Volunteering as a family is such a wonderful way to bond and feel better overall. When we make others happy, we experience an amazing biological phenomenon called a “helper’s high,” which 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, 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, are inspired by the work you do and enjoy themselves. Without these three components, our children won’t reap all of 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:
The first step is to brainstorm as a family to decide what types of volunteer activities you are interested in doing. Ask your children whom 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 quietly, such as painting or pulling weeds? The options are endless, so it is important to narrow down your choices and focus on projects that will give your family the most satisfaction.
Do your research before you sign up to volunteer with a specific organization. Find out about its history and how it got started, and read up on the organization’s goals, mission, leadership and funding. Check out its website, search online for press coverage, and visit sites such as Charity Watch and Charity Navigator to find and support nonprofits that align with your family’s values and passions. 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.
Location, location, location
Next, you will want to search for projects and programs that are close to home so that you do not have to drag your kids too 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 fees for volunteering are rare, check to see if they are required. You may also want to consider any other costs involved, such as travel, required clothing or equipment, 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 slowly and gradually increase your involvement if the project is working out well. You may choose to volunteer with different organizations each time in order 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 your hands dirty? Will the project involve a boring and repetitive task that will end up annoying your kids? 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. Your kids may be afraid to talk to strangers, so consider starting with familiar people and places. As your children get older, you can start to venture out and expose them to different situations. Due to COVID-19 restrictions, many places have adjusted their volunteer schedules and requirements, and others may have temporarily paused their volunteer programs. Check each organization’s website for the most current information about its volunteer programs.
Finally, if it isn’t an enjoyable experience for your kids, then what’s the point? Choose opportunities that involve your children in a fun way, but that also teach and inspire them. Avoid topics and activities that are too serious and sad for young children. Be sure to engage with them afterward and ask what they thought and if they would be willing to volunteer again.