Haddonfield resident and mom of three Kathy Harting was raised to understand the value of service.
She was particularly impacted by a past conversation she overheard one evening as her parents tried to figure out what dinner would be for her and her two siblings. But even with their own need, her mom and dad gave those with less the last of what they had until payday.
“That was just kind of what they did,” Harting recalled. “They gave sacrificially all the time, and we always figured it out. But that was something they instilled in me, that there was always someone who had less, and we would always figure it out, like somehow we were always provided for.
“That was really important to me.”
Watching her own parents give made Harting want to raise her kids the same way, so in 2016, she founded Serve Week along with her mission task force at her church, Kingsway, so kids unable to participate in Missions Trips could still experience giving back to the community.
The annual service effort has attracted thousands of volunteers and their children in its eight years, and has partnered with a number of nonprofits that include Interfaith Caregivers, Cathedral Kitchen and Habitat for Humanity.
Harting brought her skills and experience to Haddonfield schools in 2018 with the Service Dawgs initiative, which helps students participate in yearly projects and fulfill their vision for how to give back. This year, Harting’s own fifth grader is part of Tatem Elementary’s class of 2024, the 100th to graduate from the school and continue service projects in honor of its centennial.
Those projects have included making more than 500 military-care packages for deployed troops in connection with Haddonfield veterans Joseph McElroy and Craig McGettigan, who talked about how appreciative they were to receive care packages during deployment.
“They (students) really, really love it,” Harting observed of the packages. “They enjoy it and it’s fun for them … They have all the right things and all the right words to share with people who are hurting .. It’s so cool to see them thinking about others and caring, really caring, putting thought into what they’re doing.”
Harting explained that her intent is to give students with big hearts the opportunity to help those with less. For the winter marking period, all borough schools are participating in the Leader Up toy drive from the last week of November through Friday, Dec. 22.
Meanwhile, students are still exploring what they would like to do for a spring project, and have expressed an interest in helping animal orphanages.
“I want to do my part to teach this next generation how to shine their lights and shine them bright,” Harting pointed out. ” … If all of these kids are pouring themselves into service in fourth and fifth grade, imagine what they’re going to do to the world when they’re out of college and they’re adults. Imagine the change if they all had this heart to serve and love other people.
“It could be awesome.”
This article was updated on Dec. 6, 2023 to clarify Harting has two siblings and that she received help from her church’s mission task force to establish Serve Week.