I would like to introduce Jaci Arnone, a new contributing writer for Kidoinfo. Having grown up in Southeastern Massachusetts, Jaci chose the Ocean State to raise her family after stints on the West Coast, Southern Florida, and a few cities in between. Although she works part time as a prospect researcher in the nonprofit world, most of her time is spent trying to keep up with her four active kids, ages 10, 5, and 3-year-old twins. With the slivers of spare time she finds, Jaci enjoys writing, taking peaceful runs (ideally, not pushing the triple jogger), and combing local thrift stores for treasures. I welcome her perspective on life and kids.

Lemonade Stand on Kid o InfoWith the summer just weeks away, it’s time to start lining up activities to make the most of our kids’ summer vacation… camp, beach trips, opportunities to make our world a better place. Well, maybe the last one’s a stretch, but it’s something I try to include in our annual summer to-do list.

Community service has always been an important part of my life, one I hope to share with my children. And the summer is a great time to focus on a community service project, since our schedule is less chaotic. As the mom of four kids, however, it’s a daunting task to find projects that are manageable, educational, and most importantly, age appropriate (in our case, for ages 3 — 10).

Fortunately, there are various local resources which help match volunteers with opportunities that suit their family’s needs. A great place to start is databases such as Volunteer Match, the Volunteer Center of Rhode Island, and Volunteer Solutions. These sites allow volunteers to search opportunities by particular age ranges and areas of interest. In addition, the Providence Journal lists volunteer opportunities in their LifeBeat section.

Some of our family favorites:

Community Farm on Kid o InfoRhode Island Community Farms: We visited one of the state’s eight Community Farm sites, which provide fresh produce for the Rhode Island Community Food Bank. Although volunteers must be 14 years or older to volunteer in the Food Bank itself, the Community Farm is a fun way for younger children to join in the effort. My kids were thrilled to see their baskets bursting with fresh vegetables, soon to be shared with Rhode Island families in need. For more information visit www.rifoodbank.org.

Suitcases for Kids: Through the RI Council of Resource Providers for Children, Youth, and Families’ (RICORP) website, we learned about the ‘Suitcases for Kids’ program, which provides gently used luggage for children in residential placement. Otherwise, most foster children carry their belongings in plastic garbage bags, a degrading message for any child. In the summer of ’06, we made this project our focus. The kids painted a sign for our front lawn notifying neighbors we would be collecting suitcases throughout the summer. In addition, we set up a lemonade stand and used the proceeds to buy toiletries and other small items to be donated along with our suitcases. Our older sons were especially proud to deliver their hard-earned suitcases to the foster care facility. For more information visit www.ricorp.net.

Our goal for this summer, Coastline Conservation!

Since our family loves to spend time at local beaches swimming, surfing, picnicking, and everything in between, we have been greatly impacted by frequent beach closures. This summer, our kids will be at the perfect age for us to explain the importance of preserving our coastline. We have day-trips planned to Save the Bay’s Exploration Center in Newport, the Wood’s Hole Science Aquarium (MA), and various Audubon locations around Rhode Island. In addition, our oldest son will be attending one week of Save the Bay’s ‘Bay Camp’ (for children grades 3-8, for further information: www.savebay.org). For older children, Rhode Island’s chapter of the Surfrider Foundation hosts monthly beach cleanups.

There are endless opportunities to teach our kids that giving their time and energy to our community is both essential and rewarding, whether it’s helping an elderly neighbor with yard work or a larger-scale summer project such as coastline conservation. Most importantly, helping others can be a wonderful activity to do as a family. We’re hoping to make our summer community service project a family tradition!

Photo credit: Jaci Arnone. 1. Our lemonade stand. 2. My middle son picking veggies at the farm.