One thing I’ll remember about our friend Mike, who died suddenly in April, was the way he liked to joke around and have fun. He insisted to children that cantelopes “grew” in the lake and floated to the surface — look, there’s one now! — when they were ready to harvest.
One thing I’ll treasure about Mike was his example of how to include children in group gatherings, in ways that make clear that they’re valued and capable.
Each summer, about 30 friends and relatives with ties to Rochester gather at Mike and Bob’s summer cottage in the Adirondacks. The weekends are intended to be a mix of work and play. Our hosts plan a list of home improvement projects, such as painting exterior walls, building sheds and leveling the cottage by adjusting piers underneath. There are typically some more questionable tasks, too, such as moving rocks around the property or “cleaning the forest,” which involves raking leaves and hauling away fallen branches.
Mike always assigned each guest to a specific task, typically in teams of three to five people. He included every child, even those under age 5, on a team. One time, kids helped paint a shed. They might not last very long on the project. But they do their part. Last summer, the kids all painted birdhouses, where were then hung on a tree. (Photos above and below.)
Toward the end of each weekend, we gather to reflect – and joke – about “what we learned” that weekend. Kids are always included in those discussions, too. Their comments and insights are often a delight. I’m grateful for the wise example of treating each and every person as important, regardless of age. Mike was great at building community.
Over the past year or so, I’ve led multiple volunteer crews from my church at Foodlink, the regional food bank. Foodlink sets a minimum age of 8, and we’ve had volunteers from age 8 to close to 80. The task includes counting out dozens or even hundreds of cans, boxes or packets of food. We have to do math to calculate how many cases of each food item we’ll need to pack specific numbers of food bags.
Like Mike, I aim to include each volunteer equally and appreciate their contributions. It warms my heart to see kids rise to the challenge of the math calculations, counting, carrying and packing. When they need help, I’ve watched them team up with another child or adult to get the task done. Their new buddy might be someone they just met, and their shared task helps build community.
Callan, who’s 9, told me that the work makes him feel capable and useful: “I just helped a lot of kids get food that they needed,” he says. He also likes getting to know new people from our large congregation, and he shares a neat connection with them when they cross paths later at church.
Callan and his sister, 11-year-old Madi, are such fans of the volunteer work that they have recruited friends to join in.
Cheryl, mom of Callan and Madi, says the work gives her kids a boost of confidence.
Rest in peace Mike Losinger. April 10, 1941 – April 17, 2013