As parents, we want our kids to grow up to be empathetic and kind and with a sense of responsibility. Kids learn these values best by watching mom and dad.

Shanna Hutton, who has volunteered for Positive Community Kitchen in Eugene since the non-profit was founded four years ago, often brings along her daughters—8-year-old Sara and 6-year-old Eliana—providing them the opportunity to see her and other volunteers work alongside trained chefs, who prepare organic meals for those fighting life-threatening illnesses.

“One of the beauties of the program is we enlist local teens to come make the meals, so they learn about healthy living and healthy cooking,” Shanna says. “They gain skills in the kitchen and get the reward of helping those in the community who really need it.”

Sara and Eliana are too young to prepare the food, but they help by washing and labeling the containers that the meals are packaged in before they are delivered to families in the area. While each small task the girls perform is helping others in a big way, volunteering also benefits them.

“It’s estimated that about 90 percent of physical unwellness is from spiritual or mental unwellness,” says Dr. Pilar Bradshaw. “So, anything we can do to help our kids be mentally and emotionally well is going to make them physically healthier.”

Dr. Bradshaw says volunteering is a great way to instill healthy qualities in children and teens, including compassion, empathy and gratefulness. Equally important is how parents, like Shanna, model those qualities for their children.

“Model saying ‘thank you.’ Model writing a thank you card. Model being kind,” Dr. Bradshaw says. “When you drive down the street and see someone holding a cardboard sign, don’t say negative things—because what your kids hear, is what they believe.”

Provide opportunities for children to practice caring and gratitude. Whether it’s helping a friend with homework, pitching in around the house, or reading to a sibling—make caring second nature. Learning these traits involves regularly practicing them.

Make giving and volunteering a habit. Set aside toys and clothing in good condition. Together, deliver the items to a deserving cause, and talk about the process with your children and why you care.

Thank those who serve. When you acknowledge those who quietly make a difference in your life, from the bus driver to the bus boy at your family’s favorite restaurant, it sends a powerful message to your children.

Make time each day to talk with your kids about what they’re grateful for. Mealtimes are an opportunity to get your family together, uninterrupted, and take stock of the good parts of their day.

With each visit to Positive Community Kitchen, Shanna hopes the experience will help her daughters develop a bigger perspective.

“I want them to understand that their world is much larger than where they are, or who they are, and that every small action can make a difference. And every small hand can help.”

For more information on Positive Community Kitchen and how to volunteer, click here.