Many families spend their weekends at ballparks decked out in team colors, cheering on little league sports teams. Some families in Orange County, however, spend one Sunday a month rallying together as a different kind of team, where the goal is not to win, but to serve.
“My family and I were driving home from one of my kids’ little league games after having a great time experiencing the camaraderie of a team. I looked at my husband and asked, ‘why don’t we have this for service?’” said busy working Orange County mom Kenya B. Kenya wanted to teach her children the value of service and family time, so she conceptualized the innovative Family Service Team Program.
Modeled like a sports team, the Family Service Team Program enables children ages three to eight years old to serve with their parents one Sunday a month from June to December in six community projects. Families wear team t-shirts, have a team photo taken and celebrate with an end-of-season party.
“I loved that with my kids’ little league games, I don’t have to plan anything. We just arrive, and it is all planned and ready for us. I wanted to make it easy for parents to have the same experience volunteering,” Kenya said. She realized that coordinating all of the projects could be a daunting task, so she teamed up with Volunteer Center Orange County, an affiliate of HandsOn Network, to assist with the legwork. The volunteer center utilized its existing relationships in the nonprofit community to coordinate efforts and identify projects suitable for children and their parents.
“It’s been a great partnership with the volunteer center,” Kenya said. “I called the center and met with some of the staff initially, and then we got a small group of parents together to talk about what kind of experiences they’d like to have.” The program began with one team of 12 families and 22 children. In its second year, the program has grown to three teams of 22 families with 29 children.
Each of the six projects during the season is held at a different agency in the community, and families bring a donation of supplies to each organization in addition to volunteering their time. The kids also bring spare change and put it in a large jar each month. At the end of the season, they decide which agency will receive their collected funds. Last year, the teams gave $400 to a local soup kitchen.
Some of the 2009 Family Service Team projects include making blankets for children at a local shelter for Project Linus, picking fruits and vegetables for needy families through Second Harvest and clearing nature trails at a local facility to prepare for students attending field trips in the fall.
“The program has been very valuable and fulfilled what I hoped,” Kenya said. “The goal is that the kids will take real ownership in the projects. We want to instill a habit and love of volunteerism and not have them think of it as a chore. We want volunteering to be ‘just what you do,’ like baseball or soccer.”
Kenya and Volunteer Center Orange County hope to secure funding to grow the program locally and to make it a national model for other non-profit organizations to utilize. Follow Kenya's lead by using a toolkit and connecting with your local HandsOn affiliate, or look for an existing opportunity in your area by searching keyword: “service team” “youth sports” “family project”