Finding ways to serve your community as a family

Originally printed in the pages of Simply Family Magazine’s November 2017 issue. Never miss an issue, check out SFM’s digital editions, here

Parents are tasked with so much more than just the feeding, clothing, loving, and general caring for our children. Every step of the way, every hard decision made, every worry, every time we think we're getting it all wrong, every time we think we’re on the right track, the underlining truth about parenthood is that, ultimately, it’s our job to prepare them for life in the great wide world. To be people of integrity, who will work hard, who can stand on their own two feet, and hopefully, let their light shine bright in this world.

So parents wonder: Are we doing enough? What are the values that we are hoping to instill in our children? What steps do we need to take to walk the walk and not just talk the talk, especially when the buzzword of our time is Busy? Between work and school, homework, sports, and activities, families are scheduled to the max. We talk endlessly about the importance of connecting with our children, and we talk about putting the screens aside and being present with our presence. That’s certainly a start, but what if a piece of the puzzle is looking outside of ourselves? What if that connecting involves finding ways to work together as a family to give back – in all kinds of ways? What if within that jam-packed schedule, there were opportunities that could fall under the category of two birds, one stone?

Two parents in our community were able to give us some perspective on finding ways to serve the community and the difference it has made for their families. For Sergeant Robert Lester, of the Yellowstone County Sheriff’s Office, giving back to his community is not an afterthought, it’s the everyday, and it’s something his whole family takes part in. His wife Julie volunteers as a Sunday school teacher, and the couple are both Scout leaders. Sgt. Lester is the Cubmaster for Laurel's Pack 421, while Julie is the leader of a pilot program that has created a space for kindergarten-aged boys in the Lion program. Their oldest sons are in these programs, while their daughter is in Girl Scouts, but is also regularly involved in her brothers' Scouting adventures. We asked Sgt. Lester to run us through how being involved in Scouts is a whole family endeavor.

Scouts: Bringing families together

  • Scouting is a family event, it’s not drop and go, he explains, “We have pack meetings where dens have the chance to compete for a traveling attendance trophy. The more friends and family you bring, the better chance your den has of winning the award.”
  • Bi-monthly den meetings require homework assignments that help scouts earn segment badges, which have families working together by learning and discussing things.
  • Lester notes that sports are important for our youth, however they're seasonal, while Scouting is a year-long activity, keeping families engaged all year. It's hiking and outdoor activities in good weather, and crafts and problem-solving projects in poor weather.
  • Lester recalls a 10-mile hike his pack and their families went on to Lost Lake this past August. He says it “got entire families out together in the wilderness for the first time in a long time,” adding, “younger/older siblings got to tag along and hear the instructions from the leaders. Everyone benefits.”

How can families get involved?

First, Sgt. Lester notes “Scouting is not a building ground to teach your boy to be a Navy SEAL or a Park Ranger, although numerous Scouts have gone on to successful careers in these fields.” Rather, “It’s a program for all boys.” From the artistically gifted, to the book reader and athlete.

  • If your child is interested in Scouting: montanabsa.org/montana-council/contact | www.gsmw.org/en/about-girl-scouts/join.html
  • Not just dads can be leaders; moms can be too! In his pack of 67 boys, Sgt. Lester has 18 leaders, eight of whom are mothers.
    • Having both parents involved in leadership roles has been a gift for the Lesters, they spend more time together attending leadership meetings, bouncing ideas off of each other, and attending den meetings.

Participating in Scouts can be a game-changer for our youth, as Sgt. Lester has witnessed firsthand. He recounts this story, “It’s important to me because I have seen what it can do to a boy or family that is having a challenge in life. There was a boy who was having a real hard time in school. Once he got into Scouts and was held to a high standard, he began excelling in school. Wearing his Scout uniform to school held him to a higher standard. It was amazing to watch the transformation.” His theory on the turnaround? “It got his entire family involved. The scout had a sense of belonging in the group…” 

Our second parent, Paula Harper, shares with us how, for her family, it wasn’t necessarily about looking for opportunities to volunteer as a family, rather an awareness that "every community, school, and even businesses needs volunteers for the projects that help individuals in our communities." For her family, it has been important to be engaged in anything that focuses on youth in our community. She shares that her sons, during their high school years, volunteered at a camp for children with special needs each summer. It was through these experiences, she says, that her sons gained irreplaceable insight into the value that everyone deserves to be treated with dignity and respect. A hands-on lesson that far surpassed anything they, as parents alone, could have instilled. She goes on to say, “The life lessons from that camp are something they still talk about today. It also inspired them in their careers and their own families.”

If you're interested in getting the ball rolling on giving back and serving the community with your family, Harper suggests finding something you're passionate about – a club, a cause, an event. Spending time with an activity you have a passion for, she notes, "Will make your time investment invaluable, and give you an experience that will shape your character. You will meet people that will either become an inspiration to you, or you could become their mentor; there is no way to measure the value in that!"

To spark some inspiration, we’ve compiled just a small list of organizations that your family could look at getting involved with: