Kids today are unbelievably lucky, and half the time they don't even realize it. Many have access to hundreds of toys, affordable healthcare, plenty of food and loving families. Too often, both children and grown-ups take these blessings for granted. One way to ensure that everyone is appreciative is by volunteering regularly as a family. Engaging in philanthropic activities promotes a good work ethic and sense of selflessness, and it will also allow everyone to connect in a larger and deeper way with the local community. Of course, you all might also develop new skills from activities like painting a room or cooking meals for the needy.
Fortunately, there's a volunteer opportunity out there for every family, no matter what your age or interests. Keep reading for our list of suggestions to find the right one for your group!
10: Nursing Home
Many families and groups have the best of intentions during the holiday season. Resist the urge to let your do-gooder spirit fall by the wayside by volunteering regularly year round when many non-profits need you the most!
Kids love grandmas and grandpas, so why not let them have a few extras? Volunteering at a nursing home is a beautiful way to remind the aging members of our population that they're still valued members of society. No one's expecting little kids to handle IVs or bathroom breaks for seniors, however. Instead, small children can provide company for residents by playing simple games or enjoying a meal and good conversation. Sure, many residents have family that regularly come to visit, but plenty of lonely elderly folks in nursing homes look forward to volunteer visits like kids anticipate Christmas morning.
To get involved, simply check with your local nursing home about their needs. Some have designated volunteer hours and training programs, while others accept unscheduled visits and activities. Many nursing homes have Adopt-a-Grandma/Grandpa programs that set you up with a particular individual, or you can spread the wealth by spending time with several different seniors.
9: Lend a Paw
Many parents are uncertain about adopting a dog or cat from a rescue organization or shelter, as there's no way to really know the animal's temperament. But the truth is, taking a dog home from the pound is no different than selecting one from a breeder, and regardless of your furry-faced friend's ancestry, you'll soon consider him a member of your family.
Are you a family of animal lovers? If so, look no further than your nearby humane society or animal shelter, which is likely full of pooches and kitties that need some tender loving care. This is a particularly good option for teens because it might be too intense for little ones, who are likely to get attached to animals in dire circumstances. As always, check age requirements before signing up.
Younger children can still help out the animal sect by volunteering with an animal rescue during pet adoptions at local pet stores and shelters. Another great way to volunteer is by fostering cats and dogs until they're adopted. Children can easily assist as you feed, bathe, walk and play with your temporary critters. Although it'll be difficult to say goodbye to furry friends when they find permanent homes, your kids can be comforted by the fact that they helped an animal in need. Plus, there's usually another fluffy squatter around the corner to take the sting away!
8: Soup Kitchens or Food Pantries
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Your family probably has plenty of food on the table, but many others aren't so lucky. Enlist the help of your kids the next time you schedule a trip to the local soup kitchen, where they can dish out hot meals to homeless people and others struggling to make basic ends meet.
It might be more appropriate for small children to assist by shopping for food to donate to the local food pantry. Allow your child to have some input and discuss menu selections, all while explaining the reasons you're making the effort for people you don't know. Then, when you drop off the goods, ask an employee to briefly describe how families in need will benefit from your generous donation.
7: Children's Hospital
VA hospitals around the country are often overlooked as volunteer opportunities. Work with their volunteer services coordinator to identify needs. Perhaps your kid's play group can make cards and drop them off on Veteran's Day, along with a delicious homemade cake that's sure to be appreciated.
It's often difficult for children to grasp the fact that other kids aren't as healthy and capable as they are. Your local children's hospital probably has programs designed to cater to younger volunteers, although smaller children might not be allowed to interact directly with patients. Still, many hospitals offer service projects that children and their parents can participate in, or you can shop for and donate toys or other supplies from the institution's wish list.
Many children's hospitals have programs geared toward teenagers, though. Often, these kids are interviewed and background-checked as part of the process. Once they're selected, they typically help deliver goodies or simply play with patients that need a break from the reality of hospitalization.
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The library is just the place to start volunteering if your little literature buff wants to take a love of reading to the next level. Many public libraries feature junior volunteer programs that allow children over a certain age the opportunity to help out with odd jobs around the stacks. For example, your child might be tasked with sorting books and returning them to the shelves or even helping out with toddler story time. Even very small kids can informally help by cleaning up the children's area, returning books to their proper places and practicing their "indoor" voices.
5: The Park
Check your local county office to find out how to get involved with this program, which allows groups to select a stretch of roadway to keep clean via regular litter removal. This one's best for families with older kids, as participants usually have to at least be 13 years old.
Public parks often require much more attention than they actually receive. Volunteer opportunities at the park can be as simple as picking up trash and pulling weeds when you visit, or you can organize a larger-scale cleanup and rejuvenation effort with the rest of the community. Just make sure to consult the local parks and recreation council -- or whatever entity oversees your particular facility -- to gain permission before launching an event. This is a great choice because your kids will be able to see how their efforts directly benefit the community.
4: Aquarium or Zoo
Aquariums and zoos are ideal volunteer locations for kids with a passion for furry or finned friends. Unfortunately, many zoos require volunteers to be 18 or older, but some do feature teen programs, so be sure to call the volunteer services office at your nearby zoo before writing it off as a possibility. Typically, teen volunteers can expect to assist visitors, help out with kiddie programs and perform other day-to-day functions, like sorting recycling. They won't be feeding the tigers or sharks, but they will get a chance to see plenty of exotic and beautiful animals (from a safe distance, of course).
3: Women and Children's Shelter
Similar to the children's hospital scenario, you and your kids probably won't interact with the residents at a women and children's shelter, but they can still help those in need by donating time to such a worthy cause. Call a shelter that helps abused or homeless women and children directly or participate in projects organized by a local service agency. Typical efforts usually involve painting, light maintenance and other beautification needs. Small, homey touches such as these often make all the difference to kids and mothers who have almost nothing.
2: Fundraising Walks and Runs
Alex's Lemonade Stand was started by then 4-year-old cancer patient Alexandra Scott. Although she has since passed on, she continues to inspire people to donate the proceeds of their own lemonade stands to cancer research.
Take your kids along the next time you strap on your sneakers and hit the pavement for a good cause! Find a charity that's close to your family's heart and become involved via a fundraising walk or run. For example, if someone you know and love has suffered from an illness like heart disease, breast cancer or Lou Gehrig's disease, find a race and register your family to participate. Little kids can "fund raise" by counting up the contents of their piggy banks and soliciting small contributions from friends and neighbors. They don't have to raise a ton of cash. A quarter here and there will get the point across that they're helping people. Of course, older kids can step it up a bit and do more serious fundraising, like holding a car wash or auctioning off baby-sitting services in exchange for donations.
1: Helping the Sick
Many sick, injured or elderly people find it difficult to take care of even the most routine errands. Often, able-bodied adults volunteer to drive them to appointments or assist with tasks like grocery shopping. Parents that participate in one of these programs can check into taking a child along for the ride. Often, a kid or teen will add a little excitement to otherwise mundane errands and will probably feel important just for being included. Make sure it's OK with the person you're assisting, though, as he or she may prefer a quiet ride without children.
Similarly, many organizations and churches provide meals to people that can't cook for themselves. Simply sign up for a regular meal and have your child help you prepare and deliver it to a grateful recipient. Just don't forget the dessert!