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Challenge: Gratitude & Giving

Resolve to Make This a New Year of Kindness: A Month-by-Month Guide for Families

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As we finish up a season of giving and receiving (and in the case of our kids, perhaps receiving a bit too much), it’s time to look ahead to a New Year when we might align our goals and actions with our values. Every parent instinctively knows that engaging in meaningful service as a family is one of the best ways to raise grateful, grounded, empathetic kids. But how can we fit it into our very hectic schedules? In my experience, we can find time for service in busy lives by being intentional, incorporating service into things we are already doing and planning ahead. And there is no better time to start than right now, as we step into a new year with intentionality, keeping eyes, ears, hearts and minds open to the needs of others. To make this a little easier, I’ve compiled a month-by-month list of secular, religious and government holidays or seasonal milestones to use as launching pads, with a few simple and meaningful suggestions that your family can use to incorporate giving back into your 2023 calendar.

January - Kick off the new year with purpose by volunteering on the Martin Luther King, Jr. Day of Service (the third Monday in January). MLK Day is the only federal holiday designated as a National Day of Service to encourage all Americans to give back to improve their communities. Explore the Americorps website or the Points of Light website for more information and searchable databases.

February - Spread some love on Valentine’s Day (February 14th). Send Valentines to our active duty military through Soldier’s Angels. Create blessing bags filled with cosmetics and small gifts for women in domestic violence shelters. Or if you want to keep it simple, work with your kids to make colorful valentines and deliver them to a local nursing home or senior center.

March - As spring begins, use St. Patrick’s Day (March 17th) to share some smiles and good luck. Using construction paper to create four-leaf clovers and ask children to decorate them and write positive messages on each leaf. Deliver them (along with a small gift card to a local coffee shop if you are able) to first responders, your mail delivery person or department of sanitation worker.

April - The entire month of April is designated as National Volunteer Month, so if you haven’t started your new year of service yet, April is the perfect time. Arbor Day falls on the last Friday of April, and is a great opportunity to learn about environmental causes and to plant a tree in your yard. You can also coordinate a park or beach clean-up with friends. Distribute garbage bags, gloves, garbage “grabbers” and get to work.

May - The secular holiday of Mother’s Day is celebrated on the second Sunday in May, and is a day to remember and honor all of the female mother figures in your life - the women who have helped you and your family, in any way. These people may include caregivers, teachers, aunts, grandparents, and friends who are like mothers. Remember that mothering (which is synonymous with loving and caring) takes many forms.

June - Similarly, Father’s Day, which is celebrated on the third Sunday in June, is an opportunity to thank all of the father figures who have made a meaningful impact on your children’s lives. Think expansively and remember how important it is to make people feel seen and appreciated. Additionally, the end of the school year provides many opportunities to express gratitude to all of the teachers, staff and administrators who guide and nurture our children at school and keep them safe, fed, and happy.

July - The celebration of Independence Day on July 4th is typically a day filled with parades, food, family and fireworks, but it’s also an opportunity to celebrate and express gratitude for our freedom, and to thank those whose sacrifice has ensured it. There are many great organizations that support our active duty military, their families, our wounded warriors and veterans, including Operation Gratitude, Soldier’s Angels, The Tunnel to Towers Foundation and The USO, among many others.

August - The lazy days of end of summer are a great time to engage in service with otherwise busy kids and teens. Consider hosting a lemonade stand in support of Alex’s Lemonade Stand Foundation which supports childhood cancer research (and September is Childhood Cancer Awareness Month). Back to school shopping is also a perfect opportunity to fill and donate a few additional backpacks for children who may not have the resources they need to start a new school year with all of the supplies they need to feel confident and successful.

September - At the beginning of September, we commemorate the anniversary of the terrorist attacks which occurred on September 11th, 2000 and we honor the lives lost and the first responders who bravely answered the call of duty that day and in the months that followed. The 9/11 Day of Service has been designated as a national day of service and remembrance and many communities offer family-friendly volunteer opportunities. In the absence of an organized service event, consider baking (and individually wrapping) cookies and making colorful cards and delivering them to your local firehouse, EMT station or police precinct.

October - Halloween is a child-centered holiday that provides many opportunities for your kids to share the sweetness of the day with others. In the weeks leading up to Halloween, consider hosting a costume donation drive and donating all of the gently used costumes to a foster care agency or a shelter which houses families experiencing domestic violence or homelessness. On Halloween night, give your children collection boxes to Trick or Treat for Unicef.

November - The official kick-off of the holiday season is Thanksgiving (the fourth Thursday of November), a holiday dedicated to giving thanks and sharing our many blessings with others. Your family can volunteer in many meaningful ways to ensure that all of your neighbors, especially those experiencing hunger and food insecurity, are able to enjoy a Thanksgiving meal. Donate dry goods to your local food pantry or host a Friendsgiving fundraiser for No Kid Hungry. Sign up for a shift cooking or serving a meal at a soup kitchen, or deliver meals to homebound neighbors on Thanksgiving morning through a “meals-on-wheels” program.

December - The end of the calendar year brings the “giving holidays” of Christmas, Hanukkah, Kwanzaa and Three Kings Day (among other religious and cultural holidays). This is perhaps the easiest time of year to find opportunities to engage your children in activities that encourage generosity, giving back and kindness. Your family can “adopt” a soldier, a foster child or a family experiencing homelessness. You can donate to a Toys For Tots campaign or other toy drive in your community. You can send holiday cards to isolated seniors and our active duty military.

These are just a few suggestions for each month, but the opportunities abound and are only limited by your imagination and willingness to seek out meaningful ways to give back in your community. Working together, with open hearts and gratitude, every family can set a positive intention to organically and seamlessly incorporate service and kindness into busy lives, every day of the year.

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