Volunteering Together and Doing Good

By Rachel Siegal

Rachel Siegel and family volunteering

Look, there’s a lot about parenting that I mess up. As a parent of three with a full-time job, I do my best and try to forgive myself for the areas where I fall short. But I do take the job of parenting seriously. I read the books and the blogs. I watch other parents who are just a few years ahead of me (c’mon you know we’re all observing each other all the time) and rely on their wise counsel and advice. For books, I come from the following schools of thought: Danya Ruttenberg’s Nurturing the Wow, Dasee Berkowitz’s Becoming a Soulful Parent, Dr. Sears’ The Baby Book, Anne Lamott’s Operating Instructions and I’m just starting Bruce Feiler’s The Secrets of Happy Families.  I’d love to see your list, too. My bedtime parenting style changed forever the night after Sandy Hook, but that’s a blog post for another time. I occasionally read Grown and Flown and cry about how soon that’s coming (it’s a blog for empty nesters). With my kids, we talk about feelings…a lot. I let them referee their own fights. My husband and I differ in our parenting styles, and we try to thread that needle. Parenting is the hardest, most relentless and best job I’ve ever had.

One area that I’ve wanted to shore up is volunteering as a family. Sure, we show up at Mitzvah Day, bake casseroles and pack lunches for Bunches of Lunches, and I really appreciate those relatively easy “plug & play” type opportunities. (Also the educational moments those opportunities provide, like the time one of my kids wrote “Sorry you’re poor” on a brown bag lunch. No joke. We re-decorated that one.) And sometimes I have rationalized that since I devote my professional career to serving the Jewish people and that I personally volunteer for organizations I care deeply about, that it’s okay that our family doesn’t have a regular practice of volunteering together.

Enter Covid. I wanted to take the window that a stoppage in time created to develop a way to- with apologies for stealing the name of a current piece of legislation- build back better. Before we get all busy back to our overscheduled lives (whenever that time will be), it was important to me to build in a regular volunteering time. So, since September, with four other close families, we’ve been cooking meals and serving them each month to the residents at Baltimore Station. These residents are men who have served our country through its armed forces, many of whom have substance abuse challenges. While their lives are so different from mine, my kids and I get to sit with these guys while they enjoy the food we’ve made for them, finding commonalities and chatting together- just human to human.

I think this is a piece of the vision of what Reverend Martin Luther King, Jr. dreamed of, in the speech he gave in 1963. (It’s worth googling around a little to learn about the origins of this famed speech, by the way.) But it’s only a piece. And I know. our monthly efforts are just a band-aid. Preparing and serving food is amazing, but it doesn’t get at the root causes of the troubles facing the residents of Baltimore Station. But I hope it’s planting seeds inside my kids to think about problems bigger than themselves, and to begin to think systemically about how to approach solutions for our society.

That famous march where Dr. King delivered his speech was called The March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom. We could have a march with that same title in 2022. It’s often oversimplified that Dr. King fought for racial equality. He was just as impassioned about economic justice, concerned that the gaps between rich and poor were growing. I shudder to think about what he would think today. As of Q3 2019, the top 10% of households in America held 70% of the country’s wealth, while the bottom 50% held 2%.[1] The bottom 50% of households in this country own 2% of the country’s wealth. Now you don’t have to be an expert economist to see that that’s a messed up statistic. And we don’t need to wait for a prophetic voice like Dr. King’s to motivate us to do something about it. You just need to listen to that voice inside you telling you that we don’t have to accept things the way they are. We can be a part of the solution.

This Martin Luther King Day, I’d like to issue a challenge. Yes, of course, please spend part of the day learning more about racial and economic justice and spend part of it giving back to the community.  But also, spend part of the day figuring out how to carve out a regular practice of volunteering with your family. As I learned from mindfulness expert Dr. Shauna Shapiro, what you practice grows stronger.[2] Building in a regular and sustainable commitment to volunteering is a win-win-win-win, an all-around 5 stars out of 5. It’s good for you, it’s good for the recipients of your time, and it’s great for your family.  It will make you proud of your parenting style (or at least this slice of your parenting style).  Let regularly volunteering together become a part of your family’s objectives for 2022.

To learn more about local volunteer opportunities please visit jvcbaltimore.org

[1] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wealth_inequality_in_the_United_States#:~:text=Wealth%20inequality%20in%20the%20United%20States%2C%20also%20known%20as%20the,residents%20of%20the%20United%20States.&text=As%20of%20Q3%202019%2C%20the,bottom%2050%25%20held%202%25.

[2] https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IeblJdB2-Vo

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