- The Washington Times - Sunday, December 17, 2006

Recently, I was honored to be called upon to give the keynote address at a conference on HIV and AIDS held at Cornell University. Looking out at the audience of students and AIDS experts, I felt amazed at the sheer academic power contained in the U.S.

We are a nation uniquely blessed with resources, and even more important, with people who define their nationality by a set of ideals, not by ancestry or race or mother tongue.

Yet, if we jealously hoard our physical and intellectual resources within our own borders, or if we seek only a temporary self-benefit on any level, we will lose a precious opportunity. One of the Cornell students at the conference brought us to a residential facility for high-risk youth where she volunteers. We were so moved to see these beautiful young ladies inspired and energized by our presentations — all the result of one college student’s volunteerism.

The only way to see long-term benefit from one’s own gifts is to use them to serve a greater community. Andrew Carnegie would have been just another dead millionaire had he not bequeathed his fortune to fund libraries and institutions of learning. Mother Teresa could have spent her life in prayer and contemplation only, but it would not have brought the touch of love and divine care into the lives of millions. Bill and Melinda Gates could be spending their substantial income on the stuff of this world — but then millions more AIDS victims would have no chance to receive treatment or information.

Home-schoolers, typically, are people who care about their children’s education and character development — enough to give up time and income to focus on those elements. But we must guard against becoming satisfied with our own accomplishments and the good fortune we enjoy. It’s necessary to give to others, if only as a means of ensuring our own happiness.

Public service is an important component of a good education. When a family serves together, they experience things that cannot be manufactured inside the home or in the classroom. Here are a few ideas for how home-schoolers can learn to be contributors to society — not merely consumers of its products.

• Physical activities: Families who love sports or dance or nature exploration can create a small class or club to introduce that to others. There is a world of learning involved in action, not the least of which is learning how to work well with a group of people.

• Tutoring and mentoring: At the local library, after-school program or community center, there are many youths and even adults from other nations who would love to have help with language skills, math, science or computer knowledge.

• Health and care giving: Hospitals, convalescent facilities, and those whose illness leaves them home-bound — these are all greatly in need of people to provide supportive services. Reading books, singing songs, doing juggling, running errands or even knitting warm slippers are all deeply appreciated. This is a great way for those considering a health career to acquaint themselves with the work.

• Arts: If you have budding artists or even professional designers in your family, consider doing a project to benefit the community. Murals, meditation gardens, sculpture, posters and fabric art can become a lasting source of encouragement and support to others.

• Material goods: One family invites special-needs children to use its riding stables. Another runs a cooking class in its restaurant. A car-loving dad invites local teens to come and tinker on cars in his rural area, teaching valuable mechanical skills but also becoming an ear to confide in.

As our families reach out to others, we are enriched with friendships, new understandings and unforgettable experiences. When we teach our children to give, we ensure that they will be of value in every setting they will encounter in their lives.

Kate Tsubata, a home-schooling mother of three, is a freelance writer living in Maryland.

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