My daughter’s Girl Scout troop recently spent a Saturday morning stocking and organizing shelves at the local food pantry. Afterward, the girls were happy and tired in a good way. Many of them asked how they could help out again.
Children often bring a fresh perspective and creative ideas to solving problems, and they reap many positive benefits from volunteering, too. “Volunteering builds a young person’s leadership skills, broadens their worldview, develops their sense of empathy towards others, and teaches a young person that he or she really can make a difference. This kind of experiential esteem-building is incredibly powerful and builds life skills that carry over into adulthood,” says Karen Daniel, Vice President of Engagement at Youth Service America.
Children who volunteer are less likely to engage in risky behaviors and more likely to volunteer as adults and engage in civic activities such as voting, according to Daniel. “Children who volunteer grow up to be adults who volunteer, so there’s great incentive to have kids start solving community issues now,” she says.
What better time for your child to volunteer than in the summer when the days are long, and they complain that they’re bored or they have nothing to do? Begin by chatting with your child about their interests and skills and how they could put their talents to use as a volunteer.
“Talk to your kids about what they love,” Daniel says. “Volunteering becomes fun and meaningful when it’s connected to something they already care about, and parents can help make those connections.”
Here’s a list of ideas to get the conversation started:
Turn Lemons into Lemonade
Alex Scott was just four years old when she decided to set up a lemonade stand to raise money for childhood cancer research. She had been battling cancer for three years herself, and when word about her lemonade stand got out, she and other children raised $1 million for the cause before she passed away at age 8. Since then, children have continued to set up lemonade stands and have raised $50 million for Alex’s cause. For more information about how to set up your own lemonade stand and donate the proceeds to Alex’s Lemonade Stand Foundation, go to http://www.alexslemonade.org/campaign/kids-corner/how-have-lemonade-stand.
Advocate for Animals
Kids can help animals through the Humane Society’s “Mission: Humane!” program. To learn more, visit the program’s action guide at http://www.humanesociety.org/assets/pdfs/parents_educators/mission_humane_action_guide_kids.pdf. Also check out volunteer opportunities at your local Humane Society Chapter. You can find your local chapter at http://www.humanesociety.org/about/state/.
Make Blankets for Shelter Animals
In 2001, the Compassion Action Institute started a “cage comforter program” when it enlisted volunteers to make small comforters for homeless cats, kittens and dogs. The comforters eased the animals’ stress at the shelter and boosted adoptions since the animals were happier lying on their cozy beds. When they were adopted the animals took their comforters with them, which made for smoother transitions from the shelter to their new homes.
Check with your local animal shelter to see if they have a cage comforter program. If not, check out the Compassion Action Institute’s guide on how to start one at http://www.pleasebekind.com/ccp.html#start.
Collect Pop Tabs for Ronald McDonald House
Families often travel long distances when seeking medical care for a critically ill child. Ronald McDonald Houses provide a “home away from home” for families, so they can stay close to their hospitalized child. To raise money, many Ronald McDonald Houses collect and recycle pop tabs.
One chapter raises almost $30,000 each year through its pop tab collection program. Contact your local Ronald McDonald House to see if it participates in the program. You can find your local chapter at http://rmhc.org/who-we-are/chapter-search/.
Start a Letter Writing Campaign
Writing e-mails or letters engages your child’s critical thinking and research skills and allows them to experience democracy in action. Pick a cause your child feels passionate about and have them research the issue and possible solutions. Then have them e-mail the appropriate elected officials explaining why the issue is a problem and asking for their help in solving it.
For more information on how to e-mail or write President Obama, visit http://www.whitehouse.gov/contact. To e-mail or write a member of Congress, check out http://www.congress.org/news/communicating-with-congress/. If the issue is best addressed at the state level, visit your state’s website to look up the elected officials in your area.
Begin a Terracycle Collection
Terracycle is a company that collects hard to recycle items and turns the waste into new products. As you collect and send in waste, you earn points that can be redeemed for a variety of charitable gifts or for a payment of $0.01 per point to the non-profit organization or school of your choice.
Each waste collection program is called a “brigade,” and you can sign up for as many brigades as you like. There are more than 40 brigade programs that cover food packaging, office supplies, and personal products. To get started, go to http://www.terracycle.com/en-US/brigades.html and choose the brigade programs you would like to join.
Host a Bluebird House
Bluebirds lose their nesting habitats when trees are cut down to make way for houses, buildings, malls, and other developments. You can help bluebirds find a home in your backyard by building and setting up a bluebird house. Your backyard will need perch sites such as tree branches, wires or fences where bluebirds can perch and look for food.
If you don’t have a suitable backyard space, ask for permission to set up a bluebird box in a wide, open grassy area such as a park, pasture, or golf course. For information on how to build, set up, and monitor your bluebird house, visit the North American Bluebird Society at http://nabluebirdsociety.org/Fact/bluebirdfacts.htm and click on “Getting Started with Bluebirds.”
When you engage your child’s enthusiasm and imagination, the list of volunteer possibilities is endless. Other options include organizing and stocking shelves at a food pantry, participating in community clean up days, or volunteering at a community garden.
With many of these projects, your child will need your help and supervision, which is time consuming, but it’s also a great way to spend time with your child working side by side and showing them that you value their contributions to the world.
As a freelance writer and mother of two children, Laura Lane is inspired by the good works and acts of kindness she sees children doing on a regular basis.