But my track and field coach, Sammy Monsels, wanted to keep us off the streets and help us focus on school and sports. So he got us involved in projects in our community.
We made some money, but we also served in service projects. We helped teach track and field lessons at elementary schools and hosted a yearly elementary school track day for 1,000 kids. We also taught clinics throughout the Netherlands.
Akwasi Frimpong in Accra, Ghana July 29, 2017, doing a broad jump during the first bobsled and skeleton clinics in Ghana
I didn’t start getting involved in community service until I was 16 years old, but engaging in these projects helped me understand the importance of helping others, and made me feel good about myself. It set a pattern for me, and even in my busy adult life as a professional athlete and a father, I’ve stayed involved in helping others and giving back to charitable organizations.
My wife and I have made it a priority to get my 3-year-old daughter, Ashanti, involved as well. As parents, we both agree that volunteering and giving back will have a positive effect on our daughter’s mental and physical health. As she grows up, service will help her to build connections and strengthen her community.
About three weeks ago, my wife and I were shopping at Target. Ashanti grabbed a small toy at the checkout area and asked if she could have it. We told her no, but she was persistent about it. I am sure I am preaching to the choir of parents who understand the persistence of toddlers.
Finally, my wife said, “We will buy it for you, but you can’t open it up till we get home. And then we will find things for you to do, so you can earn money and buy the toy from us.”
Ashanti agreed and couldn’t wait to get home and earn money for her toy. She helped fold the laundry with Mom, swept the kitchen floor, and unloaded the dishes with Daddy. She earned her toy and has been very proud of that specific toy ever since. She knows she worked for it.
3-year-old Ashanti Frimpong earns money to buy her toy from Target on June 1, 2020
Working for something and getting rewarded is an important lesson we wanted to teach Ashanti. But we also discussed with her the importance of sharing with others and thinking of others first.
Rachel Urbina says in her blog from May 2018, Teaching Our Children to Live a Life of Service, that our natural inclination as human beings is to be constantly thinking of how to meet our own needs. We become hungry, so we find food as fast as possible. We see something that we want, so we work out a way to buy it. We don’t want to miss our favourite TV shows, so we record them and become upset if they are deleted.
The culture of self is one we are all very familiar with, and children naturally follow in these footsteps – not only because it’s in their nature, but because it is often modelled to them. But it is our responsibility to model and teach our children how to serve others.
This past weekend Ashanti experienced a bit of that. She got up at 7:30 a.m., had breakfast, and at 8:30 a.m. she started to spray off her dollhouse to turn it into a lemonade and popsicle stand. Together with my wife, Ashanti squeezed fresh lemons and got the sugar, water, and signs ready for her stand.
By 11:30 a.m. she was in front of her lemonade stand, serving customers fresh-squeezed lemonade and popsicles, and carrying on conversations with her customers. She was in charge of the stand for a solid 1.5 hours.
Ashanti raised almost USD 500 for A Tall Order, a nonprofit organization that works to end homelessness in Utah. Ashanti had fun with her project and she understood she was doing it for people who don’t have a nice warm bed like her, or a place to call home.
3-year-old Ashanti Frimpong serving and interacting with her customers June 13, 2020
Encouraging our kids to get involved with charity work, and helping the less fortunate is something that sticks with them for the rest of their lives. My wife and I want Ashanti to grow up to be a successful human being – not just well-educated, but truly successful in all aspects of her life – and service is a part of that.
According to Peter Levine, director of the Center for Information and Research on Civic Learning at Tufts University, kids who volunteer are more successful in school and more likely to graduate from high school and college. This may be because most service opportunities teach kids essential school and life skills like: “long-range planning, working in groups, interacting with people who are different from yourself, and defining and solving complex problems.”
Kids who volunteer are also challenged to figure out how to manage their own time and are empowered to do something to right the wrongs they see in the world. Kids see and hear about terrible things — natural disasters, disease, poverty — but giving them an outlet to help others in need reminds them that they can make a difference.
As the law of value says: Our true worth is determined by how much more we give in value than we take in payment. Instead of focusing on ourselves as takers, or preserving an equal balance of giving and taking as matches, we should become giver-focused – providing support to others with no strings attached. Those who are givers ask themselves, “How can I add value for this person? What can I contribute?”
To get Ashanti in the habit of serving, we plan on involving her in two or three service projects a year. We don’t want her to think of service as a one-time act, but to grow up with a mindset of serving.
Plus, she doesn’t mind taking a few breaks to enjoy a popsicle or two during her service projects.
Akwasi Frimpong is a former Dutch-Ghanaian sprinter, 2018 Winter Olympian for Ghana and the first African athlete in history to win a skeleton race. Frimpong is currently training for the 2022 Beijing Winter Olympic Games where he hopes to win Africa’s first ever Winter Olympic Games medal. Visit Frimpong’swebpage to follow his Olympic journey.
This column was written by Akwasi Frimpong for Pulse Ghana.