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How a Community Service Project Will Change Your Family

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How a Community Service Project Will Change Your FamilyAre you looking for a community service project? You don’t need to leave the country to find volunteer opportunities to do with your kids.

For instance, a good idea might be to go to the Texas-Mexico border. My family has ministered to the people in The Colonias doing VBS, soccer camps, construction, painting, and food distribution for many years.

When I first signed up with my husband, I thought the trip would be rather easy since it was in Texas.

I was wrong.

Doing a service project is heart-wrenching no matter where you go–even if you are in your own city or state. My family was not prepared emotionally for the things we saw. It changed us forever as a family and as human beings. Personally, I am glad it changed us. We are better for it.

In this post, I am going to tell you why you should do a community service project with your family, and how it will change them forever. First, let me explain our experience so you can see what it might be like for your family. 

Doing a Community Service Project with Your Family

My family chose a service project in an impoverished area called The Colonias down in South Texas because our church-sponsored it. It was a good choice for us because it was not only inexpensive but it was also close.

You may wonder what are The Colonias. They are communities in an unincorporated makeshift area about a mile from the Texas-Mexico border. These areas are just beyond the municipal boundaries of any city or town.

Many sections of land have no drinking water, electricity, or sewage service. Texas has the largest number of Colonia residents; more than 500,000, mostly immigrants, who live in these shanty houses.

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Purchase your ebook or paperback on Amazon or at your favorite digital store to find help.

The land in these areas is subdivided by unscrupulous owners who sell a plot, often to buyers who don’t understand the terms of the agreement. Many times the owner will give false promises utilities will be installed. Of course, it never happens.

If the terms of the agreement are not kept, the family is thrown off the property only for the same thing to happen again to the next unsuspecting residents.

Sadly, these people have no recourse since they don’t understand English and barely have enough money to live.

The Housing in the Colonias

Many of the houses in the Colonias barely stand up straight because they are built with a mixture of plywood, cinderblocks, metal scraps, and tar paper.

Residents have extension cords running from one shanty to another trying to get electricity to their shelters. Some shelters are little better than a cardboard box.

While driving through the area, I saw one make-shift home that had three “walls” (scrap wood) barely secured and no roof. A baby was sitting outside of the “home” in the 100-degree heat left in a stroller by himself. There was no one around.

It was beyond imaginable. I wanted to stop and rescue the child, but we had to keep driving to our destination. This is the hardest thing about being a community worker; you are overwhelmed with the thousands of needs everywhere you turn.

Our Experience

When we arrived, we set out on foot to distribute food and tell people about God. One home we visited was basically a dumping ground for garbage and old metal scraps.

The “house” was a big box on blocks with no electricity, water, or sewage. The people inside were barely existing.

It smelled like death. Yes, death has a smell. 

We found dead rats under the house that had been meticulously slit open and gutted. It appeared they had been eating the rats for food. This still haunts me. I don’t know how they were living this way.

The good news is that a day later our teens decided we should all go back and help them clean up their yard. We also brought more food for the family.

All of this happened because we discovered them while walking in the area, and the teens decided to go back the next day. This one act changed the trajectory of a family’s life. Eventually, they accepted Jesus and moved.

From this one experience, my kids learned how their behavior affects others greatly, not to mention how blessed they truly are to live the life they have. They would never have learned them this at home in Dallas. There are some things you just have to experience first hand.

Related: Focus on Your Teen: 9 Best Activites to Do as a Family

Why a Community Service Project Will Change Your Family

You may wonder why my family keeps going back to the Texas-Mexico border in an area that is unsafe, dirty, and forgotten. It is because volunteering has changed my family. And it can change yours too. Your kids are no different than mine.

My otherwise, phone-addicted teenage children, put down their cell phones for several days and worked in 100-degree heat roofing, distributing food, painting, and singing songs with elementary age children because they fell in love with them. 

Related: Teen Entitlement: 3 Areas of Conflict with Your Teen in High School

This alone changed me as I watched my kids find the true meaning of life. True happiness is not found in a bigger house, a faster car, or a better job. It is found in giving to others who will never be able to pay you back.

When you see your son pick up trash in a stranger’s yard for hours or you see your daughter give a child extra snacks because he has not eaten all day, it makes you realize this is the best thing your family has ever done together.

My family found true purpose in the heat, dust, and dirt of an abandoned area that no one else cares about. We found who we really are as people and as Christians who love Jesus.

I will be forever grateful for this experience as it truly bonded my family together and they learned how to have compassion for others. 

My daughter has said over and over again she would rather be in South Texas than on a big, fancy vacation.

Related: 25 Things You Must Do to be a Good Parent

How a Community Service Project Will Change Your Family

What Community Service Project Will You Do As a Family?

Don’t miss the opportunity to do a community service project with your family. Find something that fits you and your kid’s passion. It will make the time together more meaningful and fun. It helps if they have friends doing it too.

Warning: Your kids may complain at first, so don’t give in to the whining. Once you get there, everyone will eventually settle in and find where they fit best in the community activity. Make sure you have a great attitude and are willing to help or your kids will pick up on it.

They won’t want to help if you don’t help.

Once the day is over, talk as a family about what happened and how everyone felt about what they saw. Let them share their experiences. You will be amazed at what they learned. In fact, you may even cry when you see how it changed them forever.

I would love to hear how your community service project changed your family. Write it in the comments below. 

Check out this video about the Colonias in case you are interested in planning a trip to the border or you can read about the immigration issue from a Christian perspective and find out what is really going on down south.

Book on Family Estrangement from a Christian Point of View

Are you experiencing family problems? Perhaps you and a loved one are no longer speaking to each other. Don’t go another day without reading this book. It addresses family problems and estrangement from a Christian point of view. It will help even if you never go back. Estranged: Finding Hope When Your Family Falls Apart is on Amazon or at your favorite digital store.

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Get Creating Family Memories for FREE in exchange for your email. If you get this book, it will help you build a good relationship with your kids so that when the hard times come (teen years), you will be able to weather the storm.

Scroll down or look to the side to sign up. You can also get it at your favorite bookstore.

Facebook Group

Continue the conversation on Facebook and join the group Christian Parenting and Family. This is a place for moms with preschool age kids or older to talk about their struggles with parenting, family life, education, or marriage. You will find biblically based advise from other moms who want to raise godly kids.

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Julie Plagens

57 Comments

  1. Edith on January 9, 2019 at 11:16 pm

    This is a wonderful ministry that you and your church embark. It’s a privilege to be in a position to help others and this experience is enriching the lives of the children and grownups involved. God bless you! <3

    • Julie Plagens on March 23, 2019 at 2:14 pm

      Edith, thanks. We are blessed to be able to do this. I know God loves those people. We are his hands and feet.

  2. Rachel on January 9, 2019 at 10:36 pm

    What a gift your family is to the families who so desperately need your help!
    It is a blessing to be able to share these teachable moments with your children.
    I can begin to imagine how hard life must be for them. It truly puts things into perspective.
    Thanks for sharing!

    • Julie Plagens on March 23, 2019 at 2:13 pm

      Rachel, mission trips are such a blessing to our family. We are the ones who learn and grow. These people are so thankful for the smallest things. It is a huge reality check.

  3. Terri on January 9, 2019 at 4:19 pm

    BLESS YOU for doing this and sharing your experience! I’m so interested in this work, I’ll be back to spend more time on your website.

    • Julie Plagens on January 9, 2019 at 4:32 pm

      Thanks, Terri. If there is anything I am passionate about, it is helping those who are hurting. I wish I could do more. I want others to see the truth of what is going on down there.

  4. Jodie on January 9, 2019 at 8:39 am

    This is amazing! Thank you for what you do and for sharing it with us. This is inspiring.

    • Julie Plagens on January 9, 2019 at 4:22 pm

      Thanks, Jodie. I just want others to see what is really going on at the Texas-Mexico border. It is a huge problem. Something needs to be done now. Thanks for your comment.

  5. Lindsay on August 16, 2018 at 8:07 am

    You and your family are truly amazing!! What special memories you’ve made. Thankful for you!!

  6. Mommy Sigrid on August 7, 2018 at 7:09 pm

    Ohhh.., God bless you. Keep up the good work. Your deeds will not be unrecognized. 😀 How gratifying it must be to see your work becoming productive. 😀

    • Julie Plagens on January 9, 2019 at 4:23 pm

      Thanks. I am just one person doing a little, tiny bit. There are organizations that are doing way more than me. I am so glad to be a part of a church that recognizes the need in our own backyard.

  7. Backpacking Series on August 5, 2018 at 9:41 am

    Thanks for this informative post. Learnt about something new today. Hope the people get the support they need to lead a healthy and meaningful life.

    • Julie Plagens on January 9, 2019 at 4:24 pm

      Yes, me too. I wish I could do more. At least I can write about it, and tell people it is a real problem. They need help down there. Thanks for your comment.

  8. Nina on August 4, 2018 at 5:24 pm

    It’s interesting to read this in light of all that has been happening at the border recently. I’m an American who is fluent in Spanish and I always think about doing something like this. I actually learned Spanish working with undocumented immigrants in my city. I am someone totally in favor of an immigration reform because just like you, I personally know many. It really changes your perspective when you personally know people. No longer are they just statistics.

    • Julie Plagens on January 9, 2019 at 4:25 pm

      I hope you will get involved. There are many people that are needed down there that are bi-lingual. I felt so limited because of the language barrier. Although, most all the kids can speak English. Thanks for your comment.

  9. Marjie Mare on August 3, 2018 at 11:04 pm

    Thank you for your informative post which has enlightened me. I am sure many others have learned something new from your post

    • Julie Plagens on January 9, 2019 at 4:26 pm

      Thanks, Marjie, I appreciate this. I hope more people realize the problem and help push legislation through. Our borders are porous and there are many people hurting.

  10. Angelle on August 3, 2018 at 5:48 pm

    I commend you for the mission work you do and the journies you are taking in the hopes of reaching and helping others. I love that this has helped enrich your kid’s lives and in return, your family is helping to enrich the lives of many kids and families.

    • Julie Plagens on January 9, 2019 at 4:27 pm

      Angelle, yes, it has truly changed our family’s life. We are different people because we have seen first-hand what is going on. Thanks for your comment.

  11. Ann Snook on August 3, 2018 at 2:55 pm

    It’s awesome that you and your family are helping out those in need . . . it really does put things in perspective! It’s absolutely crazy that there are such huge differences in wealth in our country.

    • Julie Plagens on January 9, 2019 at 4:29 pm

      Ann, it is hard to believe that we live in the same state as these people. I am shocked at how little people know about this problem. I am glad there is more talk on immigration. Hopefully, people will do something.

  12. Lyosha on August 3, 2018 at 3:08 am

    As a person from different country it seams very odd to me. It is a problem needs a close attention and I am sorry you guys have to live with it. Thank you for sharing the inside look on it

    • Julie Plagens on January 9, 2019 at 4:30 pm

      Lyosha, we do have a big problem here. We need some serious help on immigration. There are so many countries around us that are not doing what they are supposed to. I don’t blame them for wanting to leave, but it is not good for us either. We are caught because these are real people who need help.

  13. Christina on July 21, 2018 at 7:52 am

    Thank you for being the hands and feet for Jesus! Your family is truly fulfilling the Great Commission.

    • Julie Plagens on August 2, 2018 at 11:15 am

      Thank you, Christina. I am the one who is blessed every time I go. They teach me what being grateful looks like. Thanks for reading.

  14. Elle (CleverlyChanging) on July 18, 2018 at 7:00 am

    Helping others will never get old. Your acts of service in your community and world is commendable and an example to all of us to help those who are less fortunate.

    • Julie Plagens on August 2, 2018 at 11:16 am

      Elle, I am so glad to go. It is life-changing. I only hope more will see the need for volunteering . Thanks for your comment.

  15. Kathryn Maher on July 17, 2018 at 6:33 pm

    This is heart breaking to hear and also the video really brings home how lucky most of us are here in Western Europe. A few years ago my family visited Disney in Florida and then went down towards Naples. We got lost somewhere ( i can’t tell you where as I’m not sure) but we came across acres and acres of a shanty town… I was shocked by the poverty i saw in a state that seemed so wealthy. The Colonias seem worse than that shanty town and i can’t begin to understand what those poor people suffer daily.

    • Julie Plagens on July 17, 2018 at 8:40 pm

      Kathryn, it is so hard to believe this goes on in the USA. I am shocked, too. It kills me how much the kids are suffering. A lot of these people are US citizens which is even more shocking. It is definitely a reality check. Thanks for your comment.

  16. Tara Adams on July 17, 2018 at 1:17 pm

    It’s heartbreaking to see places such as this one. It’s a blessing your family is able to help. You may not be able to help everyone but your best if good enough. I know that doesn’t make it any easier to see all the needs that’s still not fulfilled. Places such as this is why I choose to make a conscious decision to not complain.

    • Julie Plagens on July 17, 2018 at 8:42 pm

      Tara, isn’t that right! A bad day in my life is a dream in their life. I try not to complain much either. If I do start to get whinny, it is a sure sign I need to volunteer more. It is easy to get caught up in my own first world problems and forget about others. Thanks for your comment.

  17. Jean on July 17, 2018 at 12:54 pm

    Your family sounds incredible! It’s so sad that people have to live like this, but I bet they are so grateful for people like you who help as much as you can.

    • Julie Plagens on July 17, 2018 at 8:44 pm

      Jean, my kids are pretty cool. Of course, it didn’t start that way. One of my kiddos hated going to do any volunteer work. They have been around it long enough it has finally made a difference. Thanks for your sweet comment.

  18. fashionandstylepolice on July 17, 2018 at 10:24 am

    I am hearing about this place for the first time. It must have be an experience for all of you. What a great thing to do.

    • Julie Plagens on July 17, 2018 at 8:45 pm

      Thanks for saying this. It has been a very meaningful experience. I wish I could go back this year! Thanks for your comment.

  19. Chioma on July 17, 2018 at 9:16 am

    Thank you for shedding light on this terrible situation. I pray that more is done and that each of us contribute in our own way. God bless you.

    • Julie Plagens on July 17, 2018 at 8:45 pm

      Chioma, I think volunteering right where you are is the best thing anyone can do. There are needs everywhere. Thanks for your comment.

  20. Marya on July 17, 2018 at 8:45 am

    This made me cry. My husband goes to Cuba for missions as often as he can and two of my kids have been able to go with him.

    • Julie Plagens on July 17, 2018 at 8:47 pm

      Marya, I bet their trips to Cuba have been life-changing. You can’t see utter poverty and not be moved. Glad your family does this! Thanks for your comment.

  21. Kala on July 17, 2018 at 7:51 am

    I couldn’t stop reading this! I had no idea about this place. What your doing is wonderful. So many mission trips go all the way across the world when it is some places in the US that needs our help too. Will share this with my youth group thanks so much for sharing.

    • Julie Plagens on July 17, 2018 at 8:48 pm

      Kala, it is a great place to go on a mission trip. It is in the US but it sure doesn’t feel like it when you see the conditions of these people. Maybe your youth group would be interested. Thanks for your comment.

  22. Robin on July 16, 2018 at 6:47 pm

    I did some volunteering in Central America throughout high school, and it was so important to my evolution as a person to see the way that people lived outside of my upper-middle-class, suburban-American existence. To connect with other people through things as simple as laughter and play is the most basic kind of joy. I’m glad that you and your kids have gotten to have the same experiences–good for you for exposing your family to what life is like outside of your own microcosm. They’ll be better people for it, and hopefully it makes a difference in the lives of others as well!

    • Julie Plagens on July 17, 2018 at 8:51 pm

      Robin, what a great experience. I am so impressed your parents let you go. What a mature thing for a high-schooler to do I bet you were changed forever. My daughter is doing more of this kind of work this summer so I know it has been great for her. Thanks for your comment.

  23. Amy @ Orison Orchards on July 16, 2018 at 5:53 pm

    Wow! I had no idea this went on in the United States. I’ve seen service opportunities like this in Mexico, but not here. How can others get involved?

    We once visited some very rural, poor villages in China, which changed my children’s lives. I’d love to do that again!

  24. Liz Chapman on July 16, 2018 at 1:57 pm

    That is so sad. I had no idea places like that existed. They are blessed to have your help.

    • Julie Plagens on July 17, 2018 at 9:06 pm

      Liz, I am blessed to know them. They changed the lives of my family. They are so thankful for whatever we do for them. And the kids are precious. So cute and happy. I learned a lot from them. Thanks for reading.

  25. Mary Burris on July 16, 2018 at 12:15 pm

    This reminds me of homeless camps that are throughout the US. It’s sad that there are unscrupulous people that make promises that they do not intend to keep. Glad that you are able to help out where you can.

    • Julie Plagens on July 17, 2018 at 9:08 pm

      Mary, I think those people are evil. I don’t see how they can look themselves in the mirror. I am glad we have been able to help. Thanks for reading.

  26. Kelly Bolen on July 16, 2018 at 9:38 am

    Thanks for sharing. I had no idea this place even existed. I guess I need to get out a little more and see what others don’t want to. What you and your family are doing is wonderful!

    • Julie Plagens on July 17, 2018 at 9:10 pm

      Thanks, Kelly. I am so glad we were able to do this as a family. I appreciate your comment.

  27. Anne Mackie Morelli on July 16, 2018 at 8:15 am

    Julie, thank you for such an informative and inspiring post. I had heard the term Colonias before but never understood what it meant. So I appreciate learning about them. It must be so heartbreaking to see these places and the conditions people live in. What a formative experience for you and your children to get involved and help where you can. I am sure that it does give you tremendous perspective on what is important and an appreciation of what you and your family have. Blessings to you and well done for helping the marginalized and vulnerable. You are so right, Jesus was with you and I imagine He was nodding and saying, “Well done, my good and faithful servants.”

    • Julie Plagens on July 17, 2018 at 9:12 pm

      Anne, what a beautiful comment. Thank you for your thoughts. I am glad I could help shed light on an area that is so forgotten. It is heartbreaking to witness some of these sad things. It takes a while to mentally process. Bless you!

  28. Dogvills on July 15, 2018 at 10:29 pm

    God bless your good heart! This is so sad that there are people that have to live that way. I am thankful for people like you and your family who go out of their way to make these people’s lives a little better even for just a short time. Thanks for raising awareness and may your tribe increase!

    • Julie Plagens on July 17, 2018 at 9:15 pm

      Thanks so much. Our church is constantly sending people down to this area. It is a great way to do something so meaningful in my own state. We don’t even need a passport. Thanks for reading.

  29. The Panicked Foodie on July 15, 2018 at 6:52 pm

    This is such a great thing to do with your children! And I agree that participating in something like this, really shows you what is important in life. Thank you for the work that you and your Church do in volunteering for causes like this!

    • Julie Plagens on July 17, 2018 at 9:17 pm

      I am just a small part of such a large mission group in my church. They send many people down to the Colonias during the year. I feel so blessed to be a part of a big mission. Thanks for reading.

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