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The Value of Volunteering

August 11–15, 2014   |   Vol. 120, Programs 36–40

One of the best ways to serve our neighbors is to volunteer. No matter where we are, there is someone we can reach out to and help. This week on Home School Heartbeat, Mike Smith challenges homeschoolers to seek volunteer opportunities in their communities and to share their talents and skills with others.

“Getting involved in volunteer work is a good way to prevent ourselves from ignoring the needs of others around us.”—Mike Smith

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Does your family make time for volunteer work? Well today on Home School Heartbeat, your host Mike Smith talks about the importance of teaching your children to help others.

Mike Smith: Perhaps one of the greatest potential weaknesses of the homeschooling movement is a lack of community involvement. Homeschooling not only provides a healthy alternative for educating children, it helps maintain family closeness. The benefits derived from this family strength must be shared with those around us.

Parents must remember to make time for their family to give back to their communities. While this may be difficult for many busy families, it is nonetheless essential to teaching our children how to influence our communities for the better.

Public schools know service is important to education. They make sure it is part of the education experience for their children in their program. How much more important is it that we set such an example of service for our own children? As homeschooling parents, we have an enormous responsibility to teach our children not just how to think, but how to act. If our children don’t learn service from us, who will they learn it from?

Often I’ve heard homeschoolers say, “My kids are learning to serve at home.” While this is important, it is not the same as serving their community. Serving our families, while not always easy, is definitely more natural than serving others. Stepping outside our comfort zone to serve a stranger is quite a different matter. It is here our children can exhibit the character in public we help them to achieve at home.

Mike Smith: Homeschoolers are often accused of dropping out of society. Homeschooling parents must keep this accusation from becoming a reality. Getting involved in volunteer work is a good way to prevent ourselves from ignoring the needs of others around us.

One way for homeschoolers to use our excellent academic record is by passing on what we have discovered to others, in the form of tutoring.

Homeschoolers are loaded with skills and resources which, if properly used, could make a difference in the lives of others. Many children, especially in inner-city neighborhoods, could greatly benefit from some well-placed academic assistance. What may seem like a miniscule investment of time on the part of homeschooling families may potentially reap boundless achievement in the life of some struggling young person.

How often do we take for granted the simple ability to read a book or a newspaper? Yet there are millions right in our own backyard who cannot enjoy that same luxury. Many outreach programs through our churches or libraries exist to help people who need reading assistance. If you’re not sure where to start, you can contact your public library or adult literacy council.

We in the homeschool movement have a terrific track record when it comes to raising literate students. Once we have taken care of own families, we have the privilege of sharing this gift with other communities.

Mike Smith: Do you sense that your homeschooled child may have a problem with pride? It is easy to see how homeschoolers, who typically perform above average in their academics, might develop this problem. Parents should encourage their children to value service to their communities. The best antidote to pride is to learn to place the interests of others before our own.

There is nothing like selfless community service projects to learn about the needs and values of other people.

Children can visit nursing homes to sing or play instruments. They can read the newspaper aloud to persons losing their sight, or just listen to a lonely grandmother tell the stories of her youth.

Physical labor for efforts like Habitat for Humanity and other reclamation projects are a great way for book-smart teenagers to see that he or she still has things to learn.

Surely there is a family in our neighborhood that could use an extra set of hands to mow the grass or shovel the snow. Certainly a mother in our church could benefit from a young person to watch her children so she can run errands.

Service to our neighbors and community requires a special brand of humility well worth cultivating in our children. As homeschooling parents, we must make sure that our children do not miss out on this healthy dose of humility.

Mike Smith: Students who are interested in community service may find that pursuing a Congressional Gold Award from the U.S. Congress provides some helpful structure to their volunteerism.

The Congressional Award allows students to set goals in their areas of interest and work at their own pace as they earn bronze, silver, and gold Congressional Awards. The program is noncompetitive, open to students between 14 and 23, and requires goals in each of four categories to encourage a well-rounded student experience.

Each award recipient will complete goals in volunteer public service, personal development, physical fitness, and expedition/exploration. Students can complete the program in as little as two years with weekly time commitments in each area. Because many homeschoolers are already meeting these time commitments, they may find additional motivation in the program’s structure and student recognition.

The award requires that time spent volunteering not be political or evangelistic in nature, but many church-sponsored programs will qualify for the award.

In Idaho, a homeschool community service group raked leaves for the elderly. Others have received the award for Scout and 4-H leadership, interpreting, peer counseling, caring for animals in a shelter, and distributing food to the poor. For more information about the program, visit their website at www.congressionalaward.org.

Mike Smith: Families around the country have proven that homeschooling can be successful even on a shoestring budget. Instead of mandating a great deal of resources, homeschooling is effective where there is a commitment of time and energy.

But after homeschooled children have grown up, families may find themselves with a great deal of talent in the area of home education but without any avenues to use it. One organization in the Washington D.C. area has paired these homeschool families with families in a place that can benefit from the home education process: that’s the inner city.

Crowding in the urban classroom complicates an already difficult job for public school teachers. With all of the individual attention, character development, and self-discipline that homeschooling provides, it is an asset to any family that is willing to make the commitment.

Many inner-city families are not aware of these benefits, however, and even fewer have been encouraged to really consider the difference home education would make in their children’s lives. Today’s homeschool families need to reach out to inner-city parents who would not dare try homeschooling on their own.

If troubled families have the encouragement and guidance of those who have already successfully traveled this path, these families will reap the benefits that homeschooling has provided across America.

Consider having your homeschool support group or co-op look for meaningful ways to help families trapped by the problems of the inner city.

Mike Smith

Michael Smith and his wife Elizabeth, along with Michael Farris and his wife, Vicki, incorporated Home School Legal Defense Association in 1983 and were the original board members. Mike grew up in Arkansas, graduated from the University of Arkansas where he played basketball, majoring in business administration. Upon graduation, he entered the U.S. Navy and served three years before attending law school at the University of San Diego.

In 1972, he was admitted to the bar in California and also has been admitted to the Supreme Court of the United States. He is licensed in Virginia, California, and Washington, D.C.

Mike and his family began homeschooling because their 5-year-old flunked kindergarten. This was quite a disappointment to Mike in light of the fact that he was preparing this child to be president of the United States by starting his education as early as possible.

His family’s life changed drastically when he heard a radio program in 1981 which introduced him to the idea of homeschooling. When they started homeschooling, they began homeschooling one year at a time to meet the academic and social needs of their children. After spending lots of time around people like Mike Farris, he became convinced that he had been called to use his gifts and talents in the legal profession to assist homeschoolers who were being prosecuted because they didn’t hold a teacher’s certificate or satisfy the school district that they could competently teach their children.

Mike came to HSLDA full-time in 1987 and has served as president of the organization since the year 2001. In addition to serving as president, he also is a contact lawyer for California, Nevada and Puerto Rico. All of Mike’s children are now grown, and three of the four were homeschooled. The most enjoyable part of Mike’s job is when he is able to go to homeschool conferences and meet what he calls America’s greatest heroes, homeschooling moms.

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