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Family Volunteer - Volunteering by Families with Children
(Also Good Ideas for Groups That Include Children under 16)

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Volunteering together, as a family or as a group with children, sounds great: having time together doing a positive activity and living the value of giving back to the community in some way. Family volunteering can be done by the whole family together or by one parent and one child or teenager as a special just-the-two-of-us project. Or it can be several siblings together. And group volunteering with children can be done through groups like the Girl Scouts, a school or a community of faith.

But the reality is that volunteering opportunities for families and groups with young children are the hardest types of volunteering to find. Many nonprofits:

  • do not allow people under a certain age to volunteer, because of liability and safety. They may prohibit everyone under 10, under 12, under 16, even everyone under 18.

  • do not have tasks available that can be done as a group.

  • have volunteering tasks that require skills that people of a certain age do not possess.

  • do not have the time, resources and expertise to create volunteering opportunities for families.

The quickest way to get your family or group with young children volunteering is for you to put together your own philanthropic activities that you do mostly from your own home:
  • Sign up to participate in Watch the Wild, a program of Nature Abounds: you and your children can observe and report what is taking place in your community, from trees and plants to weather and wildlife activity. "In as little as ten minutes, your observations help us to understand how our eco-systems are changing and helps us to adapt for the future." All you need to do is choose a location or route to observe, whether it be your backyard, a route you drive regularly, or an area that you and your children play, visit, or hike in regularly, sign up to participate, then record your observations and report them to Watch the Wild/Nature Abounds via mail or email.

  • Pick a day for your family to go through your things and to pick things to donate to Goodwill. Talk as a family about what Goodwill does (Goodwill trains people to be able to work; their stores raise money for their programs, and provide a training ground for the people they are working with) and why their work is important.

  • Take your family to the grocery and help them to spend just $25 to put together several meals of non-perishable items, and then donate those items to the local food bank. Talk together about nutrition as well as the needs of hungry families, why some children go hungry in your community, etc.

  • Organize a food, clothing or book drive in your neighborhood or your community of faith. The items should be donated appropriately (to Goodwill, to the library, to a food pantry, etc. -- contact the organization for guidelines and permission BEFORE the drive). Children can help to sort and stack items.

  • Call your local hospital and ask to speak with the volunteering coordinator. Ask her if it would be okay for your children to make get well cards for all the children in the pediatric unit, how many they should make, and how you would deliver those to the hospital so that they get to the kids. Then spend a day with your kids making those cards and talking about what being in a hospital might be like.

  • Make a list of all of the various senior homes in your immediate area. Call each and find out how many people are living in each, and if it would be okay for your children to make and drop off "Have a nice day" cards they have made. Then spend a day, afternoon or morning making cards for one of these facilities. As you make the cards, talk to your kids about the importance of respecting elders, of being kind, etc.

  • Practice singing 5 - 10 short songs as a family, and when you feel you are ready to perform, then call your local hospital or senior home and see if you could perform there during lunch or supper for patients or residents. Don't only do songs related to your family's religion, as not everyone adheres to that religion; have a few secular songs that anyone would enjoy, including people who are not religious.

  • Volunteer together to support UNICEF. UNICEF's online Volunteer Center provides activity toolkits and speaker resources to help you and your family conduct awareness-building and fundraising activities in your community.

  • Start a home-based recycling and reuse program, where you and your children explore how to recycle things currently not accepted by your community's curbside recycling program. What about starting a compost pile? How will you reuse grocery plastic bags? Could you weave your plastic bags together into one very strong bag that lasts for many years, or any one of a number of other items (rugs, place mats, mug rests, ponchos, toys, laptop case, etc. -- anything that can be knitted or sewn) and sell them, with the money raised going to an environmental program? There are a number of web sites that have free patterns for these crafts and many others.

  • Look into Adopt a Soldier programs that allow you and your kids to send letters and items to soldiers. Plenty of info on the Internet, like Adopt a Soldier.

  • Call your local humane societies, ASPCA chapters and animal shelters, and ask if your family could:

    • Make appropriate food treats for dogs and cats and drop them off at the shelter. You can find a variety of recipes to make treats for dogs and cats online. As you make these treats, talk together as a family about the importance of appropriate nutrition for pets, the importance of having pets spayed and neutered, how adopting a dog, cat, bird, rabbit, or any pet means caring for that pet for the life of the pet (not just until you don't want to anymore), the challenges faced by animal shelters, etc.

    • Make appropriate bedding for dogs and cats and drop them off at the shelter. You could use scrap materials gathered from your own home and that of neighbors. There are lots of suggestions for making your own dog and cat beds online. As you make these beds, talk together as a family about the proper care of pets, how adopting a dog, cat, bird, rabbit, or any pet means caring for that pet for the life of the pet (not just until you don't want to anymore), the importance of having pets spayed and neutered, the challenges faced by animal shelters, etc.

    • Organize a dog and cat food and supply drive for the shelter. If there is a pet food pantry for low-income people, gather food for the pantry (note that this cannot be leftover, opened-bags of food; these have to be unopened packages of pet food).

    You can also contact nonprofits and community programs in your area to see what opportunities they might have. Call early - don't wait the week before or even the month before an event:
    • Does your neighborhood or city have a community garden? They may need help in early Spring to prepare the garden for growing season, or in the late fall to clean up after growing season.

    • Call your local state park and see if they have a children's program that combines education and volunteering, and volunteer to be a chaperone of they have such a program so you can participate with your children.

    • Girl Scouts of the USA might be an option if you have girls in your family; troops engage in community service programs at least once a year.

    • Call Meals on Wheels and volunteer, and see if your children can accompany you on meal deliveries. Even if they have to stay in the car, you could use the experience to teach them about philanthropy and the importance of being a good neighbor.

    • Look for large scale walks or runs in your community. Might they need help handing out water or juice at a refreshment station?

    • Call the city or state agency in charge of a nearby park, river front or beach front, ask if there will be a community cleanup, tree-planting day, ivy-clearing day, invasive plants removal day, etc., any time soon and ask if there is a minimum age limit to participate.

    Each of you should blog about your experience as volunteers, or each of you can use your FaceBook status updates to talk about what you are discovering as you volunteer, to further educate your friends and family. Take and share photos of yourselves volunteer as well!

    If you feel mistreated as a volunteer, here is advice for volunteers on how to complain.

More advice

Learning to Give is a nonprofit organization that provides lessons and resources for teachers of students in kindergarten through high school to help them understand the importance of philanthropy, including volunteerism, and civic engagement. Learning to Give "educates youth about philanthropy, the civil society sector, and the importance of giving their time, talent and treasure for the common good (knowledge), equips youth by encouraging philanthropic behavior and experience (skills), and, empowers youth to take voluntary citizen action for the common good in their classrooms, lives and communities (behavior)."

Also see

2010-17 by Jayne Cravens, all rights reserved. No part of this material can be reproduced in print or in electronic form without express written permission by Jayne Cravens.


Suggested books:

Volunteering: The Ultimate Teen Guide (It Happened to Me)

The Busy Family's Guide to Volunteering: Doing Good Together

Doing Good Together: 101 Easy, Meaningful Service Projects for Families, Schools, and Communities

Engage Every Parent!: Encouraging Families to Sign On, Show Up, and Make a Difference

Volunteer Vacations: Short-Term Adventures That Will Benefit You and Others

Children as Volunteers: Preparing for Community Service

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2010-17 by Jayne Cravens, all rights reserved. No part of this material can be reproduced in print or in electronic form without express written permission by Jayne Cravens.

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