Kids just get it. Uncomplicated by the complex societal influences affecting their adult counterparts, kids are free to be incredibly selfish—and incredibly giving.
When first grasping the hardships of a fellow human being, the first thing out of their mouths is something along the lines of: “Why don’t we help them?”
Well, why not?
At least, that’s Bellevue Club member Rachael Podolsky’s attitude. Two years ago, she founded kidServe Seattle, an online site that connects kids and families to local volunteer opportunities. Families simply look at the online calendar, choose an event and sign up.
“Everybody’s lives are so busy. You can volunteer once a month or whatever works in your schedule,” she says. Simple yet brilliant, her idea is making a big impact in local families’ lives.
The initial idea was born while Rachael chatted with a fellow mom about their kids at a party. They both agreed their kids could benefit from volunteer opportunities and exposure to people less fortunate.
But the idea lay dormant until Rachael enrolled in a project management certificate program at University of Washington and it came flooding back.
“Each student needed an ongoing project, and I thought, I have just the thing,” she says. “We put together our team and founded the business.” Launching kidServeSeattle.org in November 2009, Rachael had modest goals.
“We were hoping for five nonprofit partnerships and 25 hits,” she says. “Now, we’re at 8,000 site visits and 35,000 page visits. There are just so many families that want to give their time.”
Partnered with local nonprofits, such as Union Gospel Mission, American Cancer Society and Treehouse for Kids, kidServe lists kid-friendly volunteer opportunities and provides one-click sign-up for those who want to participate. Her idea has caught on with Bellevue Club members, many of whom volunteer at kidServe events. Also, the kidServe board is filled with members or relatives of members: Mike Larson, Cari Sapp, Peter Kern, Dan Halos and Brigid Graham.
“I just drew from my friends,” Rachael says.
Rachael’s first volunteer experience happened at a young age. Growing up in Cleveland, she says in her family volunteering was normal.
“I started as a candy striper at the RH Jewish Home for the Aged,” she says, laughing. “I was always volunteering as a child.”
Reflecting back on her experiences, she would have preferred more parental involvement in the actual volunteering.
“I wish my mom had been with me,” she says.
GO DO SOMETHING
“Kids like to be able to really do something,” says Rachael. The mother of three—Jack, 10, Nate, 8, and Lily, 7—has seen it firsthand with her own kids.
Rachael and her family served chili at the much-debated “Nickelsville” homeless encampment when it was housed in Bellevue. Wandering amongst the tents and chatting with the residents, her kids came to some hard realizations while serving bread on that cold winter day.
“That night, Nate thanked us for having a bed to sleep in. I knew that it just clicked for them,” she says. “They began to understand empathy and then they can show compassion.”
It’s not all working with homeless. At other events, family members plant native trees and shrubs to help restore critical spawning habitats, play with kids who are staying in battered women’s shelters or do art projects at the Union Gospel Mission.
“We divide it into five categories that kids are interested in: animals, arts, social outreach, environmental causes and health and wellness,” she says.
Whichever event that kids choose, Rachael points out that it’s always an educational experience.
“When the kids get out of these events, their eyes are wide open. While they might not say anything, you can tell in their actions,” Rachael says. “And you can tell they feel good.”