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Teach your kids empathy through volunteerism

This month we’ve profiled some exceptional kids — students who really make a difference in our communities and world. As parents, we all hope to raise children who are outwardly focused.

“Volunteerism helps kids develop empathy and compassion.” said Jeri Kleckley, volunteer engagement director for the United Way of Greenville. “It broadens their horizons as they become more aware of the needs in their own communities.”

As children help others, they develop the people skills needed to be highly successful in their future careers and in life, said Kleckley. Parents can help kids to develop this mindset and focus by making volunteerism a natural part of family life. “Parents should begin by modeling the behavior,” Kleckley said. “Volunteer your own time so that kids can see that it is important.”

As children get older, you may want to look at ways that the family can volunteer together. Kleckley suggests that families begin with a discussion about issues and concerns.

“Find the things that your family cares about, whether that be animal welfare, the environment, hunger or something else,” she said. “Once you have identified those things, you can look for ways that you can volunteer together in those areas. It is important for parents to include children in deciding where to volunteer to create a buy-in.”

Taylor Thomas, field director for the Boy Scouts Palmetto Council, encourages parents to make volunteerism a habit.

“Boy Scouts begin with smaller service projects during Cub Scouts (first through fifth grade),” he said. “They don't always understand the significance at first, but as they get older, it finally clicks. They begin to see that they can do things that will benefit someone else.”

For Scouts, that means following a project through to completion. For example, every November, the Boy Scouts hold a huge food drive called Scouting For Food. The boys are responsible for the collection, but also help to distribute the food so they are able to connect their efforts with the people they are helping.

Thomas also recommends parents encourage children to participate in tangible projects that will have a lasting effect on a community.

“When they can go back five years later and see something they have built in use or talk with someone they have helped, it means a lot,” Thomas said.

With so many needs around the world and in our own community, it can be difficult to know where to start. Boy Scouts and Girl Scouts are terrific service organizations. Opportunities can also be found through churches and school. If you still need ideas for service, the United Way has great resources to help both individuals and families find opportunities.

Their Greenville website,, and Spartanburg website, lists volunteer opportunities in many different areas. As I perused the site, I found many opportunities that would be perfect for kids of all ages. For example, a nursing home was looking for people to come in and play games with residents, a food bank was looking for volunteers to pack food boxes and sort donations, and an animal shelter needs volunteers to feed the animals, walk the dogs and play with cats. Age requirements for positions are listed on the website too.

Additionally, on May 6, the United Way will host Hands On Greenville Day. Participants ages 8 and up can sign up now to help with one of over 100 volunteer projects to that will take place that day.