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Raising Kids Who Care

Jennifer Hurst teaches her son Bailey about caring for others through their volunteer work at the Jud C. Hickey Center for Alzheimer's Care.

Jennifer Hurst teaches her son Bailey about caring for others through their volunteer work at the Jud C. Hickey Center for Alzheimer's Care.

Photo By Charmain Z. Brackett

When Bailey Johnson’s 4th grade teacher at Lamar-Milledge Elementary School proposed a project for her students last year, Jennifer Hurst thought it would be a great opportunity to instill in her son the importance of giving back to others all while researching a topic close to her heart.

“This project really kicked the idea off,” says Hurst. Ten-year-old Bailey’s topic for his project was Alzheimer’s disease. His mom works with Alzheimer’s patients at University Hospital and his great-grandmother, Bettye Rose, had been diagnosed with it prior to her death last October.
As part of his project, Bailey gave a report to his class about the disease. Many of his classmates had never heard of it, he says.

To augment his research, Bailey started volunteering at the Jud C. Hickey Center for Alzheimer’s Care. Despite the completion of the project, he continues to go to the center for Alzheimer’s patients about once a week to read books to groups of four or five clients at a time. He usually picks pre-school level books such as Chicka Chicka Boom Boom or Curious George.

“It’s fun to read to them,” says Bailey. “They laugh a little bit.” Although they may not remember his visit, Bailey feels good about his time with the clients. “I feel accomplished.”

Hearing that response means Hurst has done her job, she says. “I want him to realize how important it is to help others.”

Volunteer as a Family

Gail Fitzpatrick is another parent who has seen the value of getting her children involved in volunteerism at an early age. “It’s a generational thing,” says Fitzpatrick, who has three adult children and a 15-year-old daughter, Mickey, a sophomore at John S. Davidson Fine Arts Magnet School.

Volunteering has been a family thing for the Fitzpatrick clan. In 2002, all four children were still at home and the entire family came in second place in the Army as the volunteer family of the year through a program sponsored by AUSA. Fitzpatrick’s husband, Tom, is a retired colonel and now is a civilian working at Fort Gordon.

At the time of the award, the entire family volunteered with the Fort Gordon
Dinner Theatre program.

Gail has been the volunteer of the year at Fort Gordon and she worked on the installation as the volunteer coordinator for the chaplains for several years. She got Mickey involved at a young age.

“Mickey started volunteering at the dinner theater when she was 3,” she says.

Mickey has already volunteered backstage helping wherever she was needed in more than 50 dinner theater productions, but the Fitzpatrick family volunteerism doesn’t stop at the doors of the dinner theater. The family has volunteered once a month at the Christ Episcopal Church soup kitchen for the past 10 years and once a week at a local nursing home for about four years. In addition, Gail and Mickey help with Army family programs on post.

At the nursing home, they do a craft and sometimes call bingo games. “We did the nursing home because we are a displaced family,” says Gail. “Many people in nursing homes don’t have families either. Bringing a child to a nursing home is a highlight for the patient.” She says it also filled a void when the real grandparents were so far away.

Mickey says volunteering has helped her in a lot of ways. “I’m extremely glad I’m interested in volunteering at a young age. I’m an incredibly lazy person. If I was stuck at home, it would be awful,” she says.

Her mother says there are countless skills Mickey has developed through her volunteer efforts. She has developed leadership abilities, interpersonal skills and is not shy about speaking in public. She’s also not afraid of responsibility even though she might be inclined to think she’s on the lazy side.

There is one benefit Mickey likes best. “I like getting to meet so many new people,” she says.

Gail says volunteering was a great way for the family to bond together over a common activity. It provided opportunity for the members to work together and each one of her children found a specific niche especially at dinner theater.

She says volunteering has paid off for her three older sons in tangible ways. “One got 10 scholarships and another got seven because of volunteering.” Son, Thomas, is currently in law school; Brendan is a combat medic in the Army and Kyle has had the chance to put to use his dinner theater background as a media specialist/blogger for the television show America’s Got Talent.

Getting Started

Parents may not have a clue where to start when getting their children involved in volunteering. Gail says the key is parental involvement. “Parents have to be the example,” she says.

When Mickey was 3, she could help with simple tasks such as putting items on the dinner theater prop table where her mother directed.

Hurst says the fall season is a great time to start thinking about volunteering as the holidays approach. There are a lot of ways children help to make a positive impact in the community. “They need to know they can help others,” she says.

Volunteerism among children and youth has become a popular topic in children’s television programming. Two major children’s networks, Nick and Disney Channel, have their own initiatives to spark volunteer interest in young people. Disney Channel has Friends for Change while Nick has The Big Help.

Augusta has numerous charities, many of which rely on the support of volunteers. The United Way of the CSRA’s 211 hotline is an information and referral service. Just dial 211 to get more information on volunteer opportunities. The organization’s We site offers tips on volunteering as a family.

Check the United We Serve website www.serve.gov. for volunteering ideas, “United We Serve is a nationwide service initiative that helps meet growing social needs resulting from the economic downturn,” according to the site. On the site, there are tools to create your own volunteer project as well as find existing projects.

Charmain Z. Brackett is an Augusta freelance writer and mother of three.

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