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The Challenge Finding a way to give back that suits a young family –and teaches the importance of reaching out to others

The Family Tarah, 31, and Jimmy Clark, 39, of Ellwood City, Pennsylvania, and their kids Logan, 8, Kylee, 6, Caleb and Nathan, 4, and Eva, 19 months

Looking for the right fit: Tarah and Jimmy are passionate about helping others (in their pre-kid days, they worked at a camp for underprivileged children), and they wanted to instill to giving spirit in their own children. But with five kids under age 8, finding a philanthropic activity for the whole family wasn’t easy. “We tried a few bike rides and similar fundraisers,” says Tarah. “They were great causes, but the kids didn’t get much out of them.”

A divine sign: A few weeks before Thanksgiving last year, the Clarks saw a notice in their church bulletin asking for volunteers to serve holiday dinners to needy families. “There were two different options: you could work at a community dinner in the church basement, or you could deliver meals personally,” explains Tarah. For the Clarks, it was a no-brainer: delivering food won out over trying to keep track of active preschoolers in a busy kitchen.

Getting ready to go: On Thanksgiving, the Clarks arrived at the church and helped pack up food for two families. “Honestly, the experience pushed us a little bit out of our comfort zone,” says Tarah. “We knew nothing about the families, or how they would react. Would they feel awkward with us there? Would we know what to say?” In the car, the kids were full of questions. “The two older ones kept asking ‘Why are we taking them to dinner?’ and ‘Why don’t they have food?’” says Tarah. “Jimmy and I responded by saying that sometimes moms and dads can’t seem to find work, so they need a little extra help–which seemed to satisfy everyone.”

A meaningful moment: The first delivery was routine. But at their second stop, the family–a single mom and her teenage son–asked the Clarks to pray with them. “During the prayer, the mom revealed that her 16-year-old daughter was in trouble.” says Tarah. “She didn’t give us all the details, but the gist was that the girl had gotten involved with drugs and run away from home.” Later, Logan asked why the teen had run away. “I tried to explain in simple terms that sometimes families have problems, and that just because it’s a holiday, it doesn’t mean everyone is happy,” says Tarah. The encounter inspired more talks about the importance of family. “The kids saw that Thanksgiving was about more than just food–it’s about being thankful for what you have, and helping others who might be having a tough time,” she says.

The follow-up: Over the next few weeks, Logan and Kylee were curious about the single mom and her daughter–even asking to stop by their house again. “We did walk by a few times, and we left a card, but never heard from them,” says Tarah. Still, the meeting made a big impression on the kids, and they’re excited about this year’s event. “We’d love to deliver food to additional families if possible,” says Tara. “It was so rewarding, and the people were so appreciative.”

Thinking about volunteering with kids? Pick a project where you help others in person, suggests Tarah. But, be realistic about the workload your brood can handle. An activity accomplished in a couple hours is great. And remember as your kids grow, so can the type of volunteering you try.

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