Guest blog post by Julie Platten Long
I have always enjoyed serving and learning about my community through service. ALWAYS. My parents brought my sisters and me up in this way. My mom fondly recalls going on her Meals on Wheels route with me in the carseat. My husband and I have gone on many service “dates” and even went to a VolunCheers event when we were nine months pregnant. We have always talked about teaching our children the importance of serving others. We also decided that the earlier we can start bringing our children into this important aspect of our lives, the better.
When she was 4 months, I carried/wore Elaina in an awareness walk for the Church Health Center.
She has a very pleasant disposition and smiles constantly! My husband and I are involved with Aspire and we took Elaina to an Aspire event in which we took flowers that had been used for a wedding and repurposed them into little Bouquets of Hope to be delivered to people in nursing homes. Before we left the event, I had already signed up to help deliver the bouquets the next day. I was so excited about the ministry and I was thrilled to bring Elaina to share her joy with the residents as we brought their flowers.
We were greeted by Christine and Yoswae, the Memphis Catholic Student that works for Catholic Charities on Tuesday. We filled our carts with small vases and began taking them into the rooms of the residents. Over and over again, I heard the residents say, “Look at that baby! She’s the prettiest flower you all brought today!” The residents wanted to squeeze her baby hands and tickle her tiny feet. They smiled so brightly at her and she cooed right back at them. I had a revelation about how open Elaina is to loving everyone regardless of age, race, ability, or anything else. I realized that if I waited until she was school-aged, she might not be used to seeing people who are confined to a bed, or people who are missing teeth, or people with tubes helping them to breathe and she might feel scared or confused in that setting.
Because she is so young, she feels comfortable everywhere we go as long as she is in my arms. Men and women alike were eager to share parenting stories with me and tell me about all their children. Christine and I were delivering the bouquets on opposite sides of the hall but there were a few times where she would stop me and say, “Julie, can you bring Elaina in here? There’s someone in here that would love to meet her.” I also heard one of the residents say to Christine, “Excuse me, do you have a baby with you today? I need to see her!” It warmed my heart to see that just her baby presence was doing more for these residents than I could possibly do on my own. Elaina learned to wave very early (around 5 months) and each room that we went into, she would wave and smile. Everyone smiled and waved back at her and many people exclaimed things like, “OH! Look at her waving at me!” or “Hi, baby! Thank you for coming to see me today!”
There are many volunteer opportunities that would be more difficult with a baby present and it can be overwhelming to think about bringing a baby into a setting where many people are not well. However, the experience was going so well that Elaina and I stayed late and delivered a whole extra cart after Christine and Yoswae needed to leave! My husband heard so much about our experience that he was eager to come with us the next time we went. We are in full agreement that we will absolutely continue to expose our daughter to these kinds of experiences and we hope to continue to volunteer as a family frequently in the future!
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