Volunteering as a family
Much like group volunteering – the concept of families, made up of all ages volunteering together – is growing in popularity. There are families who have been way ahead of the trend and people who volunteered as kids are now involving their own children in the work of non-profit organizations.
There are many benefits for families who volunteer together. It’s a great way to role model compassion and generosity to your children. It’s also a great way to spend time together on a project or event that makes everyone feel good! Be careful of your motives though – volunteering should not be seen as punishment” or as a way to teach children how good they have it compared to other people. It's not uncommon for parents, fed up with their children’s constant demands for material possessions, to decide to take their kids to the local “soup kitchen" to show them what it’s like to really have nothing! This may be the end result, but can seem like exploiting the very people in which you are trying to help. No one wants to be held up to others as an example of “how not to be successful in life”. Executed properly, compassion in action will lead to gratitude for the material things and the more important intangible things, one possesses.
Choosing the organization to support.
Talk with your family about what matters to all of you. Perhaps there is a cause that is near to your heart, or you have a real interest in something like, say, animal welfare. Is there an organization whose values align with yours? Knowing this is helpful when you’re looking for a place to volunteer. Don’t forget about community leagues – they often welcome families and it’s a great way to get to know your neighbours and make friends at the same time.
What you’ll do when you volunteer.
Keep in mind that younger children may require shorter shifts and less demanding tasks. Whenever minors volunteer, risk has to be managed very carefully. A reliable organization will not place minors in undesirable or demanding situations – even if you are there to supervise/watch over them. One-time events are popular for families (serving dinner or working at a water station at a fun run, for example) but there are also ongoing volunteer opportunities. Consider a “friendly visitor” in a seniors' facility or meal delivery for a group such as Meals on Wheels. These kinds of opportunities are often a good fit for families of various ages.
Be sure to talk about your child’s expectations and to debrief after volunteering.
If this is your child’s first volunteer experience, it’s good to talk to them about what they’ll be doing and why it’s important to you to give back to the community. If you are in a situation in which they’ve never been exposed to, say, the inner city, or in a health care setting, make sure to spend time after you volunteer talking about how they felt about the people they worked with and the work they did. This is an excellent opportunity to talk about your family's values and to give them an opportunity to talk about some of the people they may have encountered. Ask what they liked best and what they didn’t like about volunteering. Use that information to guide you the next time you volunteer.
Other ways to volunteer.
With families busy schedules it may be very difficult to find an opportunity to volunteer together – why not consider doing something on your own time then delivering it together! For example, perhaps you can make some cards or crafts together, then deliver it to a seniors' facility. Be sure to call ahead to the volunteer coordinator who can then prepare for your arrival and maybe arrange for you to hand deliver some of your items. Better yet, call them before you get busy and see what they need – they may have one or two residents or clients that would really benefit from your handiwork specifically.
Informal ways to get started.
You can always share your willingness to help others by informally volunteering. Get the family together to shovel a neighbour’s walk or tend their garden. Offer to walk a friend’s dog. Deliver holiday cards to houses in your neighbourhood. Help your kids run a lemonade stand or do a toy drive. Ask your children for suggestions!