Becoming more intentional in engaging with diverse children

by MelindaJoy Mingo

“Everybody can be great. Because anybody can serve. You don’t have to have a college degree to serve. You don’t have to make your subject and your verb agree to serve…. You don’t have to know the second theory of thermodynamics in physics to serve. You only need a heart full of grace. A soul generated by love.” — Martin Luther King, Jr.

As a volunteer and advocate for children in El Paso County, nothing you do is ever considered little or insignificant. There are plenty of research studies out there confirming the benefits of volunteering, not only for the communities affected but also for individuals.

When you serve children and families that have gone through traumatic events and those less fortunate than yourself, you gain a greater appreciation and empathy for the lived experiences of others.

This month as many celebrate Black History month and the historical known and unknown achievements of African Americans, you as a volunteer get to bring the heart of justice to children from diverse cultures. Having a `heart of justice’ is drawing close to those who are suffering, vulnerable, and in need of care.

As I was growing up in inner city Chicago with an adopted family, a life of trauma at a young age, and low self esteem, what I wanted more than anything else was someone who would value me as a person and see my worth beyond my situation of family abandonment.  I had a white woman mentor volunteer who was paired with me from an organization who not only helped me see myself in a positive way but also showed interest in my cultural values. She even took time to read books, watch movies about my culture, and allowed me to learn from her as well. A great way to experience a culture is through volunteering.

Some of the ways to become more intentional in engaging with the diverse children and families that you serve are:

1. Keep an Open Mind. The ability to keep opinions flexible and receptive to new stimuli is important to intercultural adjustment. Even if you don’t understand why people do a particular thing, be careful not to jump to conclusions.

2. Embrace Cultural Humility – Listen to the children you serve and be open to learn from them

3. Be Flexible. The ability to respond to or tolerate the ambiguity of new situations is very important to intercultural success.

4. Maintain a Healthy Curiosity. Curiosity is the demonstrated desire to know about other people, places, ideas, etc.

5. Regard Others Positively. The ability to express warmth, empathy, respect, and positive regard for other persons is an important component of effective diverse cultural relations. Try to think of things you really enjoy or like about their culture and embrace similarities and differences.

6. Always remember your `why‘ – even when you feel that you aren’t connecting well with a child and that it may take time to build real rapport with a child but just show care and empathy and the connection will happen.

“The heart of a volunteer is never measured in size, but by the depth of the commitment to make a difference in the lives of others.” DeAnn Hollis