No doubt about it, bringing a baby home can really slow down your life. The world suddenly becomes divided into two: places where you can bring your kids and places where you can’t. This can put drastic limits on parents who look 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 even the youngest children 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 résumés. 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. Finally, the best volunteer jobs bring a sense of community and satisfaction to the volunteer while benefiting the organization and those it serves.
Babies are welcome
Fortunately, ample child-friendly volunteer opportunities exist in the Puget Sound region. Joanna Bargeron of Seattle has volunteered on the board of the Seattle Midwifery School (now the Bastyr University Department of Midwifery) 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 multigenerational 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 served as a committee volunteer at Great Starts Birth & Family Education in Seattle for four years accompanied by her little children. “Unlike some other volunteer jobs, the Great Starts meetings have always been set up to be very baby friendly,” Hogan says. “Everyone with whom I’ve ever worked would go out of their way to make me feel comfortable and to let me know they were OK with me having the baby along.”
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 Crista Shores, a retirement community in Silverdale, with her 5-month-old and 3-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. “Everyone there says we brighten their day, but I always feel they are the ones brightening our day.”
Work from 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 need help with newsletters, auction procurement, phone calls and envelope stuffing, and will gladly give volunteers work that can be done via the phone or computer. Toy Rescue Mission, a Tacoma organization that refurbishes toys for 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.
Ideas for volunteering with young children:
• Provide dinner by cooking or just ordering pizza for the residents of Jubilee Women’s Center in Seattle. (And if you want, you can join the residents for the meal and get to know them better.)
• Hold a clothing/supplies drive for the Dress for Success program or any number of shelters.
• Be a City of Seattle Friend for Recycling and Composting by advocating for recycling and composting in your community.
• Foster an animal through a local shelter’s foster program.
• Knit afghans, hats, socks and sweaters for Afghans for Afghans.
• Ohmamas.org coordinates volunteer opportunities that are geared toward mothers and their young children, including events like making PB&J sandwiches for the homeless and cat toys for the animal shelter.