Educating children happens inside and outside Emily Sloterbeek’s 3rd-grade classroom at Zeeland Christian School, and the lessons go well beyond core academics as she takes her students into the community to do some very important service work.

“I wanted my students to recognize the world is bigger than just our classroom and school,” Emily says.

And while she acknowledges academic learning is important, she believes building character and empathy might matter more when considering the type of citizens our society wants our kids to become.

With that goal in mind, each month Emily takes her students to the Holland Rescue Mission’s Stepping Stones Daycare where they help out in whatever manner is needed and play with babies and young children whose parents are working toward rebuilding their lives.`

“If they need us to clean that day, we are enthusiastically cleaning,” Emily says. The students also lead activities such as crafts for the older children. And, as you might imagine, the more time the students spend at the daycare, the more they interact with the daycare children and form relationships with them.

Former Stepping Stones Daycare Director Grace Boersma says the Mission and its daycare program are striving to end the cycle of homelessness and poverty, and to do that they have to focus efforts on the kids.

“For many of the children, the daycare is a safe space. Knowing there are people outside of the building who want to come and love them makes a huge impact on them and increases their feelings of self-worth,” she says.

Working with the children in the daycare provides the Zeeland Christian third-graders a window into other people’s situations and is an eye-opening experience that has a lasting impact.

Now a sixth-grader at Zeeland Christian School, Avery expresses empathy for the daycare children as she reflects on her experience volunteering at the Center. “Serving here made me wonder what it would be like to live here. I don’t know what these kids have been through, but they are happy here.”

Also reflecting on her experience with the daycare children, fellow sixth-grader Sophia, says “They might have had an experience that wasn’t safe or didn’t make them feel loved. The daycare, and us helping there, showed them they were safe, and they were loved.”

Emily encourages her students to have an enthusiastic, “here to serve” mindset. She also invites parents to come along as chaperones in hopes they will continue to invest in that ministry with their child, having experienced it firsthand and feeling connected to it.

 “What a beautiful thing to have my students grow into young adults who look at ministry and service as something they have ownership of,” Emily says.

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