MaryangelaAs we drove through the litter-strewn streets of Milwaukee’s central city lined with rundown homes, some with jaggedly broken window panes, others completely boarded up, poverty and despair was evident everywhere.

Our 15-year-old Chiana and I were in the car on our way from her Saturday morning volunteer stint at an area retirement home where she helps with bingo, to pick up our 18-year-old daughter, Marisa who volunteers weekly at a women’s shelter.

“What do you think this world would be like, if everyone had to do two hours of service a week?” she mused, looking out the window of the car at the poverty around her.

“I doubt that it would look like this,” I assured her, and we chatted a bit about how not only would the physical surroundings look better if people pitched in to help spruce things up, but if everyone were inclined to think in terms of service, perhaps a more compassionate concern for one’s brothers and sisters would be evident in the way we all treat each other.

I’m so thankful our daughters are involved in regular volunteer work and have to thank their Catholic education for introducing them to this concept. Both were required to fulfill service hours as graduation requirements, but they have found those experiences so rewarding that they both have continued to volunteer long after the service requirement was completed.

This lesson in serving others, especially the poor and vulnerable, is to me one of the greatest benefits of Catholic education. That lesson is also something we parents must model for our children.

Especially in this holiday season where materialism is coming at us from all directions, it’s important to help keep a proper focus on what’s important in our lives. By reaching out and serving others, we can live out the Golden Rule.

Reporter Karen Mahoney has put together a “12 months of giving” piece on Pages 6, 7 and 8 of this issue, which offers suggestions on how to serve others and carry that spirit of Christmas throughout the year. From food pantries to pregnancy help centers to meal programs, she takes us around the archdiocese, suggesting ways your family can get involved with serving the less fortunate.

We’re hoping you find this piece useful, saving it as a resource as you look to get involved in community service – now and in the future.

If you’re like me, my volunteer work these days tends to focus on my girls’ schools. I rarely seem to find time to focus on the “poor or vulnerable,” or find time for the long-term, regular commitments involved in tutoring or outreaches like “bread runs” – picking up day-old bakery to deliver to meal programs – that my dad did for so long.

Many of the suggestions in Karen’s list don’t involve long-term commitments, but can be done in whatever small amount of time your schedule allows. Some are as simple as incorporating Operation Rice Bowl into your Lenten routine or cleaning out your closets to help stock a clothing bank.

We hope it’s something that helps you discover ways to make a difference in the world around you and foster in your children that desire to be of service to others.

As we enter Advent, preparing for the celebration of Christ’s coming at Christmas, see Page 3 or 11 for resources to help make this a more meaningful season for your family.

From our Catholic Herald family to yours, we wish you a Blessed Christmas season!