A Lesson in Volunteering, that the Kids Will Never Forget!

...Or I should could just call this post, "The Time We Got Busted By the Cops for Illegal Dumping." Let me explain...
For the past few years I have been trying to teach my kids how important it is to help others, but being so young it's hard to find work that the kids can do. Due to liability issues, a lot of organizations do not accept any persons under the age of 18.  We were fortunate enough to find a way that the entire family could get involved, Community Clean Up Day!

I love the idea of making a difference, where you can actually see it. Sure you could send money to various charities, but how do you really know where that money is going?  How can you see your money in action?  Kids need to see action, so a great way to get kids involved in volunteer work is to give their time and energy. So we chose to clean up in our own neighborhood. In case you are just stumbling upon this blog, we live in the desert.  Our neighborhood is a balance of homes on one side, acres of open desert and a (right now, dry) river bed.  The desert and river bed is were tons of native animals call home.  It is also pretty secluded in spots, which makes it the perfect dumping ground for people who like to litter.

We have taken part in community clean up a few times over the years, and this time we were actually able to talk a neighbor into helping us this time. So we all woke up early in the morning to get started. Of course there was some complaining and whining, but it stopped really fast once the kids noticed how much damage had been done to our environment and after the precious reminders of the animals that we share it with.  Within less than an hour, we had two pickup trucks and a trailer full of trash, and four kids who were no longer complaining but were happy to be making a difference. 

The kids had a great time running and playing, and also discovering more about the environment they live in. We found some holes burrowed into the side of a drop off.  They were empty but we did over turn some tires and piles of wood and found lizards, salamanders and a toad. We startled jackrabbits and cottontails out of their hiding places and watched them run across the fields of brush. 

After we had our third load had been collected, we noticed a helicopter in the distance, it approached us and yelled at us from the loud speaker to exit the desert and meet with the police vehicles that were waiting for us. Quite honestly we were all confused as to what was going on, but did as instructed. After several minutes of questioning, we realized that people in the neighborhood were calling the cops on us because they thought we were illegally dumping in the desert!  After the police realized that we were actually cleaning up, we all had a good laugh. We also noticed that another neighbor saw what we were doing and he and his son decided to help out by collecting tires.  We were happy to see that our actions help to inspire others.

This photo shows part of the trash we collected.  If we could do this much with 4 adults and 5 kids, just imagine what we could do if more people helped out!

We all learned lessons that day. Next time we volunteer, I plan to make fliers to alert the other neighbors and see if we can at least get more help. I will also call our local police department and let them know what is going on so we don't have another repeat situation (although all of the kids thought seeing the helicopter that close up was awesome). The kids took great pride in knowing that they helped to make a difference. Unfortunately, there were only a few of us, and there was still so much more out there, that we only made a small dent. Hopefully next year our pile will be twice as big!