With all the holiday festivities that happen this time of year, it’s easy to get caught up in asking our children (and the adults in our lives!) “What do you want as a gift this year?” Of course we have a desire to give our children the items they want, yet we also like them to develop traits such as empathy, honesty and consideration of others. Getting children involved in volunteering is an ideal way to teach those positive traits.
Ways Families Can Get Involved Volunteering
When children spend time volunteering, they see beyond their safe world of school, sports and family. They gain an awareness of people or animals that need assistance. Visiting the elderly in a nursing home or seeing abandoned cats at the Humane Society gives children a larger perspective of the world. So often we equate volunteering with serving the needy at a soup kitchen. For families with young children, that type of volunteer work is impractical. Fortunately, there are many other ways to involve children. This year, a few days after the presents are opened and the wrapping paper is cleaned up, spend some time with your children discussing how your family can give the “gift” of volunteering in the New Year. Here are some suggestions:
Bedtime Snack Sacks
Children living in homeless shelters seldom get bedtime snacks. Have 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 granola bars, packaged crackers or dried fruit. Add a small “Happy Meals” type toy as a surprise. Take your children along and deliver the snack sacks to a women’s shelter. Most likely, for confidentiality reasons, you won’t be able to actually visit with the children at the shelter. You will, however, probably have a heartfelt conversation on the drive home about how and why such shelters exist.
Spread The Cheer While Traveling
Traveling this holiday season? Bring along some new colorful pens or maybe packs of small crayons. Sure, you might be staying at a luxurious condo on the beach in Mexico, but children in the surrounding area may live in homes without indoor plumbing. We always carry small toys or toothbrushes with us to give to children begging on the streets. In Kenya, we brought stacks of Frisbees. The kids we met didn’t know what they were and used them for hats at first! Some families make a point of volunteering while on vacation. One year we spent five days after Christmas volunteering after Katrina hit New Orleans. Sure puts life in perspective!
Collect Sports Equipment
Think about the extra soccer balls, baseball bats, gloves, rollerblades or basketballs in your garage. Most of us take it for granted that we can always easily find a basketball to play a pick-up game in the driveway. But not all kids have the money to buy sports equipment. Organize a drive to collect sports equipment and donate it to a Boys and Girls Club or other organization for underprivileged kids. Pass out flyers to your neighbors and friends, asking people to bring sports equipment in good condition to a central drop off location. People willingly donate extra sports equipment when they know it goes to a good cause. If your children play on a sports team, ask parents to help collect used equipment.
Start A Wildlife Habitat
Change the world without leaving your own backyard! Whether you have an apartment balcony or a 20 acre farm, you can create an area that attracts wildlife. The National Wildlife Federation, has a program to help you certify your yard as a “Backyard Wildlife Sanctuary”. Download the Application for Certification here.
You’ll get a personalized certificate, a plastic yard sign saying you are an official backyard wildlife Sanctuary and a newsletter subscription. They’ll give specific directions on simple ways to attract birds and other wildlife to your yard. This is a great program for families with young children that can’t get involved in formal volunteer programs like serving soup at a homeless shelter.
Clean Out Those Closets!
We take it for granted we’ll have shoes to cover our feet, whether we’re going for a jog, attending a business meeting or simply hanging out at Starbuck’s. Many people in developing countries consider shoes a luxury. Help change the world by donating your gently-used shoes to Soles4Souls. www.soles4souls.org Get your children to ask friends and neighbors to donate shoes. Then simply pack up the shoes and ship to one of Soles4Souls’ three warehouses. Often a local service club will donate funds for shipping.
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 as well as getting dogs out of their cages. Kids can also collect old towels and newspapers to donate to shelters to use for animal care. Those puppies go through lots of newspapers at the bottom of their crates! Or go all out and take part in a structured program: https://www.travelingmom.com/volunteer-vacation-best-friends-animal-sanctuary-kanab-utah/
Birthday Party Bags
Every kid loves a birthday. But what about parents that don’t have the resources to buy balloons, presents and a cake? Moms living in shelters can seldom provide what it takes to put on a party. That’s where your children can help. Ask your children to make a list of what goes into creating a birthday celebration. (They’ll probably be shocked at the work it entails!) Pick a few items from the list and put together a few Birthday Party Bags. Dollar Stores are great places to buy some decorations, cake mix and small gifts. Put a few gift bags together that include wrapped presents, a few decorations and the cake mix and frosting so moms can bake a cake. One family had each child select a gift they received at Christmas and donate it to the Birthday Bag.