Education & Family

How to Raise a Service-Minded Kid

Step one: Find community projects they care about, and start them young.
—Illustration by Michael Tranquillo

When Talia Vogel was getting ready to celebrate her bat mitzvah she knew she wanted to do a service project. Many area synagogues require bar/bat mitzvah students to find a social action endeavor, often known as “mitzvah projects,” as part of their preparations. Talia decided to collect art supplies—a passion of hers—and donate them to kids at Mt. Washington Pediatric Hospital who “might not have access to a lot of activities,” she explains.

Talia and her family also decided to open the cause beyond those invited to her bat mitzvah. They put flyers in all the neighbors’ mailboxes and her mom, Susan, posted the information on social media, noting that people could drop off supplies on the porch of their Phoenix home, donate money via Venmo, or bring the goods to Har Sinai-Oheb Shalom Congregation the night of Talia’s Havdalah service. Susan couldn’t believe how many people—most not Jewish—participated, often leaving notes for Talia telling her how happy they were to contribute.

“A bat mitzvah is about becoming a Jewish adult and it’s important that you do things that show you are part of the Jewish community,” says Talia, who is in eighth grade. “Doing a service project can give you a start of how you want to make a difference.”

Starting kids young on projects they care about, like Talia’s, is key to raising service-minded kids, says Nakeia Jones, executive director of Baltimore’s Philanthropy Tank, a nonprofit that, through grants and mentorships, empowers young people to find service-driven solutions to problems affecting their own communities.

“You need to find something kids are interested in and find a way they can volunteer in that area,” says Jones. She notes that it’s okay to start small. That can mean anything from reading to the dogs at the SPCA to serving Thanksgiving dinner at the Bea Gaddy Family Center. Jones says it’s also important for parents to demonstrate that volunteering is a regular occurrence in their lives.

“Kids emulate what they see,” says Jones. “Be a good example.”

That sounds a lot like the unofficial model of the Boy Scouts of America (BSA), says Sam DiStefeno, the marketing and communications executive for the BSA’s Baltimore Area Council. “Service is one of the main pillars of Scouting,” he explains. And by implementing that into the entire Scouts program, “it’s teaching these really important values for the rest of their lives,” says DiStefeno. That often includes everything from collecting items for neighborhood food banks to huge Eagle Scout service projects that can impact an entire community.

“I am always inspired by how compassionate and conservation-minded our youth naturally are,” says Kristen Engelke, Scoutmaster for Troop 328 in Timonium. “Membership in a group that encourages service, compassion, and environmental stewardship during their formative years can help young people grow into adults who are conscientious of the world around them and generous with their time and talents.”

A few weeks after her bat mitzvah service, Talia and her mom headed to Mt. Washington Pediatric Hospital—their car packed full of every imaginable art supply. For Talia, it’s still one of her favorite memories from her bat mitzvah and one that’s had a lasting impact on her.

Says Talia, “Doing something like that can make people really happy and it made me feel good.”