Karen Overstreet | 5/22/2008 6:27:26 PM
What do rising food and fuel costs and volunteerism have in common? “Maybe more than you think,” says LSU AgCenter volunteer expert Dr. Karen Overstreet.
“Coping with high costs for basics may be new for many of us, but we can learn a lot from the elderly who lived through the Great Depression, World War II and other tough times,” Overstreet says. She explains there is a parallel between scarcity then and high costs now because both did and do require creative ways to stretch a family budget.
Overstreet suggests starting a summer project either within your own family or as part of a group to record the memories older adults about how they made ends meet.
“Junior high is a good age for a project because the tweens are too young for most paying jobs and often are looking for something to do in the summer,” Overstreet says.
They may roll their eyes when seniors talk about “back in my day,” but what starts out as an interview process many times turns into an intergenerational friendship, Overstreet point out.
Many of the older generation remember all too well the Great Depression along with rationing and victory gardens during wartime. Children and young adults who have never known true scarcity have a difficult time grasping the idea that difficult choices were sometimes required to provide for a family.
“As students become more involved with the older adults, don’t be surprised if they become personally involved with the seniors they interview,” Overstreet says. They may want to help with small tasks like changing light bulbs, planting a couple of tomato plants or just visiting to lift their spirits. The students and adults may decide to work together on a food drive or other project for those less fortunate.
Student concern often translates into enthusiasm for future volunteer projects because they recall their early positive experiences.
Learning about the past can make students more sensitive to their own situation and perhaps inspire them to talk with their families about budgeting. Although some of their ideas may be far-fetched or comical, their participation is likely to produce more interest and cooperation.
“Students generally like to use technology,” Overstreet notes, “so let them develop digital scrapbooks or electronic slide shows for their project.” Others may want to put together a hard-copy scrapbook.
A junior high Sunday school class might interview the older adults in the congregation and share their stories with others. A 4-H club or scout group could interview older adults in their community, especially those who might have been leaders or members during the 1930s or 40s.
If you have a local museum in your area, check to see if it might be interested in hosting such a project. The finished product could be presented at a special event and/or put on display when completed.
“Higher prices just might be the spark needed to think about new ways to understand the problem,” Overstreet says, adding, “Volunteering might not alter the bottom line, but it can help participants learn more about history and appreciate relationships.”
For related family topics, visit the family and home link at the LSU AgCenter Web site at www.lsuagcenter.com. For local information and educational programs, contact an extension agent in your parish LSU AgCenter office.