It’s Never Too Early to Show Your Children the Joy of Volunteering
by Grace Kennedy
Volunteering can help you make friends, learn new skills and even improve your physical and mental health.
So why wait until you’re an adult to start? Check out these innovative ways to get your children involved in service. Once they learn how great it feels to make a difference, chances are good they will become life-long volunteers.
Young children (5-8 years old)
Your little one may be into crayons and baby dolls, but they can still catch the magical feeling that comes from making someone’s day better.
A visit from children can bring much-needed energy and social interaction to nursing home residents. In fact, a nursing home in Seattle has installed a childcare center inside the facility, allowing the children and residents to interact and learn from each other.
Spending time with nursing home residents can help children feel more comfortable around people with disabilities and impairments – a valuable asset to carry into adulthood. And being around young people can decrease loneliness, delay mental decline, and reduce the risk of disease in older people.
Age Well coordinates services and care for four counties in Vermont. Director of Volunteer Services Erica Marks says there are no restrictions on bringing young children along on Meals on Wheels deliveries or participating in their Friendly Visitor program with tykes in tow, as long as the senior being served is okay with it.
If you want your child to see the positive impact he can have on a senior citizen, check with your local nursing homes and services for the aging. Or you can look into starting a playgroup in a nursing home.
So, wielding a hammer and climbing a ladder may not be ideal activities for your younger child, but many organizations like Habitat for Humanity make the effort to include children in their service opportunities.
Activities can vary across Habitat chapters, but it is worth checking out what’s going on near you.
For instance, Habitat Charlotte lists six ways for young people to get involved, from helping to welcome a family into their new home, to donating Legos for their Lego Build Guild. Habitat Charlotte volunteer opportunities for children, students, and young professionals can be found here.
“Youth volunteering helps us develop tomorrow’s advocates,” says Habitat Charlotte Volunteer Services Manager Rachel Eldridge. “Youth benefit from volunteering by having their worlds opened up. It gives them the chance to learn how others live.”
Older children (9-14)
Volunteering is a terrific way to teach older children about responsibility. At this age children can pitch in to help the homeless, work with wildlife, and support people in the military, to name a few.
Show Them You Care
Operation Gratitude collects, packages, and sends donated items to deployed service members. Any parent of a “tween” will tell you they tend to run in packs. Collecting and preparing care packages for the troops is a great way for friends to spend time together while making a difference.
“My son and I have been volunteering at Operation Gratitude for six years now,” says a volunteer on GreatNonprofits. “Supporting our troops is so important, and Operation Gratitude definitely gets the job done in an efficient and cost-effective way.”
The U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs is a good starting point for finding services in your community.
Creatures Great and Small
Older children with a soft spot for animals can make a big difference by volunteering at a wildlife sanctuary. The Carolina Raptor Center has a Junior Volunteer program where children 11 and up can help out weekly or twice a month. The center treats more than 1,000 injured owls, eagles, hawks, falcons, and vultures each year. What a unique opportunity to interact with some majestic wildlife!
The Humane Society has a list of wildlife rehabilitation services in every state so you can look for volunteer opportunities for your animal-loving loved one.
High School Age (14-17)
Volunteering in high school is a fantastic way to get service hours, sharpen your skills and make connections for the future.
Use Those Skills
Students who work hard to develop a skill can share those skills as volunteers. Whether it’s tutoring children in an after-school program, coaching a team in a favorite sport, or mentoring younger people, this is the time for teens to put their skills to use.
Momentum Tutoring in Santee, CA offers volunteer tutoring positions to people as young as 14. Best of all, that volunteer position could turn into a paid tutoring job! “Momentum Tutoring not only helps students with their studies in school, but this organization also fuels their self-esteem and willingly gives its all to help each individual student,” says a Momentum volunteer on GreatNonprofits.
Make Those Connections
Ready to jump onto an exciting career path? Internships and Junior Boards give high school students skills and connections for the future.
Gilda’s Club New York City supports, educates, and empowers cancer patients and their families. Their Junior Associate Board offers teens the chance to promote awareness of Gilda’s Club. What a powerful way for teens interested in becoming a doctor, social worker, or therapist to learn and make connections for the future.
As you can see, it’s never too early to start your child on the path of being a lifelong volunteer.