The holiday season is a time where many families think about helping others, either to start a new tradition or to begin a regular activity together that will last all year. The possibilities are endless, so it's sometimes overwhelming to choose.
Published: November 30, 2014
By: Lori Chandler Pruitt
Before venturing out, there are things to consider before volunteering, says Antiqua Cleggett, public relations and fundraising manager for Hands On Birmingham, a United Way of Central Alabama program that connects people with organized and meaningful volunteer opportunities. “Depending on your children’s ages, there are lots of ways to help, both onsite and even from your own home,” she says. “Most of all, kids need to understand the importance of helping others. That lesson starts at home.”
Here are some things families need to consider while searching for volunteer opportunities:
- What is the family’s goal in volunteering?
- Is there an age limit?
- Is the activity age-appropriate?
- Does the opportunity meet required service hours for school-aged children?
- Does the experience prepare their child for service in the future? Does it inspire a long-term commitment to service?
- Is the parent prepared to answer questions from the child after the experience?
- Does the organization provide an overview and explanation of the organization and their services?
Many families, either individually or through churches and other agencies, choose to serve food at a homeless shelter, collect and deliver items for food banks, purchase food and school supplies for backpacks, cleaning/landscaping work or make Christmas cards for children who are in the hospital.
It’s always recommended to call or schedule a visit to see if the activities offered are a good fit for your family so that everyone will benefit. For example, consider that some agencies have a limit of how many people can be in a kitchen preparing food, and children younger than a certain age must be with an adult. Most agencies are happy to provide a tour or answer questions.
“We have a lot of groups that make get well cards for the kids, provide and decorate small goodie bags with crackers, cookies and water for parents to take with them to the hospital each day, kids who collect and bring pop tabs from cans, and groups that come and cook dinner for families who are staying with us,” says Stephanie Langford, special events and marketing manager for the Ronald McDonald House in Birmingham. “It is so rewarding to see how grateful these parents are whose children are in the hospital. What they are going to eat for dinner is the last thing on their minds, and this is a wonderful thing to do for them.”
For kids who have an interest in helping animals, the Alabama Wildlife Center offers several opportunities, says Scottie Jackson, director of education and outreach. Young children at home can get a kit from AWC and raise mealworms for the birds, and families can come and make bird seed and peanut butter feeders, which are a “huge help.” Jackson says. “Although there is an age restriction for who can come in and help us in the clinic without an adult present, we have groups who come sweep, clean or work in our gardens. Volunteering is wonderful whatever you choose.”
For more information and a listing of nearly 200 nonprofits and schools in five different counties that offer volunteer opportunities, contact Hands On Birmingham at 205-251-5849 or go to www.handsonbirmingham.org. Or, contact agencies, shelters and food banks in your area.
Lori Chandler Pruitt is associate editor of Birmingham Parent.