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Volunteering with babies and toddlers in towNo doubt about it: Bringing a baby home can really slow your family down. The world suddenly becomes divided between places you can bring your kids, and places you can't. This can put a crimp on parents looking for meaningful ways to get involved in their community. But it doesn't have to be that way; when it comes to volunteering, many organizations welcome tots to tag along -- or even join in -- when their parents volunteer.

For parents taking time away from the paid workforce, volunteering can keep skills sharp while building up resumes. Giving back to a favorite cause can help you meet others who share your passion. And while a newborn won't remember the work, he will love to hear stories about how he was the youngest member of the crew stuffing envelopes for a political campaign. Incorporating volunteer work into the lives of young children can make an impression on them, and help parents model their values.

Child-friendly volunteer opportunities

Fortunately, ample child-friendly volunteer opportunities exist in the Puget Sound region. Joanna Bargeron of Seattle has volunteered on the Board of Seattle Midwifery School with her kids in tow since the birth of her first child six years ago. "My kids came to bulk mailings, events, and many, many meetings," Bargeron says. "Despite the occasional distractions of children, the staff and volunteers have always made my family feel welcome, and my children are now very comfortable in this adult setting. I imagine they feel something like I do when others bring their kids to meetings or activities -- I usually find their multi-generational presence adds to the richness of my volunteer experience."

Dana Hogan of Seattle is an experienced volunteer. She likes giving her time to an organization that serves expectant and new parents, because it's the friendliest environment she's found for including her children. She's been a committee volunteer at Great Starts Birth & Family Education in Seattle for the past four years. "Unlike some other volunteer jobs, the Great Starts meetings have always been set up to be very baby-friendly," Hogan says.

Sometimes, children can be involved more directly in giving back. Friend to Friend recruits and matches volunteers with elderly and handicapped persons living in Nursing, Assisted Living, and Retirement Homes. Friend to Friend volunteers make a commitment to visit one resident friend at least a couple of times a month at their convenience, for one year. Marilyn Soderquist is Program Director for Friend to Friend. "Volunteers are welcome to include children," she says. "Others bring their spouse or pet along on visits. It is a simple visitation program that brings joy to a place and person where it is needed most."

Bremerton resident Kelly Sciarrotta volunteers for Friend to Friend, visiting Christa Shores, a retirement community in Silverdale, with her five-month-old and three-year-old daughters once a week. Sciarrotta says, "The experience has been very positive for us and our children. My kids glow with the attention and love they receive from the residents." The girls' own grandparents live in other states, so Sciarrotta says the visits are a high point for the family.

Volunteering from the comfort of your home

Not every volunteer opportunity requires parents to take kids out of the house. Sometimes you can give back while wearing spit-up-stained clothes in the comfort of your own home. Many organizations will gladly give volunteers work that can be done via the phone or computer. Toy Rescue Mission, a Tacoma organization that refurbishes toys to needy children and seniors in nursing homes, will gratefully send volunteers home with books, dolls and other toys that need to be cleaned or sorted. "Volunteers can also knit or sew lap blankets for seniors, blankets and clothes for dolls, or Christmas stockings for teens," says Karol Barkley, President of Toy Rescue Mission.

Barkley echoes the sentiments of so many organizations that rely on volunteers. "While the holiday season is busy, volunteers are needed year round," she says.

Volunteering can help inspire a spirit of generosity in you and your children during the holiday season -- and may even get you in the habit of giving back to your community all year long.

Tera Schreiber
is a freelance writer from Seattle who has enjoyed sharing support for charitable causes with her children since their infancy.

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