As parents, we want our children to find happiness and success as they continue to navigate life and grow into the adults they will eventually become. Volunteerism can play an important role in families’ lives, especially for little ones. 

Nathan and Kirsten Belcher have lived in Rapid City for the past eight years, but their family’s involvement in ISI (International Students, Inc.) started long before they were even married. “We have big hearts for international students and spouses,” said Kirsten. “ISI gives them an opportunity to learn the area, connect, and find the resources they need while they call the area home.”

Kirsten and Nathan met in college at the South Dakota School of Mines before getting married and moving to New York state for graduate school. Through their studies and preparation with their church, the couple then moved to Russia. After a short six months, their lives took an unexpected shift returning stateside when their daughter Nadya fell ill. 

Now 12 years old, and the middle child of three girls, Nadya serves alongside her parents and sisters Grace (16) and Amina (8).

It’s a Family Affair

“We have always volunteered as a family,” explained Nathan. “It’s valuable to me, but if I don’t show my children, they won’t understand the reason as well as if they were participating for themselves. Volunteering helps them realize there is more in this world beyond their lives. They have the opportunity to meet others and hear their stories, then learn how they will play a role in society.”

The child who has experienced a full-circle impact of serving others is the Belchers’ eldest daughter Grace. Now that she is a similar age to students, her connections have gone into deeper conversations with attendees to the Friday night meals ISI provides. Nadya often helps serve meals and bus tables, and Amina will help clean. But it didn’t start off diving into designated roles. Amina has been volunteering with her parents since she was one year old – cheering up homesick international attendees.

It goes back to modeling for our children,” said Nathan. “The true expression of who you are is in what you do. No matter how old the girls were, they can see us serving. Some things are just better caught than taught.”

The Belchers have created a schedule to make volunteering with ISI a priority in their lives. It didn’t happen overnight, but with a lot of family communication and input, their week is filled with scouts, ISI, and family activities they can do together.

“We have bad days,” laughs Kirsten. “You have to be patient and flexible. It won’t be perfect every time! Making strategic choices and talking to each other about our expectations has gotten our volunteer time to a place where it’s just part of our rhythm.”

As Grace enters her final years at home in high school, college is on her mind and helping people is still in her heart. “I’ve only known that we serve people. That’s what we do in this family, and that’s who I am,” she said.

Not every volunteer opportunity is ideal for every family. From serving meals and donating clothes to sharing your skills and giving your time, there is something for every chapter your family is in. Take the time to prioritize volunteerism; it could change the world.

WORDS: JENNA CARDA
PHOTOS: JESSE BROWN NELSON