Volunteering helps kids learn to help others
Published: November 1, 2020
By: Sarah Lyons
When children have the opportunity to serve in their community, they develop a desire to help others and make a difference. Not only do they become more aware of others who are less fortunate, they learn to appreciate the blessings in their own lives. And they often grow into adults who want to continue helping others.
Parents can play a big role. “By involving their children when they volunteer, parents are modeling the importance of community as an extension of the family and that by working together, we improve all of our lives,” says Benga Harrison, director of United Way Hands On in Birmingham, an agency that provides flexible, local hands-on volunteer opportunities for individuals and families.
A family service project is a great way to start, even with younger children. Pick something that excites your children’s interests because they are much more likely to become invested in the project.
“Volunteering is a fantastic way for parents to not only bond with their children but also broaden their understanding of what it means to serve the community,” says Kate Hollingsworth, director of engagement for the Greater Birmingham Humane Society.
Here are some ideas to get you started. Remember to check first with any agency that you wish to volunteer with or donate to for their Covid-19 policies.
Organize a drive. Collect coats, hats and gloves, blankets, toys, or clothing to donate to those in need. Have the kids clean their rooms and sort through items that are in great shape but are no longer needed. Many organizations will collect these items to give to shelters, foster care, or victims of fire.
Fill the food pantry. Talk with your kids about others who may not have enough to eat. Take them shopping to choose their favorite non-perishable items for meals and snacks to donate to a local food pantry. Try going door to door in your neighborhood to collect even more items.
Work outdoors. Help a neighbor, friend, or family member who may be unable to do their own yard work. Offer to rake leaves, shovel snow, or mow the lawn. Ask if there are other projects like painting, gardening, or maintenance that your family can help with.
Work in the kitchen. Everyone loves cookies. Get the kids to help out in the kitchen by baking up some tasty treats to share with friends and neighbors. Consider taking them to a local police or fire station to show your appreciation for their hard work in the community. If you know a family in need, consider taking them a meal and, if appropriate, deliver it as a family.
Send cards. Words of encouragement, handmade cards, or coloring pages are a great way to brighten a soldier’s day and show your appreciation for the sacrifice they are giving for our country. This is a great way to talk to kids about soldiers, veterans, and our country’s freedom they defend. Nursing homes also appreciate the delivery of encouraging items like these for their residents.
Help a four-legged friend. Typically, animal shelters need help walking dogs, cleaning cages, and giving lonely animals attention. “We have programs such as Reading Buddies where parents can bring their young emergent readers into the shelter or offsite at a library visit to read to our shelter dogs and cats,” Hollingsworth adds. “Families also can be trained to walk, socialize, and bathe dogs at the shelter.”
Contact your shelter to see if there are things your family can donate as well. Families can organize donation drives for shelter pets, collecting food, treats, toys, beds, blankets, and newspapers. One family recently set up a dog washing stand in their yard for neighborhood pets and donated several hundred dollars of proceeds to the humane society, Hollingsworth says.
Give back to nature. Kids who love nature may enjoy cleaning up a local park, adopting a street to pick up trash, or cleaning up the green space in your own neighborhood. Contact your local school or church to see if there is landscaping that needs attention. Kids can help plant trees, flowers, pull weeds, and lay mulch. They will see the beauty of their hard work in no time.
“Families can call us and join an existing scheduled litter cleanup event, or they can just pick a park or other area that needs some care,” says Gordon Black, education director for the Cahaba River Society. “We can even recommend locations throughout the metro area that need care. Any cleanup project you can come up with really helps.” Families who go on their own to clean up can take photos and send them to the society’s website if they wish, Black says.
Donate proceeds. Do you have a budding entrepreneur in the family? Consider hosting a lemonade stand, garage sale, or bake sale and donating the proceeds to the charity of your choice. This is a great way to teach kids money management and business skills while helping others in need.
These are just a few ideas on how you can serve your community. When parents take the time to serve others, their kids will see volunteering as a priority and will develop a desire to give back as they become adults.
Sarah Lyons is a freelance writer. Associate Editor, Lori Pruitt, contributed to this story.