Most parents, at one time or another, have told their children, “You don’t know how good you have it!” Then, of course, we mention all the starving children in China. While your children probably can’t relate to starving children in China, they can gain an awareness of their ability to help people, animals or the environment by volunteering. There are plenty of family volunteering ideas around the world–and right here at home.
When our daughter was 12, Childcare Worldwide, a relief agency that helps educate children in developing countries, asked her to be their spokesperson. After an eye-opening trip to Kenya and Uganda, where Sondra visited schools with dirt floors and no books, she returned to the US determined to help the children she met.
She began speaking at local schools and churches, asking people to sponsor a child overseas. The positive response from people gave us the idea to travel around the country for a year, so she could reach more people.
We approached a local Chevy dealership to see about getting a truck to pull a trailer or fifth wheel so we’d have a place to live while traveling. To our astonishment, the owner of the dealership told us he’d make a few calls to the corporate office. A few days later, he called Sondra and said, “Chevy would like to give you a 2002 Chevy Silverado with all the bells and whistles to use for a year.”
After we recovered from the shock, we were ready to go, since Jayco, an RV manufacturer, sold us a fifth-wheel at cost. Oh how we loved that truck! Sondra had plenty of room in the back seat and it pulled the RV through 32 states without a problem.
In return, Sondra raised more than $80,000, which went a long way to getting kids educated in Africa, Haiti and the Philippines.
While most families can’t pack up to volunteer for a year, there are ways your children can get involved in volunteer activities at home. Consider some of these ideas:
Bedtime Snack Sacks
While most kids enjoy a bedtime snack, children living in homeless shelters seldom have that treat. With your kids, decorate a number of lunch bags with markers, sequins, and glitter. Fill each bag with a juice pack and non-perishable treat such as a granola bar, packaged crackers, or dried fruit. Add a small “Happy Meals” type toy as a surprise. Deliver the snack sacks to a women’s shelter.
For privacy reasons, your child may not actually see any residents at the shelter. Still, the experience should foster some meaningful conversation with older kids about why the shelter exists and how it’s supported, while younger children will feel good knowing they helped another.
Dog and Cat Fun
Local humane societies look for volunteers to walk their dogs. See if your family can register as dog walkers. You’ll get exercise along with the dogs! Kids can also collect old towels and newspapers to donate to shelters to use for animal care.
Many senior citizens cherish their pets. Seniors on limited incomes often have difficulty paying for pet food and supplies. How about getting your children to collect pet food and then donate it to a senior center? One family I know got out their trusty red wagon and went door to door in their neighborhood, asking pet owners to donate food. (Ask people without pets if they can make a cash donation.)
Contact your local Parks and Recreation department to see if they need help on trail clean-up. Kids can help staff create trails, plant flowers, and maintain park facilities. One park in Bellingham, Washington, uses volunteers with donkeys to clear trails!
Offer to be a volunteer with a local road run or sports event. Organizers always need people to take registration or to distribute
T-shirts. Children can pass out water or even hold the ribbon at the finish line.
Do your children have dramatic or musical talents? Have them practice a skit, song, or musical piece. Offer to present a “talent show” to a local nursing home.
Look through newspapers and magazines and collect coupons for groceries and household supplies. Ask your neighbors to contribute some also. When you have a bundle of coupons, donate them to a women’s shelter to help stretch their budget.
Volunteer to decorate for seasonal activities at nursing homes or group homes. You can purchase inexpensive streamers, balloons, and decorating supplies—and for a personal touch, kids can make some of their own decorations. Even toddlers can help out with paper chains or adding their own artwork.
Need more volunteer ideas? Sondra wrote a book called, 77 Creative Ways Kids Can Serve that describes in detail many more kid-friendly volunteer activities.