As enjoyable as the occasional beach trip is, more and more families are spending their time off volunteering. Volunteer vacations are designed to help others, but you'll also learn new skills and have a great time in the process. Unfortunately, there are numerous destinations to choose from, as it's not hard to find natural disaster areas, neglected populations or impoverished neighborhoods. You'll likely have a choice of charities to assist, regardless of where you decide to visit.
The scenes are often depressing, but you'll feel good about the work you do. Read the next page to learn how your family can help communities rebuild after a natural disaster.
Natural Disaster Sites
Natural disaster sites are often too dangerous for small children, so visits to one of these locations is best left for families with teens, at minimum. Cities and countries affected by natural disasters like floods or tornadoes typically need all the help they can get in the days after the destruction and sometimes even years later. For example, parts of Mississippi, Alabama and Louisiana that were ravaged by Hurricane Katrina have yet to be rebuilt, and recent hurricanes have devastated already-impoverished Haiti.
If you're driving to a disaster site, be sure to pack supplies that are likely difficult to find at your destination. Often, power generators, first aid kits and tools are snapped up immediately following a catastrophe, leaving those without them in need.
Habitat for Humanity
This well-known organization builds and finances modest homes for families in need. Funded entirely through donations, the homes are built by volunteers dedicated to giving families a warm, decent place to live. The group offers kids older than 16 the opportunity to help out at construction sites by allowing them to take part in all types of building responsibilities. Although younger kids can't wield an actual hammer, children as young as 5 can participate in the cause as press agents, fundraisers and other youth roles that are heavily promoted by the organization.
Domestic or international mission trips are an amazing way to involve your family in a worthy cause. International excursions to locations like Africa or Costa Rica are generally best left to older families because of the work they often entail, which can include teaching, providing light medical care and making community improvements. As always, be sure to find out detailed information on age requirements before you sign up.
Families with younger children can usually locate a mission opportunity near home or within several hours driving distance. Best of all, being in such close proximity makes it more affordable, meaning you can make the trip an annual or semi-annual event!
If your family has a soft spot for pets, volunteering at an animal sanctuary is sure to be a perfect fit. For example, the Best Friends Animal Sanctuary in Kanab, Utah, is regularly visited by families of all ages. There, volunteers spend time with animals such as bunnies, cats, dogs, horses, pigs, parrots and various other furry friends by playing, brushing, feeding or otherwise caring for the creatures. Help given by children between the ages of 6 and 17 is welcome, but they must be supervised by a parent at all times. If you wish to get involved with more exotic animals, you can also look into helping out at elephant or other sanctuaries in the U.S. or in foreign countries like Kenya.
A visit to an organic farm is an ideal way to teach children that food doesn't just magically appear on the table -- it actually requires a lot of hard work by many people. Worldwide Opportunities on Organic Farms is an international organization that you can join to get connected with farms in various locations. Volunteers are given room and board in exchange for performing functions like milking cows, weeding and farming. Some -- but not all -- farms allow children, so make sure to obtain information about your chosen location's age limit before you go. You must also pay a nominal chapter fee to join prior to making your farm match.
Forts are fun for kids and adults. See 10 forts to build with kids to create the ultimate play experience.
- Best Friends Animal Society. "Volunteer Center." 2011. (Nov. 11, 2011) http://www.bestfriends.org/
- Davis, Jonita. "Volunteer Vacations on Working Farms." USA Today. 2011. (Nov. 11, 2011) http://traveltips.usatoday.com/volunteer-vacations-working-farms-1766.html
- Habitat for Humanity. "Get Involved." 2011. (Nov. 11, 2011) http://www.habitat.org/youthprograms/ages_5_8/get_involved.aspx
- Worldwide Opportunities on Organic Farms. "About WWOOF-USA." 2011. (Nov. 11, 2011) http://www.wwoofusa.org/About_WWOOFUSA
- YouthWorks! "Multi-Generational Mission Trips." 2011. (Nov. 11, 2011) http://www.youthworks.com/trips/family.aspx