make it a social thing and do it with a friend. 

6. Eat better: I love food.  I also like a healthy family.  Gut health affects brain health.  Gut health effects are particularly strong for those with neuro and sensory needs.  We have learned how to incorporate healthy (on a budget) and enjoy really good food. The more colorful our plate the yummier our food tastes.  Many of our daily recipes we use for entertaining as well and hear only “oo’s” and “awes.” Need help getting started?  Check out these simple recipes

7. Do something new each month: Sometimes I feel like I get in a rut.  The best way to get me out of a rut is to try something new.  Sometimes this is a new experience altogether (new food, new museum, etc.), but it can be as low-key or extreme as you wish.  I know someone who used this resolution to give him the guts to go sky diving and another who used it to travel the world.  Just recently, I did this by helping replace our stove range. It can be simple and little or something you need to get done on a budget or something big and grand. Enjoy.

8. Monthly family night: Life gets busy fast. With sports teams, music lessons, study sessions, games, and friends, it can seem like your child is a roommate (who doesn’t help with the bills) the older they get. Take the family back.  We like a daily mealtime together. But once a day over dinner (sometimes breakfast) is not enough.  We like a monthly family night when we play games, watch movies with popcorn, or roast marshmallows by the fire.  This is especially great when hubby is on swing shifts or 14-hour day shifts.  We can plan a time together and not feel like it is crammed into the schedule.

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9. Self-care:  This is a hard one for me.  My older sister has been encouraging me to do this for years.  As a mom, it is easy to forget to take care of yourself.  Truth be told, I haven’t even had a haircut since 2019!  It is just easier to ensure my family has what they need and want first.  But self-care doesn’t have to be hard or cumbersome.  Have a glass of wine with friends on a Friday night.  I like working out with friends (making friends and getting healthier).  I love going to farmer’s markets and enjoying the sites and smells.  Sometimes there is nothing better than snuggling under a blanket and reading.  The important thing is that you take the time to plan for it.  Because if you do not plan for it, you never will get it.

10. Serve someone else: The season of giving is winding down.  But it doesn’t have to end.  No matter the season, serving someone else is so good for all involved.  Sometimes we just need to get out of our heads and focusing on the negative.  The best way to do this is to serve someone else.  This might mean teaching Sunday School at your church or volunteering with the babies.  Or, it might mean sitting with your elderly neighbor an hour a week and reading to them or learning about their incredible life!  Fear has taken hold the last two years, our elders have survived wars, sickness, and so much more.  Learn and grow from their strength.  Or volunteer at the local elementary school teaching how to read or simply cutting out and printing worksheets for the overworked teacher.    

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11. 365 days of gratitude: This one is so important to me.  It was a resolution I had years ago and practice I continue.  Gratitude is so important because it changes our perspective and often calms us down (preventing us from doing something stupid).  Being thankful in all circumstances is a great way to not only change your world but the whole world.  If we all just found one thing daily to be grateful for, imagine the difference in attitudes we would have. 

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12. Monthly Date Night: I love date night!  I covet date night!  Having a date night is hard with a special needs kid.  It is hard for military families who always move.  It is hard for families with multiple kids who just have so much going on.  Date night does not have to be a big deal.  It is there to build and strengthen a relationship with someone you already love.  Here are 12 great date night ideas we use and still keep in budget. 

13. Service Project/Awareness monthly: There is so much pain in the world and so few people know about it, much less do anything about it.  Take 12 months and learn about different issues (local and global).  At the end of the year, pick one that you became passionate about and get involved.  Serve.  Do a campaign of awareness.  Donate.  Just do something about it.  Be the change in the world.

14. Take a Class:  I know, most adults hate school.  That is because we were forced to go to school growing up learning about things we don’t like.  Our kids currently hate it for the same reason.  But learning doesn’t have to be torture.  Take a class with your kids (or just yourself) and learn something new.  Always want to learn a new language? Do it.  Duolingo is a free way to start and see if you like it.  Want to learn a new hobby?  Take a class at Hobby Lobby or Lowes.  Want to be able to make your car repairs?  Take a class at the local community college.  Be open to learning more things. Learning new things is fun and healthy – and can help prevent diseases like dementia.  

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15. Start letter writing: Screen fatigue is a real thing.  It is happening more and more often in this post COVID world.  Everything is on a screen.  Zoom and Google Chat have taken over our lives.  We like to take a step back, put out real paper and pen and compose a nice greeting or letter to a family member or friend.  This is a great way to keep in touch over a distance and have a keepsake for the kids when they are older.   Try just writing to one person.  Or write to someone different monthly.  It is so wonderful to see what comes back in the mail.  Enjoy.

Whatever you pick for your resolution, I hope it helps bring joy and unity to your household.  May you be covered in Peace, Love, and Joy this year.  May the road rise to meet you and the wind be ever at your back.

10 Steps to Teaching Responsibility and a Peaceful Household

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I had a very interesting conversation with some parents a little bit ago.  They came over for dinner and heard me ask my child to do the dishes.  Their jaws dropped! 

“You have him do the dishes?!” They asked in astonishment. 

“Yes.  He has chores around the house.” 

“Wait.  He has more than doing the dishes?  What else does he have to do?”

“Oh, clean his room and bathroom, feed the animals, pick up the dog poop, and fold and put away his laundry.”

“I think that is too much! He is a kid.  Kids should be out playing and being creative.  Their job is school and that is where it should end.”

To which I graciously responded.  “You are right.  He is a kid.  For this short time, I have him, I am responsible for teaching him how the real world works.  I have a full-time job as well.  Then I teach him home school and take care of his social and health obligations.  My house still needs cleaning, the laundry still needs to be done, and the dishes still need to be cleaned.  Simply because I have a job that does not change the responsibilities at home.  We have chosen to teach our son that as a family who resides in the same household, we all have responsibilities and must contribute.”

They sat in contemplative silence for the next five minutes and then agreed.

So, how do you teach responsibilities?  What is too much?  Where is the balance?  Here are 10 easy steps to taking the work out of teaching work responsibilities. 

1)      Whose Responsibility? It is important to not just teach how chores are done but whose responsibility things are.  For example, as a kid, I learned multiple instruments.  If I forgot my instrument for band practice, I was not allowed to call my parents to bring it for me.  They had full-time jobs as well.  I remember my mother saying to us when we forgot our homework/backpack/coat/instrument/etc. “Whose homework? Whose responsibility?”  Boy, did we hate hearing that!  She was right.  We do our children no favors when we come in to save the day every time they mess up and forget.  This does not mean never be that hero (life circumstance often teaches us we need help from others), but we should not make it the norm.  Let them learn and grow.

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2)      Chores, Chores, Chores:  No one likes chores.  Don’t fool yourself. You don’t even like chores.  They are a part of life, that also teaches us to work ethic, responsibility, and diligence.  Check out the downloadable document below on Age Appropriate Chores for Children published in 2013 for a place to start. (Thank you, Pastor Lisa for making this great resource available.).  Remember, each child is different and has different needs.  This is just a guideline. We also introduced one chore at a time so our son could perfect before he got overwhelmed.

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3)      Planning: Weekly I try to get some idea of the menu for the week.  Or at least when I get the grocery shopping done.  Sometimes, I am just out of ideas.  This is a great place to have children help and teach responsibility.  Let your kids help plan (and cook) a meal.  They will love being involved and usually will like to eat what they make (for you picky eaters out there).  Let them help at the grocery store.  Teach them how to pick produce, how to get the cheapest item or the best quality for your money.  Give them a budget for their “impulse buys” they will undoubtedly ask for it. Start the conversation on money and taking care of the groceries – a life skill they will need for the rest of their lives.

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4)      Kids Help Kids: For those with multiple children, use this opportunity to develop leadership.  Let older kids help younger kids learn things like how to tie shoes, or send them on an errand together to pick something up.  Kids learn a lot from older siblings and teammates.  Use this to teach generationally.

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5)      Play-dates: I know it is really easy to want to be present at all playdates all the time.  But this is just no necessary.  It is ok and good to leave your children with a trusted adult.  If you trust the parent, and it is age-appropriate, leave your child to have fun without you.  This helps build confidence in children.  Knowing Mom and Dad trust you to make good choices without them is empowering to them.  But more importantly, it gives them real-world experiences.  Not one house is the same, not one human is the same.  This opens the door to some really wonderful conversations.

6)      Volunteer: Generation Z is known for a passion for social justice.  But, they are also known for not following through.  They were taught the issues and a passion was ignited.  But they were not taught the practicality of the hard work, critical thinking, and diligence it takes to make a change.  Simply posting a meme on social media does not change make.  Teaching volunteering gets to the root of this problem. Volunteering showcases need, teaches work ethic, dependability, and commitment.  It also allows the first-hand experience of need, bureaucracy, and politics.  All those things play large roles in adult life.  Teaching volunteering at a young age starts a healthy foundation for these areas that can easily become toxic later if not healthy discussed.

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7)      Students keep track of their own work and test: It is great to know about your child’s schoolwork.  But their work is not your work.  You already went to school.  You already know it.  Don’t do their work for them.  Set them up to succeed.  We use this great Student Smart Planner Academic Planner (I use the Wordsworth Goal Setting Planner for myself) for our home school (it has places for long term projects, schedules, grade tracking, and monthly and weekly calendars).  For younger kids, this is a great planner as well. For those in school, we used a checklist morning and night for our son to know what was needed each morning and what was completed. 

8)      Organize your own schedule: Today in America we are socially judged by the number of activities our child is in.  We are told kids need perfect grades and extracurriculars out the ears to get to college. Our kids are tired, stressed out, and overwhelmed.  A great documentary on this is Race to Nowhere.  Let’s give our children the power to decide what extracurriculars they do – if any.  Some kids might need extra time for school.  Some kids might want three or four a week.  Some might just want to do one thing they can learn to do really well.  Let’s stop making Jack-of-all-trades-and-masters-of-none.

9)      Independent Thinkers: Kids need to learn how to think – not just memorize facts.  Set them to succeed in this by encouraging independent and critical thinking.  Let them learn about themselves and how they learn.  ReadTheory helps kids in reading comprehension, Learning Styles is a great place to learn about how your child learns.  When you know how you learn, you equip yourself with the ability to better learn the more difficult skills and academics.

10)   Entertain Yourself: You are a parent – not a Hollywood movie star or singer-songwriter.  You were charged with raising compassionate, intelligent children into wonderful adults.  You were not charged with being your child’s friend, entertainment, and all-around everything.  Release yourself of that stress.  Teach you, child, to entertain themselves.  This is critically important to brain development, social play, and creative and critical thinking.  It is also entertaining to you as a parent to see what they come up with.

COVID-19 and the Real World or How to Survive Social Distancing

Corona Virsu COVID-19 microscope hazmat

In case you have been living under a rock, COVID-19 is a real thing. More deaths than the average flu.  Towns are shut down.  Travel shut down. School shut down.   In just a few short weeks, the world has discovered the #introvertadvantage.

Fear is rampant.  Families separated.  Hospitals are overrun.  Is there any other story in the media today?

Kids are home, out of routine, lonely and increasingly scared.  Being a parent has taken on a new back-breaking load – how to keep your kids calm in the middle of this crazy storm.

Here are some tips on how to help your kids find peace and clarity in this colossal hurricane of COVID-19.

What our first home school schedule looked like

Keep a routine. Humans, by nature, thrive on routine.  From getting up and ready to going to bed at night, we operate through a routine.  Take out the most central part of a child’s day and you are set up for chaos.  School is not just a place to learn about math, science, and literature.  It is a place of friendship building, community development, and space.  Space from parents and siblings (in some cases).  So throughout this time, set a routine where school is apart of the day.  Include some breaks from each other.  Include some video telecalls to their friends and family.  And remember, this too shall pass.

My kiddo doing his part sending some love to the Senior Citizens

Find ways to help.  The community is only as strong as its weakest link.  There are many ways to help from home.  Remember, nonprofits and churches still operate their community funds.  They still need income to ensure the homeless have food, the low income can pay the electric bill (which just went up because people are home more), and safe places for an escape from the dangerous.  If you already give, keep giving.  If you don’t, I encourage you to start.  Want to be more hands-on, Neighbors Helping Neighbors is providing training on how to help neighbors safely.  Help the truck drivers with a meal (you are still getting deliveries, but their rest stops are closed).  Even the smallest act of kindness goes a long way.

The little one’s Sanctuary.

Have a sanctuary.  Refuge and safety are more important today than ever.  When people are crammed together, they have shorter tempers and we humans tend to get a bit crazy.  A small space you can call your own, escape to in the chaos of the house, that is simply yours is valuable when there is not a pandemic.  It is even more valuable now.  Ensure some sanctuary and calming time is a part of your schedule.  Outside on the back porch or inside a closet of the house…whatever works for you.

Emerald Coast Sunset

Get outside. Cabin Fever WILL set in and it is a REAL thing.  In 1918, the Influenza pandemic swept through the world much like COVID-19.  There were two ways to treat patients.  Inside and outside.  What a Boston, MA hospital discovered was a combination of fresh air, sunlight, scrupulous standards of hygiene, substantially reduced deaths among some patients and infections among medical staff.  So go outside.  Enjoy the sunshine.  Remember that the sky is blue and the sun is bright and the breeze feels so good on your skin. 

Being creative with #paintbynumber…I haven’t broken my need for lines and regulations yet. 🙂

Be creative and productive.  It is easy to think you are stuck within the cell that is now your home.  But you are in a world equipped with so much to be entertained in – without turning on your TV.  Plan an instrument?  Play it.  Have some paper laying around?  Write.  Legos?  Build.  Paint.  Color. Draw.  Or, for those social media addicts, get online and recite poetry, sing, dance, get goofy!  We all need a little happier.  Depression and loneliness are real things.  These get even worse in isolation.  So, enjoy being a goof for people to laugh at or sing a song for people to love.  It might be the one thing that saves a life.  If you are feeling suicidal or depressed, there is help.  Call the National Suicide line 1-800-273-8255 for help. 

The family that sweats together stays healthy together. Workout run (in safety gear). Quarter miles sprints!

Work Out. Chill Out.  Stress is high and endorphins are low.  Be sure you are fueling your body and your mind as we walk through this new “normal.”   30 minutes of cardio a day is great.  This can be easily accomplished by a walk outside (no neighbors necessary), a run on a treadmill if you have one, or numerous free workouts on YouTube and Amazon Prime.  Just search your favorite activity and you will be bombarded with choices from yoga to kickboxing and dance.  For those of you on Wii – don’t forget about Wii Fit.  There are so many options.  Have fun with it.  For a special challenge, join the 30 Day #5fitchallenge with #SOFLFit5 (Special Olympics Florida).  IT is a great way to hold yourself and your special kiddo accountable to maintaining a healthy lifestyle.

Use this time to be productive. Whether that means working on those summer abs, catching up on that reading list, finishing those household projects, or whatever, remember, your kids will follow your lead. So, whatever you do, remember this too shall pass.  We are more than conquerors.  We are the light.  Be the light.  Be love.  Choose joy.