Jake and Sydney Liles began searching for community service opportunities for their family in late 2013. Sydney quickly found that there were few projects available for families with young children. Most organizations welcome children that are school age and above, but only one of their children meets that age requirement.

Then Jake got a phone call from a friend, asking if he’d like to help at City Union Mission on Christmas Eve. “Can I bring my son?” he asked. “Sure, why not!” was the prompt reply. Father and son put on warm clothes, ready for 10 degree weather and some outdoor work. For a few hours that morning, five year old Zeke got to experience self-less, mature love as he loaded heavy bags of groceries into cars for delivery to families less fortunate than his own. He watched his father and other young men he knew work without complaint in cold conditions.

When I asked Jake if he would recommend a similar activity to other parents, he said yes – but it’s important to know your child. Expect to hear the normal words from a young child doing a less than fun activity: “My feet hurt”, “I’m hungry/thirsty/cold”, and “It’s too heavy”. Patience, Jake says, is vital. You’ll see more benefit in the days that follow the activity than you do on the day. The goal isn’t to frustrate the child, but to open doors for future conversations. Remind the child of the activity, then reflect on the experience and how it made the child feel. If the child isn’t yet capable, don’t take them! Researching the work in advance will allow you and your child to have a positive experience.

Jake and Sydney are still looking for community service opportunities where their entire family can participate. They mentioned Second Saturdays can be good for that but are actively looking for something outside Graceway walls as well.