Might your high school senior benefit from personal development before entering college or the workforce? If a year of volunteering, living communally, and exploring faith sounds like it could be a good fit, what should you consider? How do you start the conversation? Below is an interview between myself and my mom, Heidi Eash, who was in your place, years ago. Was it worth it to send her kids through a Mennonite Mission Network-sponsored service program? Keep reading to find out!
- What did you and Dad try to teach your kids about formal education when they were children? I think we assumed they would complete their educations through college. We encouraged them to study and do their best in school, and I think we passed on the message that education would help them be more prepared and effective in the adult world. It would enable them to get the jobs they wanted and to use their talents and gifts to the fullest.
- Why do you think your kids viewed service as an option after high school, rather than just going straight into college or the workforce? I think the kids saw us serving through our positions in the church and talking about others who served the church away from their homes. So, the concept was familiar to them. We have always been very involved in our local congregation. We also had international students regularly stay with us, so we encouraged the kids to learn about and getting along with people from other places. I think we also hoped that a little extra time between high school and college might help our kids mature a little. We felt it would give them a better sense of what they wanted to do with their lives and a feel for their place in the world and what they could offer. I believe both their good and difficult experiences helped to form their characters.
- How did you feel about their option to postpone college? Just fine! I don't think we had difficulties with the delay, including with financial aid for college. I wonder if parents worry about breaking the "momentum" — this long stream of study from kindergarten through 12th grade — and that skills will be forgotten if a break is taken. But I think a break may be a good breather and make them more eager to begin again, with renewed purpose. And maybe it could give them a better idea of what they want to do in the future (or DON'T want to do)!
- Was it a difficult decision for you? For them? If so, how did you work through it? Our first child went directly to college but later worked with Habitat for Humanity in AmeriCorps. She felt ready to get on with school, and we supported her. The following three children all did a year of service. After the first of the three children participated in Service Adventure, the others followed with enthusiasm. I think they were ready for a break from school for a while, and service away from home would be an adventure! With every child, the whole family made a trip out to see them, to get a sense of what they were working at and the community there, so they knew they were supported. Plus, we were truly interested in what they were doing.
- How did their year of service change them? What type of growth did you see? They gained a lot of growth from working with conflict and in interpersonal skills; and they learned to work with and respect people within a very different community that had different ways of doing things. It probably gave them a new perspective on their home community, as well.
- How did it affect, if at all, their path afterward? Do you think it affected their college experience? I think it helped them to hone in on their majors. I remember a little (initial) difficulty with their being behind their high school graduating-class, in college, especially as they were at the same school as many of their high school peers. I don't remember it being a pervasive problem. The three children who did early service all chose jobs later that are social-service oriented. They continue to be involved members of their communities, connected to their family, and appreciative of their roots.
- What would you tell other parents who have kids who are nearing their college years? Was service worth it? I think it was worth it, definitely, from a parent's perspective. I didn't do service away, myself. But I contributed to the wider kingdom of God by raising four kids willing to pitch in where they were needed! I think it's an important connection to the church, as well, for the kids to contribute in this way. It gives them some real ownership in the work of the church. They have "skin in the game." They also gain perspective by living outside their comfort zone. It stretches them and can give them new confidence, especially if challenges in the service time are assisted by Mennonite Mission Network and/or local congregational mentoring.
Editor's Note: The agency's Christian Service programs are: Mennonite Voluntary Service (MVS); Service Adventure: Service Opportunities with Our Partners (SOOP); and Youth Venture.