If your daughter isn’t yet rolling her eyes at everything you say and still wants to spend time with you, embrace the moment. All too soon, friends and football games, social media and sleepovers will hold more allure than hanging out with Mom.
That said, I’m happy to let you in on a little secret: There is a way to break through the tween and teen issues that often stand in the way of mother-daughter bonding during middle school and high school. Help is here in the form of three little letters: NCL.
NCL stands for National Charity League. It was founded in the 1920s in Los Angeles as a volunteer group for mothers and daughters. Thankfully, it’s still going strong.
I joined NCL with my daughter when she was starting seventh grade. In metro Phoenix, there are 10 chapters around the Valley for girls in grades 7-12 and their mothers or guardians. We joined the Camelback NCL chapter, a group of more than 300 moms and daughters who last year volunteered a combined total of 5,762 hours.
Nationally, NCL has 270 chapters in 27 states, with 72,000 members and 200,000 alumnae. The national NCL website says it best: “We practice philanthropy — the root of which means, literally, love of humankind.”
Colleen Lomax, current president of the Camelback NCL Chapter, has been involved since her now 18-year-old daughter was in seventh grade. She says the NCL experience has opened her eyes to the scope of the need for volunteers in community service here in Phoenix.
“It has shown me how many wonderful charitable organizations we have here in Phoenix making a difference every day in the quality of lives for people and animals,” says Lomax. “And most importantly, it has helped me to be a better volunteer, mom and leader.”
Girls are divided into groups by grade, and each chapter partners with a number of philanthropies to schedule volunteer opportunities.
NCL makes it so easy to find and sign up for volunteering. There is an NCL app where you can easily browse volunteer activities that include opportunities like making dinner for Girls Hope and Boys Hope students, helping refugee families move into to their new homes with the Welcome to America Project or serving food and helping kids with homework at St. Vincent de Paul.
“St. Vincent de Paul can always count on our NCL volunteer family to jump in whenever and wherever needed,” says Irma Leyendecker, director St. Vincent de Paul’s volunteer services. “On any given day, you can find them in our kitchen, dining rooms, Dream Center or central food bank. We couldn’t do all that we do without these amazing young women.”
The girls, dubbed Ticktockers, are required to fulfill 20 philanthropy hours each year, and moms, or Patronesses, must complete 15 hours. In addition to community service, there are plenty of cultural experiences, social events and leadership opportunities throughout the year.
One of my favorite annual NCL events is the senior recognition luncheon, where graduating seniors join their moms onstage to share their thoughts on what NCL has meant to them. Tip: Skip the mascara and bring tissues to this one.
Listening to the senior speeches at the senior luncheon, there seems to be a common thread. The girls acknowledge the mother-daughter strife that often happens through the teen years, then get choked up remembering all of the Saturday mornings when they woke up grumpy, not wanting to roll out of bed to volunteer, but always ended up appreciating the feeling they got after spending a few hours with their moms doing something to help others — then going out for lunch and quality time afterward.
Personally, I would agree that many of our Saturday morning volunteer outings start with the mom-daughter friction that I remember all too well from my own teenage years. Recently, when my daughter and I took our spots on the assembly line to pack emergency food boxes at St. Mary’s Food Bank, we couldn’t quite get into the groove with our role of bagging canned pears — one can per bag, all bags in a cardboard box, all boxes whizzing by rapidly. We both had our preferred method, which resulted in us running into each other, putting two cans in one bag and none in another.
Of course, I was doing it all wrong, and my attempts to come up with a system were not appreciated. But by the end of the two hours, we had found our groove and were rocking those pears, while dancing to the awesome ’80s music blasting throughout the warehouse. (Well, I was dancing, while she pretended not to know me.)
The point is, despite our rough start, we figured things out while doing something good to help others, and there were actual smiles and conversations on the way home.