With families juggling work, kids, school, sports, elderly relatives, and countless activities, it is easy to feel frazzled and disconnected from each other’s lives. But experts in family health have a solution: volunteer together! Even families with very young children can choose one or two volunteer events a year and turn them into family traditions that will be treasured year after year.
It feels good, it helps the community, and it brings families closer, as they work together on a rewarding task and talk about their experiences afterward. And children learn so much from volunteering! Kids experience a sense of responsibility, they get a better understanding of their community and how its citizens may be very different from them, they learn to interact with other volunteers, and older kids can even gain work experience.
So where does a family start?
1. Answer a few basic questions as a family. What do you like to do as a family? What issues do you care about? What talents do you have among the members of your family? What can the kids handle at their ages? And how much time do you have to devote to volunteering? Your kids probably have heard about volunteering from preschool, daycare, or their friends, and they will help you put together a few ideas.
Once you have figured out what you might like to do, find out if any other volunteers are already working together to do something similar. If so, perhaps you can join together, or help at a different time of year or in a slightly different way – no matter what, you can learn from each other!
2. Check in with organizations that may be interested in your assistance. Most nonprofit websites include a page called “how you can help” that should provide you a starting place. Not all organizations allow very young volunteers, and other may require a background check, so do your homework! Volunteer activities that work well with young children include fundraisers such as walk-a-thons and bake sales; inter-generational activities at senior centers and nursing homes; neighborhood or park trash clean-ups; supplies drives; collecting change for a cash donation; sponsoring a service member overseas; and community gardening. Don’t be offended if an organization is not interested in your assistance – some organizations do not have staff that can supervise volunteers or they may have a special liability risk.
3. Whatever your family chooses to do, be sure to talk about it afterward. What did your kids like about the experience, and what was weird, or even a little scary? What did we learn together and what can be changed next time? Giving the kids some control over the next volunteer activity can help if all did not go as planned!
4. Have fun! The benefits of volunteering together as a family extend far beyond the early years. Getting grandmas and cousins involved can make a difference to young children and make the activity even more memorable. The family that volunteers together stays together!