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Community service : A matter of faith

Are those good ol' days of playing games, doing art projects and painting gone forever? Not for Rachel Seigneur. The 23-year-old American student heads a children's group in her church. On a voluntary basis! It's her way of introducing children to the Christian faith.

by Lisa Tüch

Rachel from USA © private
Rachel from USA . © private

At first glance, you might think Rachel Seigneur is just one of 35,000 other students in Mainz. She studies Journalism and Ethnology and, like her fellow students, goes to the university every day, attends seminars and holds presentations. But at the end of the week, Rachel is no longer one of many - she's a student volunteer, which makes her one of a select few. When Friday rolls around and most students are already ringing in the weekend, she still has work to do. She runs the children's group "Fun Kids" at the Free Evangelical Church in Mainz together with her husband Stefan.

Volunteer work as a religious concept

"I love doing community service. Each of us should help others. That's part of my faith!" says Rachel. That why she spends every Friday from 5 to 6:30 pm, giving her time to the smallest members of society. She plays with them, does handicrafts and sings with them, because, as she puts it, "children have to know that they're loved. It's important that they have a place where other adults besides their parents appreciate them." Each week, she and her husband Stefan brainstorm a colourful activity programme for the kids. It requires a lot of preparation, talent for organisation and good deal of responsibility. Sometimes she takes her 5- to 8-year-olds on a treasure hunt, sometimes they make pizza, and depending on the weather, they play football in the garden or work on art projects in the parish hall. There's always something for every taste.

Rachel with the children © private
Rachel with the children . © private

To give the 15-20 children and their parents an idea of what they're planning for the coming weeks, Rachel and Stefan distribute a flyer with their programme and themes: "For example, we talk about loving one's neighbour," because "Fun Kids" is a Christian programme. Each week, they always read or tell a story from the Bible to the children. The stories help the kids deal with everyday life and acquaint them with the belief in Jesus.

Finding happiness through volunteer work

In addition to introducing them to the faith, the project primarily offers the children the chance to have fun with their friends. The name of the project is "Fun Kids" after all. And it seems they have accomplished just that. "The kids often bring their friends and siblings with them, and we've even had Muslim children come," Rachel says. The children aren't the only ones having fun. The volunteer work does her good. "It gives my life meaning!" she says.

Rachel’s involvement with "Fun Kids" happened by coincidence. After beginning her studies in Mainz in 2010, she joined the Free Evangelical congregation. When the youth pastor asked her whether she'd be interested in helping out with "Fun Kids", she immediately agreed. "I was looking to do some volunteer work anyway and really like children, so Stefan and I jumped at the chance." After a year, they were put in charge of the group.

Rachel and her husband Stefan © private
Rachel and her husband Stefan . © private

If you happen to live in Mainz and are interested in doing volunteer work with children, then you can stop by "Fun Kids" and introduce yourself. But remember, "Fun Kids" is a Christian project. If you would like to work in the congregation, you should have a relationship to Jesus Christ and the Free Evangelical Church.

Your path to volunteer work

Of course, you can become a volunteer in other cities, as well. Children's groups exist in parish congregations everywhere and they would certainly appreciate your help. Simply visit the parish website or speak with the pastor. Some cities even offer volunteer work fairs. The representatives there can discuss what kind of volunteer work would suit you best and then help you find the right job.

To be eligible for a job working with children in a parish, you should belong to the Christian faith and like children. When you work with children, it doesn't hurt to have a little patience and understanding. If you happen to study Educational Science, Social Welfare or are enrolled in a teacher certification programme, then you're ideally prepared for this kind of job. But don't worry, even if you don't study one of these subjects, you can work with children. As they say, practice makes perfect. Even Rachel and Stefan received training for a whole year.

By the way: Many states offer "volunteer tickets" which entitles volunteer workers to reduced admission prices to various public institutions, like cinemas or museums. In North Rhine-Westphalia, for example, you can apply for the ticket from your community if you work just five hours a week as a volunteer. Not all communities, however, participate in the project.

My experience

Rachel is right - working with kids is fun. In tenth grade, I was trained to be a volunteer learning advisor in English. It's a language I love, though it's a curse to many fifth graders. During my training, I learned how to present English to these "English haters" in a fun and playful way. Over the course of one school year, I applied what I learned and practiced English with the fifth graders once a week. I was rewarded by beaming children, who were not only having fun with the language, but were also getting better grades. Myself included, because by teaching them, I also improved my own English skills. So take a chance - you have nothing to lose!