Volunteering as a family is such a wonderful way to bond and to feel better overall. When we make others happy, we experience an amazing biological phenomenon called a “helper’s high” that is the result of our brain releasing chemicals called endorphins. We experience an energy in our body that is similar to the rush we feel after we exercise. These positive feelings make our kids happier and healthier by reducing stress and anxiety and feelings of sadness, loneliness or depression.
Finding the right family volunteer activities can be overwhelming at times. You may feel uncertain about what is expected and question whether your children can participate. It is so important that your children feel comfortable where you volunteer, get inspired by the work you do, and enjoy themselves. Without these three components, our children won’t reap all the amazing benefits of volunteering. Plus, we want them to love helping others so they continue to do so for a lifetime.
When searching for the appropriate activity, consider the following priorities:
Project Focus and Mission
The first step is to brainstorm as a family to decide what types of volunteer activities you are interested in doing. Ask your children who they would like to help. Is there a particular cause they feel passionate about, such as feeding homeless people, making art for other children, helping animals, or visiting the elderly or sick? What interests, skills, and talents do your family members have? Do you prefer to be indoors or outdoors? Do you wish to work directly with people or do something quiet like painting or pulling weeds? The options are endless, so it is important to narrow down your choices and focus on projects that your family will get the most out of.
Do your research before you sign up with a specific organization. Find out the group’s history and how it got started, the goals and mission, who its leaders are, and how it is funded. Check their website, search online for press coverage, and visit sites like www.charitywatch.org and www.charitynavigator.org. If possible, ask a current or past volunteer about the pros and cons of the organization. Getting a referral from someone you know is the best option, especially because your children will be participating.
What are the Logistics?
Next, you will want to make sure you search for projects that are close to home so you do not have to drag your kids far to volunteer. Check your local paper, call charitable organizations, or search online to find the perfect places for kids to volunteer in your area.
Although rare, check to see if there are any fees to volunteer. You may also want to consider any other costs involved like travel, equipment such as certain clothing required, or requested products or monetary donations.
Decide how much time you have to volunteer. It could be once a week, once a month, or once a year. Start slow and gradually increase your involvement if the project is working out well. You may choose to volunteer with different organizations each time to expose your children to a wide variety of experiences.
Look for activities that your whole family can participate in. Before you commit to a project, check to see if there are any age requirements listed. It may take some hunting around, but you should be able to find age-appropriate options. Even babies can take part in nursing home visits, charity walks, and beach cleanups.
Before you show up, find out exactly what you will be doing. Will there be heavy lifting involved? Will you have to get down and dirty? Will the project be a boring and repetitive task that will make your kids annoyed? Make sure the activity is something that your kids will actually enjoy before you invest your time.
No matter what, safety needs to come first when children are involved. You may want to avoid going to activities in neighborhoods that make you uncomfortable. Your kids may be scared to talk to strangers, so consider starting with familiar people and places. As they get older, you can start to venture out and expose them to more mature situations.
Finally, if it isn’t an enjoyable experience for your kids, then what’s the point? Choose projects that involve your children in a fun way, but also teach and inspire them. Avoid topics and activities that are too serious and sad for young children. Be sure to engage with them afterwards and ask what they thought, and if they would be willing to do it again.
WORDS: SANDI SCHWARTZ