For Jeff and Teri Schmidt, Stronger to Serve was the realization of a dream they did not know they had. Initially just for them and their children, the couple started an organization in 2017 that paired fitness with volunteerism to teach children the importance of strengthening not only themselves but also their community.
The idea came to the Schmidts when they were training for the 2017 Ironman Texas North American Championship.
“Training for Ironman takes up a lot of time,” Teri Schmidt said. “We have two small kids, and I didn’t want it to be that way.”
To get her whole family involved, Schmidt said she created a Facebook page describing their efforts to volunteer together and their children’s involvement in the workout routines. The Facebook page acquired a following, and the Schmidts were contacted by an interested teacher from Bear Branch Elementary School.
“We help the kids learn about the people they’re serving,” Schmidt said.
Stronger to Serve’s original name was Becoming our Best or Project BoB.
“But I really wanted a name that said exactly what we were about—strengthening ourselves so that we could serve our communities and make them stronger,” Schmidt said.
Stronger to Serve has developed a 30-week curriculum for the children. Each unit is assigned a storybook detailing a specific community’s needs. During the final week, the children spend time discussing the project and reflecting on that particular situation.
“[We talk] about how it might feel to be the person who had that need and how we all have needs sometimes,” Schmidt said. “How it made them feel to be able to do that project-- conversations and that kind of reflection is what helps to develop empathy together and bring meaning out of the service experience.”
Schmidt said Stronger to Serve’s programs have two components—fitness and volunteer work. The fitness activities include running, relay races, gardening and other outdoor games.
The organization has partnered with several volunteer organizations in Montgomery County, including Operation Pets Alive, the Montgomery County Food Bank and Abundant Harvest, Schmidt said. Children can sign up with a family member or their school.
“In the last year we’ve developed and implemented two after-school programs for [kindergarten] through 8[th grade] and organized family volunteering opportunities with 12 different local nonprofits,” said Schmidt. “We also offer customized team-building sessions for youth sports teams that include service with them.”
Most volunteer organizations call for volunteers who are age 18 or older, Schmidt said. While Stronger to Serve introduces volunteering opportunities to younger children, Schmidt said an adult is always present with the children. Stronger to Serve also works with Magnolia ISD schools as part of their After-School Adventures program.
The older children have a more involved curriculum, Schmidt said. They are assigned a real-life problem to solve for a local nonprofit.
“Empathy is one of the first stages, so we can really understand the person or customer that you’re solving that problem for and come up with ideas that really meet their needs,” Schmidt said.
The nonprofit recently began work with the city of Oak Ridge North to host service days in Marilyn Edgar Park.
“We try to make it as easy as possible for families to get hooked into the community and be able to serve and that can be a challenge, especially with young kids, so we try to take that burden off the families,” Schmidt said. “All they have to do is sign up with us, and then we don’t just send them out there. We’re there to facilitate the whole experience.”
Stronger to Serve hosts family volunteering opportunities throughout the year and works with several local nonprofits.
-Family volunteering: Families can sign up to volunteer to help those in need with projects such as creating craft kits for children at Texas Children's Hospital and passing out holiday presents for the YMCA's annual Angel Tree Party.
-Kindness marathon: This program teaches setting fitness goals and showing empathy.
-Run Solve Serve: For students in grades 5-8, this program incorporates running exercises with design thinking. Students also have the opportunity to solve real-life issues for nonprofits.
Source: Stronger to Serve/Community Impact Newspaper