Main content

Alert message

Spring/Summer 2010 Table of Contents
Versión Español de este artículo (Spanish Version)

By Jean Robinson, Outreach Family Support Specialist and
Edgenie Bellah, Texas Deafblind Project Family Support Specialist
Abstract: Parents of children with visual impairments give examples of how their children have given back to their communities.
Keywords: Family Wisdom, volunteering, visual impairment, multiple disabilities, Circle of Happiness.

The book How Full is Your Bucket?, by Tom Rath and Donald Clifton, uses the theory of the Dipper and the Bucket as a metaphor to describe a person’s life satisfaction level. Imagine that everyone has an invisible bucket and an invisible dipper. We are at our best when our buckets are overflowing and at our worst when they are empty. The authors propose that in each interaction, we can use our dipper either to fill or to dip from others’ buckets. Whenever we choose to fill others’ buckets, we in turn fill our own.

Children with disabilities spend much of their day receiving services from parents, teachers and therapists. In other words, they are typically in the position of having their buckets filled. Being a passive receiver can keep a child from developing a sense of self that comes from having a meaningful purpose. Discovering that he or she can give, as well as receive, provides a child the opportunity to build self-esteem and self worth. She experiences the benefits of filling others’ buckets!
Learning begins at home with a child participating in household chores. In addition to learning how to be more independent, your child gets the chance to experience contributing to the daily operations of his or her home. Again, he or she gets to fill someone else’s buckets. This is true for all children—regardless of their age and abilities—and participation can be along the continuum from partially participating to being totally independent. For example, a child can help set the table by carrying the dishes Mom stacks on her wheelchair tray and then giving encouragement to her brother while he sets each place.

The same child can also use her wheelchair tray to carry folded laundry. The benefits can also be achieved at school with the child having responsibilities such as delivering the attendance or operating a recycling program.
Another great way to give your child a chance to fill other people’s buckets is through volunteer experiences in the community. There are literally hundreds of volunteer opportunities in your local community. Pick one that meets your family’s style and passions and make a commitment to do something with them. To get started you may need to go as a family to show the staff the things that your child is capable of doing. This is where practicing home responsibilities pays off. Skills developed at home can be used to sort food at the area food bank and fold towels at the local animal shelter. But while learning to transfer the skills to a new place and building employment skills is valuable to your child, the personal satisfaction they will have by giving to others is priceless.

To give you real life examples of the benefits of volunteering, we asked parents to share their experiences on the Texas Visually Impaired Family Network . As you plan your summer with your children, we hope this small sampling of volunteer ideas will inspire your family to find (more) opportunities to give to others.


My daughters and I have done a number of fun runs/walkathons. Madi actually served on a “personal sag wagon” at the MS150 bikeathon last year. She kept the driver company, and held up signs along the way that encouraged us and cheered us the whole way.

We have helped people clean up their yards after the hurricanes. Madi is pretty strong and can carry limbs a distance. Also we have volunteered at the Food Bank.

Madi and her sister, Meglyn have done some stuff with the Girl Scouts as well, like face painting booths and such. Madi’s fine motor skills limit her effectiveness, but she really loves to be a helper.

For a few months, Madi did some “volunteer work” by sitting next to another student on a school bus to help monitor her breathing and verbalizations in case she got uncomfortable. I don’t really know how effective she was at that, but she felt good about serving in that way, and the mom and the bus aide said it was great. We love volunteering as a family, but need to find more ways so that Madi can be truly helpful.


We volunteered at a sports camp at TSBVI, a sports camp in Colorado Springs and at a sports recreation center in Houston.


When my daughter, Lauren Daley was 3, she volunteered by donated 9 inches of her fantastic blonde hair to Pantene’s Beautiful Lengths. She got a letter back saying that her hair was used to make a wig for a child who has cancer. “Never too young to give back.”

With busy, overscheduled lives it is easy to put volunteering on the back burner. If this is a priority for you, initiate a discussion with your school team. Talk about the possibilities and make it part of your child’s IEP. Remember to ask for assistance from your specialist with DARS/DBS. They know about work experience programs offered in your area and can help you make those connections.


How Full Is Your Bucket? For Kids by Tom Rath and Mary Reckmeyer. Gallup Press, 2009. National Braille Press November 2009 Book Club Selection.

Have You Filled a Bucket Today? A Guide to Daily Happiness for Kids by Carol McCloud. Print/Braille edition, $9.95, Ages 4-9, 1- 17-2 - 1 0; 1-888-9 5-89 5

“Preparing for the Workplace Pays Off for Children with Disabilities.” See/Hear, Winter, 2004.

“Kayleigh Has Her First Job!” See/Hear, Summer, 2005. aspx ideas-for-volunteering.jsp