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What's in it for me?

Updated: May 29, 2023

When it comes to helping your kids engage in the community, the “What’s in it for me?” mindset is not the most advantageous approach. Instead, it’s helpful to approach those partnerships with “How can I serve?” and see how God uses those partnerships to be mutually beneficial.

I wrote a paper on school engagement with the community for a grad class. During my research, I read several peer-reviewed articles and was a little surprised at how many times the authors zoomed in on the benefit to the school or student. Don’t get me wrong, obviously that’s the main motivator for schools to engage with families, businesses, and community organizations, but I struggled to find an equal emphasis on benefitting the community. Perhaps it is a given that when schools partner with businesses, the business gets lots of free advertisement. That is clearly a win-win for both. But I never really read that kind of overt statement, and it seemed to be a glaring omission in my research.

After reading several articles, I found myself thinking, “If I were a business person, would there be any benefit to my business if I partnered with the schools in the ways the schools recommended?" Partnerships should be mutually beneficial and both sides should easily be able to answer "What's in it for me?" This should not be in a selfish way, but rather in a way that both sides join together to advance both of their goals.

As a homeschooling family, we engaged our community in dozens of ways. I hope that none of the organizations we partnered with ever felt that we were only in it for ourselves. Our entire goal as a family was to give back and serve our community. At the same time, I have to admit that I feel we benefitted much more than those we served, but I’m confident that as we worked together, we strived to build a true two-way partnership.

For a homeschooler, community engagement is not overtly a financial benefit for the homeschool. No business ever gave us computers, uniforms, sports equipment, or playground fixtures (as I discovered often happens in traditional schools). We never received coupons to the local fast-food restaurants for being the “most-improved” student or any of the other myriad freebies that many of those chains offer traditional classroom students. With the exception of Chick-Fil-A, which is EXTREMELY homeschool-friendly, we were not as “benefitted” by most other local chains.

However, here are a few ways that my girls WERE able to engage in our community with descriptions of ways that it was mutually beneficial.

All three of our girls earned the Gold Level of the Presidential Volunteer Service Award that represents more than 250 hours of volunteer service to the community. We regularly volunteered at the local soup kitchen (set up through our homeschool co-op), the local crisis pregnancy center, veterans events, and police-support events. Most of the time, those volunteer activities involved several hours per week. Sometimes the activity was minor, but it taught my girls tremendous lessons about the important things in life.

For example, my middle daughter wanted to do something special for our local police organizations to show them her support. This was before all of the defund police narratives began filling the airwaves, but as a family, we have always tried to emphasize the importance of praying for those in authority over us. So, of her own accord, she started saving her money to buy donuts to take to several precincts. It actually took her quite a few months to raise enough money to buy enough donuts to deliver to all of the precincts in our area. She wrote notes to each group telling them how thankful she was for them and how often she prayed for their safety, their families, and their effectiveness in their jobs. One police captain sent her a hand-written thank you note telling her how much it meant to their entire team. It meant the world to her. She immediately began saving her money for the next round of donuts and the second time around, she also bought dozens of $5 gift cards to the local Subway to give to the officers. That was a tiny thing, but it built a relationship with the local police community and many of them know her by name because she was so faithful in showing her love and respect to them over the years. Later, when one of our own family members was killed in the line of duty, many of those same officers became our family in blue as they loved and supported us through that horrible time. Today, years after our loss, our blue family still cares for us.

For years, we’ve loved and served them, and they have also loved and served us.

Our girls participated in a local homeschool orchestra and each year, instead of holding concerts primarily for our school and family, we held concerts throughout the community. Each semester we played in the local Children’s hospital and several local nursing and retirement homes. We also always played for the national Honor Flights whose stated mission is “to transport America’s veterans to Washington, D.C. to visit the memorials dedicated to honoring those who have served and sacrificed for our country.”

Those early morning (6 am) Honor Flights became a cherished time for our family to meet with and to hear the stories from our veterans. We met many WW II veterans and the privilege of hearing their stories is priceless. We believe that was a very lopsided partnership because we gained so much more than we ever gave. But we are unbelievably grateful for the opportunities to meet those men over the years especially since so many of them are no longer with us. What a privilege it was for our girls to play for them and give them donuts and talk to them as they waited to board their flights.

We had an opportunity to personally thank hundreds of veterans for their service to us and to our country. How can you possibly put a price on that value! We only hope that our tiny efforts encouraged them a little bit and let them know they were appreciated and not forgotten.

All three of our girls were able to volunteer doing internships in fields that interested them. Our oldest, for example, had a strong background in science and was somewhat interested in the medical field. She contacted our local doctor and set up a 50-hour internship with him. During that internship, she learned many of the basics of patient care, record-keeping, drawing basic labs, and more. After the internship, she was hired as a medical assistant and took on even more responsibilities in patient care. The internship was another one of those areas where it is hard to know how mutually beneficial it was for our doctor. We feel that he gave us so much more than we gave him, but the partnership was a fantastic learning opportunity for a bright young high school student to help direct her future career path. Another daughter interned at a local Christian radio station and it was helpful in guiding her towards pursuing her degree in communications. Although radio wasn’t her main love, the internship in high school gave her direction to zero in on the parts of the communications field that she did love.

The point is, because of the flexibility of homeschool, our girls were able to get amazing experiences through hands-on work in fields that interested them, and hopefully, their work at those companies also benefitted the employers during that time.

Homeschoolers have opportunities to volunteer in their communities - not just because there’s something in it for them - but because it truly benefits the community. We are part of the community and we ought to participate in it and help make it better. We don’t usually work so hard to volunteer because we want some special benefit to our “school,” we work to show the love of Christ to those all around us.

For us, it is a way to love God and love others. But God has used those opportunities in our lives to enrich us, grow us, expand our worldview and make us more aware of those in need around us.

We know it highly benefitted our girls, but we hope it has been a two-way partnership for all of the community organizations that opened their arms to our girls’ volunteer efforts.

What are ways that you have been able to reach into your community and create mutually beneficial partnerships? I’d love to hear more about your experiences. Drop me a line below and tell me about your community partnerships.

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